Sat behind the wheel of a Bentley Continental GTC Series 51, there was only one thing going through our minds: "this is living". Sure, the standard Continental is luxurious enough, but this thing, with its enhanced personalisation options, delivers a level of opulence usually reserved for people with 'Your Highness' or 'MC' in their name.
The Series 51 is named after the year Bentley's first official styling department was established in Crewe by John Blatchley -- the man responsible for shaping the original 1950s Bentley Continentals. They've done him justice, too. The car features a beautiful, colour-customisable three-tone leather interior with dark or bright aluminium flourishes strategically positioned around the cabin, as well as a limited-edition veneer made of amboyna -- a luxurious hardwood that grows exclusively in Southeast Asia. If big pimpin' is your game, the Series 51 should be your aim.
The car's cabin tech is unsurprisingly immoderate. The most unusual addition by far was an engine off button located, of all places, on the passenger side of the centre console. Given the fact engine start duties are primarily handled by a key, located on the steering column, we're assuming this extra button is for drivers who want to give their trophy spouses the pleasure of firing up the hugely powerful engine. Either that, or it's for passengers who want to maintain a sense of control over errant chauffeurs.
Should the secondary power button not suffice, one could clobber their insubordinate coachman with the built-in wireless cellular telephone, tucked away -- alongside a SIM card slot -- in the centre arm rests. You can also use it to make calls, of course, or field them more publicly over the car's high-end NAIM audio system via Bluetooth.
Front and centre is a mahoosive 7-inch touchscreen, which can be controlled either via touch, or via eight context-sensitive buttons down either flank. The display, finished in matte to reduce glare from the sun, lets you keep an eye on the vehicle's myriad systems, monitor tyre pressures and temperatures, view the DVD-based satellite navigation system, take control of your iPod, or watch television via a hybrid TV tuner that picks up both digital and analogue TV broadcasts.
Bentley doesn't seem to have bothered installing a hard drive for media playback or sat-nav map storage, which is a shame. Instead, the Continental GTC Series 51 has an AV receiver, which resembles a component DVD player -- crammed in the glove box. We can't say we cared much for it -- it left very little room for truffles.
On the road, there's only one word to describe the Continental GTC Series 51, and that's 'epic'. Cruise at low speed and it'll waft along in silence, effortlessly soaking up imperfections in the road, ferrying occupants with a sumptuous luxury usually reserved for first-class air passengers. Put the hammer down and very little changes except the numbers on the speedo. Even with the top down and the digital display reading well into triple figures, the only clue you're travelling quickly is the increasing number of sports cars disappearing from view in your rear-view mirror.
Bentley has yet to announce the price for the Continental GTC Series 51, but whatever it ends up being, we're willing to pay it. Sure, we may have to sell a couple of organs and possibly one or two of our older relatives to do so, but with this level of luxury and driving satisfaction, it'd probably be worth it.