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First Drive: Rolls-Royce Phantom
Fourteen years is an eternity in the world of luxury and entertainment, the Phantom’s principal provinces. So, climbing behind the wheel ( and it is a bit of a climb ) of an all new Rolls is a special moment. The dash has been reconfigured as an art gallery, the structure itself has the implacability of Mount Rushmore, and of course, there’s the Spirit of Ecstasy, pointing forward from the longest bonnet out there. More than ever, taking the helm is not like driving other cars.
It’s also a bit like driving a beautiful building, and it takes time to feel totally confident behind the wheel. Many owners - patrons, as Rolls airily describes them - like to drive themselves, so there’s a renewed emphasis on attributes you might not associate with a car as imperious as this. Feedback, for example. In addition, to the fabled magic carpet ride, there’s now more dialogue.
The wheel is a tad thicker than before, and fully electric power steering arrives, but the mode of operation remains the same: slide the delicate little column stalk into D, apply the merest suggestion of pressure to the throttle pedal, and ease away in such a manner as not to rustle the copy of Pork Belly Futures Digest that’s being mulled over in the rear.
The Phantom still prefers to waft rather than hustle, although it can do so very ably should the need arise. Even with a ( heavily revised ) version of Rolls’s 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 - it’s 6.75 litres in capacity here, and makes 536bhp- it feels inappropriate to trouble the power reserve gauge any more than necessary.
You don't notice things as humdrum as gear changes ( the Phantom uses ZF’s silken 8-spd transmission), and you only notice truly awful road surfaces. If you're in the back, you don't notice much at all. Which is the point: in a Phantom, silence isn't just golden, it's omnipresent.
Rolls says the new spaceframe is 30 percent more rigid than previously, a figure that rises significantly in key areas such as suspension and gearbox. The chassis gets an all-new suspension set-up, with a double wishbone configuration on the front, a five-link axle at the rear, adaptive dampers and active anti-roll bars. It also benefits from 4WS, whose three degrees of counter-steer help shrink the car’s heft at higher speeds, as well as improving low-speed agility. The air springs feature bigger chambers than on any previous Rolls, and the tyres are specially developed Continentals whose structure incorporates 2kg of sound-absorbent material.There’s 6mm-thick, dual-layer double glazing all-round; overall, the Phantom carries more than 130kg of sound deadening material.
It's a theatrical experience. The doors close themselves, and Rolls talks about a “detoxifying environment”. Everywhere you look there’s some detail magic. The rear seats are slightly angled so you can talk without straining your neck. Push a button in the C-pillar and lushly carpeted ottomans motor out to meet your feet. Every item of switchgear is made of metal. The rear occupants get to enjoy what Rolls call the “embrace”. Nothing as unseemly as a touchscreen in here, either; the rotary controller remains. It feels wonderful, and serves as a reminder that the tech arms race that’s redefining in-car connectivity often leads the end user up a blind alley.
The Phantom experience is as much about the tactility of the door handles as it is about how effortlessly this thing moves. And, of course, how it looks as it scythes through lesser traffic. It’s only when you follow another one that you grasp what a fabulous-looking machine this car is. From the reimagined Parthenon grille to the tighter rear end - whose surfaces benefit from super-forming to achieve perfect radii- this is an astonishing car to behold. Or better still, to travel in. As expensive as it is, there’s entertainment for everyone here.
Specification: 6749cc twin-turbo V12, RWD, 563bhp, 900 Nm, 0-100kph in 5.1 secs, 155mph, 2560kg.
Verdict: Nothing in life is perfect but the Phantom gets close. An impeccably engineered automotive experience.