Can the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé offer enough extra driver appeal to make it a viable sporty alternative to the saloon or convertible?
What is it?
This is the new Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe – an extraordinary name for a convertible, but with a price tag of £305,000, a kerbweight of close to three tonnes with fuel and passengers on board, and a 6.75-litre, 435bhp V12 engine under the bonnet, this is an extraordinary machine.
Though the Phantom Drophead Coupe is closely related under the skin to the Phantom saloon, it’s far from a Phantom with the roof cut off. Every one of the Drophead’s exterior panels is new, and as part of its “less formal” face, the grille slopes gently backwards. There’s much more sculpting in the body sides, and of course the entire yacht-like tail section is new.
Under the skin the extruded aluminium spaceframe is shorter by 250mm in wheelbase and 225mm in overall length. Its sills are of thicker-gauge aluminium, there are extra gussets and braces in strategic places plus a hugely strong triangulated windscreen frame which anchors directly into to the main chassis rails, allowed to do so by the unique forward-opening front doors.
The chassis is "virtually as strong” as the mighty Phantom saloon, engineers say, and more torsionally rigid than any other convertible. Under the circumstances it’s surprising that, at 2620kg kerb weight, a Drophead weighs only 70kg more than a saloon.
The Drophead’s 6.75-litre engine and six-speed gearbox are exactly the same as the saloon’s. The self-levelling, variably damped air suspension is identical to the saloon’s in all but rates, and so are the steering system and the mighty vented disc brakes.
What's it like?
When you step up to the Phantom Drophead, it’s the bonnet and wing height that impresses most, both reminiscent of a Range Rover’s. The 5600mm length is absolutely massive for any kind of two-door, around 200mm longer even than Bentley’s not-so-petite Azure. Yet for all that size, its proportions are spot-on.
Grasp the big, thickly-chromed doorhandle at the door’s leading edge, swing it open and the sight that greets you speaks volumes for Rolls-Royce’s attention to detail. The lower door apertures are lined with sculpted brightwork, there are ribbed kickplates finished like old-time running boaards, and the seat runners, so often exposed in even the most expensive cars, are shrouded by high-quality dress plates.
Rolls people talk a lot about the convenience of entry the front coach doors confer on occupants, but new users first have to learn a new hierarchy of body movements. Front passengers must take a big step over the wide sills before sliding back into the seats; rear passengers can step straight in. If the roof’s down – it happens to be Europe's largest convertible hood and can be electrically folded behind the cockpit in around 25 seconds – you can even stand up in the back.
The starter whirs seamlessly and the V12 murmurs into life. In other guises V12 noises are used to convey performance potential, but this one is built for extreme quietness. Only at 5000rpm-plus do you hear a stirring engine note, but even then it’s faint.
The steering wheel is small in diameter and thin-rimmed, but there’s a lot of power assistance at lower speeds so if you’re untidy with it, you’ll corner in a series of unhappy lurches. Better just to guide the Rolls with your fingertips, enjoyable when they’re effortlessly controlling such a big beast. This low effort system also makes the car easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces.
At the other end of the cornering spectrum — when you’re going for it a bit — there’s plenty of grip wet or dry, though for our taste the ESP was too intrusive. The brakes are very powerful, too, but when you’re on them hard, you’re always aware of this car’s mass.
Once you're familiar with the way this incredible open-top Rolls conducts itself, in fact, you'll realise that its creators’ intention is to lower the driver’s heart rate, not raise it.
Although it has an immense store of creamy torque that effortlessly backs the maker’s’ claim to a 5.7-second 0-60 time and a top speed electronically limited to 145 mph, this is a car to be driven with reserve. Its unusual combination of relaxed ride rates, light controls, fairly quick steering, high driving position, effortless urge and all-pervading impression of mass makes it easy to make a hash of driving it at first; to brake a shade too late, turn a shade too sharply and late for the neatest cornering, and accelerate too late to assist the car out of the bends with torque.
What you'll quickly learn is to modify your attitude, to enjoy that enormous power reserve where appropriate, but at all times to luxuriate in this car’s smoothness, quietude and opulence – the very things for which the Phantom Drophead owner pays the price of a very decent suburban house.
Should I buy one?
At more than £300k, the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead would have to be your idea of the very finest open-top car money can buy to justify a place in your quadruple garage; however, as long as your predilection is towards luxury and class rather than the most sporting dynamic performance, it might very well be just that.
This car's tour-de-force is its cruising comfort. It’s more agile than the four-door but it still glides about in just the same way. The foundation of this fine performance is a body which is so, so stiff. I kept looking at the rear vision mirror, checking for the sideways tremors that advertise scuttle-shake in even the finest open cars — but I soon got bored with this unproductive activity.
There was a time when one felt the 300 people who bought a car like this were making a rather foolish decision, plugging into old technology fairly badly executed, for the sake of a name. It’s not like that now. The Rolls-Royce Drophead is, as it should be, one of the finest cars on the road by any criterion, a worthy to the “Golden Age” Royces of the pre-war years which justified the description "Best Car In The World."