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.