With a list price of $328,900 plus applicable luxury and gas-guzzler taxes, the Bentley Continental R Le Mans costs well more than $350,000, about three times the price of the best Mercedes-Benz sedan, the S600.

The special edition 2001 model Bentley was built to commemorate the British automaker's return this year to the Le Mans racing circuit.

The price, of course, is completely ridiculous, but when you get up into a price class like this, it is what a friend of mine in the luxury-car business calls "crazy money," and if you have to ask the price, you really can't afford it anyway.

Cars like the Bentley Continental R Le Mans are bought by people who have so much money that they have trouble finding things to spend it on, and companies such as Rolls-Royce/Bentley are in business to accommodate them. If you ask a practical question such as, "Is the car really worth that much money?" the answer for most of us would be, "Absolutely not."

I had the car for three days. Even though it was fun to drive and, for a while, fun to pretend that I was filthy rich and could afford such a frivolity, the car also made me nervous. What if I had wrecked it?

The Bentley, believe it or not, wasn't even a comfortable car.

On a 2 1/2-hour drive, I got so uncomfortable that my legs cramped up, and there was so little room to move my legs around that I felt trapped in the car somewhat like a fighter pilot feels strapped into the confining cockpit of his jet.

Bentley, which has now separated from Rolls-Royce (after being part of Rolls since 1931) and is owned by Germany's Volkswagen, sells cars in three body styles — coupe, convertible and sedan.

The Continental series cars are two-door coupes, while the Arnage series are four-door sedans and the Azure models are two-door convertibles.

The Continentals come in two basic versions — the R and the shorter-wheelbase T. Ours was the R model, which costs about $275,000 in base form. Ours cost $50,000 more because it's a special edition, of which only 50 are being produced.

This one comes with a 420-horsepower turbocharged 6.75-liter V-8 engine, four-speed automatic transmission and seating for just four people.

Even though our test car looked to be about half-a-city-block long (17 feet, 7 inches, actually), it had one of the most cramped interiors I've experienced in a modern car, not to mention a rather small trunk (just 12.2 cubic feet).

Yes, the interior appointments are rather plush, with burl walnut and Connally leather trim, but the front "sport" seats were among the most uncomfortable I've experienced in a long time.

The car had a beautiful medium blue-green exterior with matching interior, but there was really garish purple piping on the edges of the seats, and that purple was at its full glory in the steering wheel.

It does drive like a dream, though, which apparently is its biggest selling point besides the ungodly high price tag.

Bentley performance data says the car will go from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, and that top speed is in excess of 150 mph (the speedometer goes to 170). Its brakes are good enough to bring the car to a full stop from 100 mph in just five seconds.

There is a truly solid feel to the car, which is no surprise considering its curb weight — in excess of 5,200 pounds. Even the doors close with a solid "thunk."

Modern amenities are spotty, however.

No cupholders, and the keyless-entry system opens only the driver's door, not the trunk or passenger's door.


E-mail: chambers@express-news.net