Road test: Bentley Continental

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Monstrously fast, obscenely expensive, hideously gluttonous (how does 15mpg at best sound?) and about as discreet as a frock-coat and top hat at a rave party, the Bentley Continental T (shown above) is possibly the most outlandish coupe in the world. Yet, if you've got the money, it's also one of the very best.

It's a source of wonder just how such a big and heavy car can feel so agile and go so quickly. You sit up high, with the 4x4 and MPV drivers, lord of all you survey. And yet when you want to play racing driver, one twitch of your right foot and the Bentley erupts with afterburners aglow, accelerating with frightening force. And it just keeps on accelerating, gathering momentum like a tidal wave on wheels.

Yet there is nothing crude about the performance. The engine and automatic gearbox combine to form a seamless source of urge; I have never driven an automatic car in which acceleration is delivered so immediately and, when you're under way, with such smoothness and strength. The handling is indecently agile considering the massive bulk and the high seating position. Physics dictate that the Bentley shouldn't do the things that it does. To hell with physics. Don't ask me how a car weighing more than two tons can feel as sharp as a small hatch. But this one does.

Inside, the Connolly leather upholstered seats are as wide and as thick as armchairs. Little electric controls move them every which way. The carpet is thick lambswool (you can also specify Wilton), and the dash is a massive thing, as deep as a cliff, full of little round chrome bezelled dials.

Normally, Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars have great planks of wood facing the driver; on the Continental T it's a sheet of engine-turned alloy. Not quite as traditional as burr walnut. Most people I drove in the Conti hated the metal - a big shiny thing full of little squirly bits. But it's an attempt by Bentley to show just what they can do with natural materials, and thus the versatility of the Crewe craftsmen.

The steering wheel has a thin leather rim, so soft to hold, and the steering is light yet direct. Unsurprisingly, underneath the vast bonnet it is full of engine - a huge turbocharged V8, good for 400bhp. As a sop to traditionalists, it's cranked into life by a starter button, not by merely turning a key.

It is easy to pour scorn on so extravagant a car. But I loved it. The car is so palpably the work of craftsmen; a machine assembled and designed with great thought and skill; something wholly superior to the little hatches to which most of us are consigned.

It is also so overtly British, at a time when most cars made in this country are indistinguishable from those made elsewhere. And it shows thevitality of Rolls-Royce, not so very long ago a quaint Edwardian leftover; it is now bang in the upper echelons of the high-performance supercar league.

Bentley Continental T, pounds 220,312. 6.75-litre turbocharged V8 engine, 400bhp, top speed 155mph, 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds, average fuel consumption 15mpg

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