This is the new Rolls-Royce Phantom, the eighth model to wear the nameplate; only, like a navy warship, Phantom nameplates haven’t necessarily followed one directly after the other.
But Phantom VIII does directly follow VII (the roman numerals make it sound a bit more regal, presumably), which itself ran – reigned, perhaps – for 14 years of the kind that Nicholas Witchell would describe as long and happy.
Anyway, the king is dead, long live the king; or meet the new boss, same as, etc. You get the idea: the new Phantom is expected pick up from where the old one left off.
“A Phantom is a Phantom is a Phantom,” says Rolls CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. He may have added another “is a Phantom” in there. I forget. But, anyway, know that this car is the flag-bearer, the top dog, the prince among men - regardless of what happens to the Rolls range in future.
The future of new Rolls-Royces
Eventual replacements for the Ghost, Wraith coupé and Dawn convertible, and the Project Cullinan SUV, will all feature this aluminium spaceframe that is generally 30 percent more torsionally rigid than the outgoing Phantom’s, rising to 100 percent stiffer in key areas – around suspension and gearbox mounts, for example.
Aluminium bodywork is crafted over the top and the body-in-white ends up “accidentally” being lighter than the old one, according to engineering director Phillip Koehn: "Saving weight wasn’t a priority. If there’s a chance to improve stiffness, I take it."
Body stiffness brings its rewards when it comes to refinement and ride quality, see, which are the two things that should define a Phantom more than anything else, and thus should set a new benchmark for the industry.
So there are air springs, which is probably the only sensible way to control the body movements of a 2560kg car (2610kg as an Extended Wheelbase, which our test car isn’t), despite an air-sprung car’s tendency to ‘sproing’, allied to adaptive dampers (although you can’t influence their stiffness, thankfully) and active anti-roll bars (12v, not 48v, because Rolls says the torque output is the same either way). There’s rear-wheel steering, too, offering counter steer while manoeuvring of up to three degrees. When will I see you again? In 13.77 metres, even on the long version.
Overall, the standard wheelbase Phantom is 5.76m long, with the EWB coming in at 5.98m; both shorter than their predecessors but heavier, too, because as well as Koehn taking every opportunity for stiffness, he’s also taken every opportunity to increase the refinement and technology levels.
In the former’s case, that means there is more than 130kg of sound deadening material: foams, sheets and so on. Even the tyres get it. Koehn likes that the tyres are the first line of suspension, so while he has specified tyres with not overtly generous sidewalls – our test car rode on 22in rims, with 45 and 40 front and rear profiles – they are soft sidewalls. They’re also, as tyres are, large echo chambers for noise, so around the inside of the tyrewall of each tyre runs 2kg of soundproofing foam (like Maybach variants of the Mercedes S-Class and the Tesla Model S), which isn’t good for the unsprung mass, but the substantial body weight isn’t easily deflected by that anyway.
Propelling the Rolls-Royce Phantom
Power comes from a 6.75-litre engine again; Rolls’s go-to engine size and, in its more recently adopted layout, a V12. It’s effectively a stroked and reworked version of the 6.6-litre V12 that operates in the Ghost.
There was no will to make the bore bigger, because torque is the priority. There are two turbochargers and the same power output – 563bhp – as in the Ghost. Torque, though, is monumental; there’s 664lb ft of it and it’s generated from only 1700rpm. Peak power is made at 5000rpm and the unit can rev to 6500rpm; but unless you lose your right foot deep within the thick, luxurious carpet, anything more than 2500rpm is “out of its general operating range”, says Koehn.
What Rolls is going for, then, is what it thinks a luxury car driver – be that owner or chauffeur – really wants. A car that’s easy to drive, relaxing to drive, but ultimately also pleasurable to drive.
It’s certainly that to sit in. You sit relatively high because, at 1646mm, this car is high. (About 15-20cm higher than, say, most executive and luxury saloons.) A flatter bonnet than previously means there’s no longer a line down the middle of it to aim down to where the Spirit of Ecstasy sits. Müller-Ötvös says he likes the new view, seeing the expanse of aluminium and the mascot on the bonnet “as if reflected in a lake”, which I suppose it does, if you use your imagination a bit.
You’ll make up your own mind about the looks, but it’s worth noting that the ‘parthenon’ grille is now integrated flush into the body, rather than sitting proud as on the Phantom VII, which is a bit more subtle (although these things are relative). It has a pretty elegant side profile, too, and a bit more dynamism to my eyes.
But the previous Phantom wanted some familiarity before people became comfortable with it, and I wonder if the same will be true here. You don’t see them often, and they’re vast, so while even, say, a Porsche Cayenne slips into normality quite quickly, a Phantom might take longer. I think we’ll get used to it. And it’s allowed – almost meant - to be a bit ostentatious. It’s a Rolls-Royce Phantom, after all.
Enjoying the Phantom’s opulent luxury
It feels like one inside, too. The wheelbase is longer (on both models) despite the shorter overall length, but let’s be honest, you’re not going to feel short of leg room on either model.
The two rear seats are vast, comfortable, move, heat, cosset and comfort, and I suspect you could nod off for about a week in them. Each gets its own air conditioning controls on the armrest of the (electric closing) doors, but none of that thing where you actually select a temperature or a fan number. Just ‘soft’ through to ‘max’ levels of blow on a gently sliding scale from blue (chilly) to red. Feels a bit old-school but works really rather well. You can have fridges and suchlike back here, too, if you wanted… but, my, is that the time, are we there already? Sorry, I totally dozed off.
I suppose I should mention that the boot’s big enough for four sets of golf clubs, too. But the front seat is where my interest is and, actually, it’s where a lot of Phantom owners have an interest, too. Look at it this way. The new Phantom adopts quite a lot of the latest BMW electronics technology and is already geared to accept more software later (it’ll have a generous production length, after all), but semi-autonomous driving tech isn’t among it. Owners quite like driving the Phantom when they sit in the front, and when they don’t want the stress of driving, they pay somebody else to do it.
The front environment’s just as nice, mind. Fit, finish and materials are, obviously, utterly exemplary. The new ‘gallery’ malarkey is a nice touch. It’s a sealed, behind-glass unit, into which the infotainment screen pops in and out, but what it effectively means is that you can have the dashboard adorned with whatever you like – some special artwork, moulds of your children’s footprints, receipts from your last tax year. Whatever, really. And if you aren’t that bothered, there are a range of things you can pick from, although “there’s no such thing as standard” on a Phantom, says Koehn.
Anyway, a couple of my colleagues felt they sat ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ in the flattish front seats, but I didn’t mind them. The steering wheel could reach a little closer but, really, you just have to adopt a different driving style. The wheel’s large - as thin-rimmed as Rolls could make it while making sure it’s soft enough if you head-butt it in an accident, and apparently good chauffeurs are trained not to slide the wheel in their hands because that makes quite a lot of noise, and there’s not a lot of that in here. So you get into the habit of driving via fingertips, feeding the wheel and the light, now electrically assisted steering from hand to hand.
Getting the Phantom out onto the road
The Phantom’s meant to be engaging to drive. What that doesn’t mean, quite obviously, is that it’s sporting in any way whatsoever. Look through the bumf Rolls gives you and you won’t find a single mention of the word. (You won’t find a pound sign either, incidentally - but it’s from £360,000 for this one, from £432,000 for a long one, although many owners will spend a million.)
Instead, it’s meant to be absorbent - and it is - and ultra quiet (which it also is). The V12 idles at barely 650rpm and such is the smoothness of a V12 that it could idle lower still, if you could get decent enough throttle response from there. The throttle travel is long and the Phantom eases away with a light tickle.
The steering’s light, too, while the brake pedal is ideally weighted. Rolls’ engineers have spent quite a lot of time in traffic, getting it all just so for the ease of stopping and starting, but that crispness of control makes it quite easy, and surprisingly engaging, to drive at any speeds. Given its size and light steering, it would be easy for it to feel vague, but such is the steering’s precision that it never does.
Then there’s the ride, and the silence. At motorway speeds, Rolls says it has reduced cabin noise by 6-7dB, which might not sound like a lot if you’re talking a number into the fifties or sixties, but it isn’t a direct sliding scale, so they say you feel it’s hushed by as much as 75 percent. Put it this way: naughty children shouldn’t try whispering to each other in the back, because those in the front will hear them. It is, no question, utterly exceptional.
The ride is too. There’s an absorbance and compliance that nearly every other new car can only dream of. It pays not to ask too much of the chassis but it retains decent enough control if you do, but the real pleasure is to be had in enjoying how easy it is to drive smoothly, how precisely it steers. And how it has perhaps the only car stereo worth listening to.
I suppose, if you were being picky – I mean seriously picky, like ‘there are only 149,999 bubbles in this bath and I specifically requested 150,000’ picky – there’s an occasional tiny stiction to the steering in medium-speed corners, presumably where the rear steer and electric power steering quite like the line you’ve scribed, without noting you’d like to come off it. And the shimmy - a slight reverberation - that usually comes with air springs is there if you really concentrate on it, laterally as much as anything, on brittle surfaces. And, dammit, I wanted my Champagne chilled to 8.430deg C, not 8.429deg C, you bloody dotards. Release the hounds.
But nothing is perfect, anyway. And let’s not forget, there are places in the world where they put errors in rugs because perfection is for God alone, so I suppose you could look at it that way if you were so inclined.
Because in all other ways – in all significant and insignificant ways – the Phantom is the pinnacle, the epitome, of motoring luxury. A Phantom is a Phantom is a Phantom. That it is, Torsten, that it is.