Rolls Royce Phantom: absolutely soaked in luxury
What exactly is it? Ten years on, the first major update of Rolls-Royce’s flagship limousine.
Powertrain: 6.6-litre V12 petrol engine producing 338kW/720Nm. Eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive. Combined fuel consumption 14.8 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 5.9 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? Major additions over the previous Phantom include LED adaptive headlights, updated satellite navigation and new driver-assistance systems operating through an 8.8-inch screen. In practical terms, there is no such thing as a standard specification for the Phantom: 95% of customers collaborate with Rolls-Royce Bespoke to create their own vehicles. Among the highlights of our test car were cross-branded Santos Palissander/Macassar veneer, rear theatre lounge seating, glovebox humidor and starlight leather headlining in the rear.
Price: $780,000 (estimated, based on test vehicle)
The Rolls-Royce Phantom is entirely built by hand, extraordinarily expensive and has no real rivals apart from perhaps a yacht or holiday home.
After a decade of production under BMW’s ownership of Rolls-Royce, the Phantom has been launched in Series II form. Does the world’s most famous super-luxury limousine really need something as mundane as a facelift?
Actually, yes. Because Rolls-Royce stopped being merely a car some time ago and is now a brand: there are four different Phantom models and the smaller Ghost, which was launched in late-2009.
It’s Ghost that’s the issue, because being based on the platform of the BMW 7 Series means that it has all of the German brand’s mechanical and electronic infrastructure at its disposal: eight-speed gearbox, the latest satellite navigation, camera-assisted parking and so on.
Things that make it more technologically advanced than the bespoke Phantom.
It’s absurd to think that a Phantom customer would choose a Ghost instead for these reasons. Indeed, it’s more likely that they would own both.
But it’s obvious that the flagship model cannot continue at a lower technological status than its smaller, less exclusive stablemate. It can be less powerful and less accelerative, yes. But less sophisticated? No.
Thus, the Phantom Series II has gained an eight-speed transmission with new differential and a retuned direct-injection V12 powerplant that makes for smoother driving and (incidentally) a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency.
Inside, the new 8.8-inch control display is used for vastly improved satellite navigation, multi-media and driver-assistance functions.
If a crisp screen with three-dimensional graphics looks a little out-of-place in the Phantom’s determinedly traditional cabin environment, fear not: with the touch of a button it rotates out of sight, replaced by a polished wooden panel with analogue clock. In any other car that might seem contrived; in this one it’s just perfect.
Seeing a Phantom on the road is an event in any circumstance. But you will know the Series II by its redesigned front, with one-piece grille, rectangular light apertures and world-first full-LED headlights, which change their light pattern automatically according to driving conditions.
Knowing that a Phantom is a large car does not prepare you for the slightly surreal experience of seeing one in traffic. The styling is exquisitely outlandish but also deceptively well-proportioned.
Rolls-Royce has a long-standing styling ethos that the diameter of the wheel and tyre should be half the height of the car. In photographs, you can see how that works: the Phantom has a striking but balanced stance.
On the road, you realise that those are 21-inch hand-polished alloys, the largest ever fitted as standard to a production car; the Phantom is 5.8 metres long and 1.6 metres tall. A BMW X5 is a full metre shorter and, despite being an off-road-style vehicle, just 138mm taller.
So it stands to reason that the Phantom cannot fail to make an impression. That’s the idea though, isn’t it?
Theoretically, the Phantom is not a car that you drive yourself; especially now that Rolls-Royce offers so many other models, including what it terms the “less formal,” smaller and more dynamic Ghost.
Sitting in the rear compartment of a Phantom is certainly an experience. Our car was specified with theatre-style seating, which added to the imperious feeling of sitting 18mm above the driver, yet still enjoying privacy courtesy of the massive C-pillar that partly obscures the face of the occupant.
I can scarcely imagine the need for more space but Rolls-Royce does produce an extended-wheelbase Phantom.
The driver is not forgotten. No, you cannot select individual ratios in the gearbox or adjust the character of the powertrain and suspension as you can in many other luxury cars.
But an optional dynamic package brings firmer suspension, a thicker steering wheel (still hilariously thin), visible exhausts and revised tuning for gearbox and braking.
With or without those additions, the Phantom is still a hugely enjoyable thing to drive. The silence, silken performance and surprising accuracy with which this 2.6-tonne limousine can be guided are remarkable.
One of the reasons for the Phantom’s relatively nimble driving character is its high-tech construction. It’s built around an aluminium spaceframe constructed from more than 200 box sections. This is why the Phantom is only 100kg heavier than the Ghost, despite being substantially larger.
There are many things that make the Phantom special: heritage, hand-built status, sheer exclusivity, that other-worldly style. These things must be nurtured and cannot be created in an instant, as Mercedes-Benz discovered to its cost with the ill-fated Maybach brand.
I could have filled this page with fascinating facts about how Phantom is produced and why the price is justified. It takes 450 hours to produce each car. There are a minimum of five layers of paint on the outside; even the silver pinstripes on our car were painted by hand.
Up to 28 layers of wood are used for the interior trim in each car, all from the same tree. And so on.
But I won’t, because there’s another, more important reason why Phantom is so special. There are many luxury cars that offer exceptional engineering and quality.
But I don’t think any are capable of arriving at a destination and generating such an overwhelming aura of intrigue and admiration – equally for those inside and outside the car.
I don’t think the Phantom is capable of causing offence. A Phantom is fun to be around.
WRAITH: GHOST COUPE
Exclusivity is at the heart of the Rolls-Royce brand. But not even the world’s most famous luxury-car maker can ignore the need to continually increase its sales volume.
The addition of the Ghost sedan to the range has already broadened Rolls-Royce’s client base beyond anything achieved before: last year’s sales of 3575 cars was a record in the marque’s 108-year history.
Thirty new or upgraded dealerships were opened around the world in 2012, including Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Auckland, New Zealand.
North America is the No 1 market for Rolls-Royce, followed by China and Europe.
Rolls-Royce will further expand its model line at the Geneva Motor Show next month with the Wraith. The new car has so far only been seen in a teaser image, but this much is known: it’s essentially a coupe version of the Ghost and Rolls-Royce has promised it will be the fastest and most powerful car it has ever built.
That means 0-100km/h in less than 4.9 seconds and a 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 making in excess of 420kW and 780Nm.
Little else has been revealed about Wraith. But it’s expected to be substantially shorter than the Ghost and recent spy photographs suggest that the coupe will have rear-hinged doors, just like the Phantom Coupe.
After the Geneva Show launch, Wraith will be rolled out very quickly. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Auckland director Bob McMillan expects to have the car here before the end of the year.