Laminges new car
Bentley Le Mans
There have been precious few reasons for Bentley to celebrate recently, but now there's fresh hope. Volkswagen has invested a small fortune in the company, and a return to the Le Mans 24-Hours race - after a 71-year absence - was rewarded with a third place finish.
But stepping up to the Le Mans podium is only one of the reasons Bentley returned to motorsport. The firm wants to raise its profile, and it is not wasting a moment in doing so.
Already, two limited-edition road cars have been built: the Arnage Le Mans Series and Continental R Le Mans Series. Both feature special trim and are finished in a fetching green. Only 150 Arnages and 50 Continentals will be made, all with 18-inch five-spoke wheels and bright red brake calipers.
The lower front wings get vents, while the rear view is enhanced with new bumpers and chrome exhausts. Inside the Arnage we tried is a driver's seat that is as comfortable as any armchair. Door inlays and even the headlining are fashioned from leather, showcasing the trimming skills of Bentley's craftspeople. The hide-finished dashboard and veneered facia feature BMW switches for everything from traction to climate control.
The Arnage's external dimensions are huge; at five-and-a-half metres long and two metres wide, this is one of the biggest cars on the road. However, this isn't translated into interior space. A massive transmission tunnel takes up much of the driver's legroom and the problem is exacerbated by the floor-mounted parking brake.
And this isn't the only hardship: keeping your licence could be a problem, too. As with the normal Arnage Red Label, the Le Mans Series features a turbocharged 6.75-litre V8. While it produces an impressive 400bhp at 4,000rpm, it has an awesome 825Nm of torque, making it the most powerful production saloon in the world. Lean on the throttle pedal and two-and-a-half tonnes of machinery will leap forward with the eagerness normally associated with Porsche or Ferrari. Pressing the Sport button on top of the chrome gearlever allows the V8 to rev higher before shifting up. The engine bellows more raucously before settling back into its quiet cruising mode. Those calipers do a great job of pulling the big car up, while the steering is surprisingly full of feel.
However, if the authorities do catch up with you, rest easy that you'll be able to enjoy life as a rear passenger. Here electrically controlled seats allow you to recline in total comfort. Without a doubt, the Arnage Le Mans Series is a gorgeous example of British craftsmanship at its best. Even if it does cost more than most people's homes at a mighty Ł154,900, it's not often you can say that about today's cars.
At a glance
* Limited-edition models built to celebrate company's racing return to Le Mans
* Only 150 Arnages and 50 Continental Ts to be sold
* Exterior and interior detailing mark out these machines