Fourteen years is an eternity in the world of luxury and entertainment, the Phantom’s principal provinces. So climbing behind the wheel (and it is a bit of a climb) of an all-new Rolls is a special moment. The dash has been reconfgured as an art gallery, the structure itself has the implacability of Mount Rushmore, and of course there’s the Spirit of Ecstasy, pointing forward from the longest bonnet out there. More than ever, taking the helm is not like driving other cars.
It’s also a bit like driving a beautiful building, and it takes time to feel totally confdent behind the wheel. Many owners – patrons, as Rolls airily describes them – like to drive themselves, so there’s a renewed emphasis on attributes you might not associate with a car as imperious as this. Feedback, for example. In addition to the fabled magic carpet ride, there’s now more dialogue.
The wheel is a tad thicker than before, and fully electric power steering arrives, but the mode of operation remains the same: slide the delicate little column stalk into D, apply the merest suggestion of pressure to the throttle pedal, and ease away in such a manner as not to rustle the copy of Pork Belly Futures Digest that’s being mulled over in the rear compartment.
The Phantom still prefers to waft rather than hustle, although it can do so very ably should the need arise. Even with a (heavily
revised) version of Rolls’s 6.6-litre twinturbo V12 – it’s 6.75 litres in capacity here, and makes 563bhp – it feels inappropriate to trouble the power reserve gauge any more than is strictly necessary.
You don’t notice things as humdrum as gearchanges (the Phantom uses ZF’s silken 8spd transmission), and you only notice truly awful road surfaces. If you’re in the back, you don’t notice much at all. Which is the point: in a Phantom, silence isn’t just golden, it’s omnipresent.
Rolls says the new spaceframe is 30 per cent more rigid than previously, a fgure that rises signifcantly in key areas such as suspension and gearbox. The chassis gets an all-new suspension set-up, with a double wishbone confguration on the front, a fvelink axle at the rear, adaptive dampers and active anti-roll bars. It also benefts from 4WS, whose three degrees of counter-steer help shrink the car’s heft at higher speeds, as well as improving low-speed agility. The air springs feature bigger chambers than on any previous Rolls, and the tyres are specially developed Continentals whose structure incorporates 2kg of soundabsorbent material. There’s 6mm-thick, dual-layer double glazing all round; overall, the Phantom carries more than 130kg of sound-deadening material.
It’s a deliberately theatrical experience. The doors close themselves, and Rolls talks about creating a “detoxifying environment”. Everywhere you look there’s some detail magic. The rear seats are slightly angled so you can talk without straining your neck. Push a button in the C-pillar and lushly carpeted ottomans motor out to meet your feet. Every item of switchgear is made of metal. The rear occupants get to enjoy what Rolls calls the “embrace”. Nothing as unseemly as a touchscreen is allowed in here, either; the rotary controller remains. It feels wonderful, and serves as a reminder that the tech arms race that’s redefning in-car connectivity often leads the end user up a blind alley.
The Phantom experience is as much about the tactility of the doorhandles as it is how efortlessly this thing moves. And, of course, how it looks as it scythes through lesser trafc. It’s only when you follow another one that you grasp what a uniquely fabulous-looking machine this car is. From the reimagined Parthenon grille to the tighter rear end – whose surfaces beneft from super-forming to achieve perfect radii – this is an astonishing car to behold. Or better still, to travel in. As expensive as it is (from, gulp, £360k), there’s entertainment for everyone here.
“It still prefers to waft than hustle, although it can do so very ably”
Oh yes, we can feel the detoxifying environment from here. And breathe