What is it?
The latest Series II version of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe. Little has altered visually, but the substitution of its original six-speed transmission for an eight-speeder is the most significant mechanical change.
With it comes much grafted-over software, say Rolls’ insiders, in the quest for smoothness and the sharp-shooting reactions that eight speeders sometimes struggle to deliver. The new ‘box also results in a curtailing of thirst, its combined consumption improving to 19.1mpg from 17.1mpg, and CO2 emissions reduced from 385g/km to 347g/km.
Other mechanical changes are slight, but there have been some light restylings, the once faintly troubled face of the Phantom is less so since the redesign of its lights. The earlier model’s circular, low-mounted and slightly awkward lights have been banished, and its rectangular headlamps are now adaptive and LED illuminated.
The grille surround is a tidier one-piece element, the Phantom Drophead’s (slightly) smaller temple-like frontage is less assertively thrusting than the four-door’s. But it’s equally easy to be distracted by the sight of one of these beasts passing you by, its length, height, extraordinary brushed aluminium bonnet and teak tonneau decking leaves you in no doubt its owner’s private bank account will be unencumbered by the need for an overdraft facility.
More functional improvements include a (much-needed) upgrade of the BMW i-Drive infotainment system complete with larger screen, and a surround-view camera system. But the Phantom still doesn’t self-park, and it’s a surprise to discover that Munich’s excellent head-up display, blind-spot monitoring and crash-protection systems have yet to be plumbed in.
What is it like?
Manoeuvring your way through the rear-hinged door into a substantial front seat is rather more difficult than it sounds, until you discover that reversing onto its sumptuous hides is the least inelegant way to effect an entrance.
Apart from taking in lavish but sparely rendered details such as the trio of slender chrome spears in a flank of the footwell, or the multiple texturings of the steering wheel, it’s hard not to be struck by the simplicity of the instruments and the acreage of beautifully finished wood dominating the dashboard and doors.
Lifting the quintuple-lined fabric roof on all this is achieved by fingering a hidden chrome tab. The process takes longer than the impatient might expect, but it’s not bad considering the volume of material being cantilevered, furled and folded. It’s a performance that gives your expectations altitude, as does an SUV-rivalling vantage point from which to survey other cars costing near-irrelevant fractions of the Drophead’s £332,400 price.
There’s rarely much need to resort to the shiny ‘S’ button on the steering wheel boss that quickens the transmission’s shifts. The 447bhp V12 is harnessed effectively by the eight-speeder. If you do press the ‘S’ button, you can deploy 531lb ft of urge with authoritative thrust.
The Phantom is less at comfortable direction changes unless you prepare pre-bend. Body-roll and sidewall-squashing understeer results until you discover the Phantom settles tidily if you’re neat with its wheel. A slow-in, surf-out technique means it can be persuaded through bends with rather satisfying pace. And then you can undam almost all the power you desire.
With 2.6 tonnes bearing down on its 21-inch wheels the Phantom is rarely knocked off line, but you will sense the shudder of those hefty alloys beneath you, especially through a steering rim that often quivers in sympathy. It’s a crudity that’s a little less acceptable in 2012, although it lends the Phantom a certain tactile character. And happily, it’s very rare that you’ll feel a shimmy from the body structure itself.
Should I buy one?
So sumptuously luxuriant is the Phantom that it’s quite easy to overlook the fact that the Phantom is just beginning to show its age, despite these modest improvements.
A few more electronic driving-aid accoutrements, an expunging of that 21-inch wheel quiver and a little less of the feeling that you’re conducting a very large object would pitch the Phantom closer to motordom’s pinnacle. Despite which, it’s impossible not to be mighty impressed, entertained, pampered and seduced by this beautifully crafted creation.
Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe
Price: £332,400; 0-62mph: 5.6sec; Top speed: 149mph; Economy: 19.1mpg (combined); CO2: 347g/km; Kerb weight: 2630kg; Engine layout: V12, 6749cc, petrol; Installation: Front, longitudinal, four-wheel drive; Power: 453bhp at 5350rpm; Torque: 531lb ft at 3500rpm; Gearbox: 8-spd automatic