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First Drive

Road Test: Rolls-Royce Phantom 4dr Auto EWB

£335,960 when new
Published: 24 May 2012


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A luxury car. Aren't they a bit outmoded these days?

That seems to be the prevailing view. Thirty years ago Rolls pretty much owned the ‘Best Car in the World' tag, but all the diversification that's happened throughout the car industry has meant that people are more likely to aspire to an SUV or a sports car than a luxury car.

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They've got a point, the Phantom is completely OTT.

Agreed. A Phantom demands outriders. But I'm not talking about the Phantom, but it's ‘baby' brother, the Ghost. And it's the reason why I think we need to resurrect the ‘Best Car in the World' label and glue it firmly, but discreetly to the flanks of this car.

How so?

Right, here's my argument. Most cars these days are all-rounders. We expect them to do a bit of everything. Take the BMW M5. It's a sports saloon, but that very name contains the seeds of its disappointment. A saloon shouldn't actually be sporty. A sports car should be sporty. Once you give a car more than one task, it's a compromise. So we have an M5 that tries to be both loud, and quiet; fast, yet soothing; spacious, but with driver focus. I'm not knocking the M5, because BMW's engineers have done a fine job of manipulating the beast into a particular role, but what I am saying is that cars with very clear cut, specific tasks often come across better. Fit for purpose, that's what I'm driving at here.

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And the Rolls is of course.

Absolutely. But before I get on to that I'd like to cite a couple of other examples. Bear in mind that what I'm looking for here is purity of purpose, not all-round excellence (although the two do sometimes go hand in hand. The Smart ForTwo is one, or how about the last Fiat Panda - a triumph of utilitarian packaging and necessity that makes the new one look and feel slightly overdesigned. The Land Rover Defender. The Ariel Atom. The original Renault Scenic - it's easy to forget how radical that was 15 years ago and how perfectly tuned to family life. And now the Rolls Ghost.

Don't tell me. Luxurious?

And then some. But this isn't about quality of leather, amount of legroom, quietness of engine, number of options or any of those measurable parameters. It's not even about depth of carpet, even though the Ghost is best experienced with your shoes removed so your toes can vanish into the pile like terriers in a cornfield. It's about something non-quantifiable. Let me put it this way. It's impossible to rush when driving a Ghost. Don't get me wrong, you can get places quickly - it has a 563bhp/575lb ft 6.6-litre twin turbo V12 capable of 0-60mph in 5.0secs - but it will not do so hastily. It's too smooth, too dignified. And when you drive it, that's the way it makes you feel. This car imposes itself on you. It calms you down, even if you're the one up front rather than out back.

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But the back's the place to be, right?

I should imagine it's the compartment of choice for many Rolls owners, but they ought to take the wheel every so often. Because everything about this car is just so right, every component perfectly complements every other, and everything about it, every movement it makes is positively butler-like: hushed, discreet, smooth, precise. You can't talk about it in terms of steering feel or ride comfort, the Ghost is beyond that. It's just marvelous.

And that really makes it the best car in the world?

I can't think of another car that so perfectly encapsulates the idea of effortless travel, and that's as good a measure as any of the car maker's craft.

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