For those with expensive taste
Rolls-Royce builds arguably the most exclusive cars money can buy; with no Continental GT equivalent, it sells fewer than half the cars Bentley delivers. The designs are imposing, the Phantom especially oozing money, power and substance in every larger-than-life line. There’s a 6.75-litre V12 engine beneath the bonnet transmitting 378kW via an eight-speed ZF transmission, and 720Nm of torque, 75 per cent is available from 1000rpm with a meter on the dash telling you how much you’re using; just 10 per cent at highway cruising speeds. The car specialises in effortless progress. Acceleration is impressive yet you barely feel it within the car, ride is hovercraft smooth and almost silent, and the long wheelbase version I drove was remarkably easy to pilot even through the narrow lanes we traversed, the huge hoop of the tiller – sorry, steering wheel – swinging almost three tons and six metres of car smoothly round bends, the patrician wings keeping you appraised of where the car’s extremities are, a long way up front. Corner carving? That’s not what the Phantom is about – though the smaller, gruntier (and at $565,000 cheaper) Ghost will do its best to assist. That car’s 6.6-litre V12 engine fields 420kW and 780Nm to propel it from zero to 100 in 4.9 seconds, 1.2 less than the Phantom.
A Rolls-Royce is all about show, from the Spirit of Ecstasy atop that imposing grille – available in 24-carat gold for $105,000 – to the classically elegant rear, and then there’s the cabin. Hand-polished wood veneer; floors covered in sheepskin, or saddle leather, or anything else your heart desires; surfaces clad in multiple hides, each measuring six square metres, from bulls with skin sufficiently perfect to supply sweeping expanses; and of course whatever tech toys take your fancy. And then there are the additions – the car I drove included a fridge with slots for two bottles and two glasses that slid from the centre base of the rear seat.
Rolls-Royce has tripled the size of its business in the last two years. “The only thing we haven’t tripled is the people” says Rolls-Royce boss Torsten Muller-Otvos. Yes, he’s German but devoted to the Britishness of the brand, which is integral to its appeal. “Every Rolls Royce in the world is built here,” with exported cars usually travelling by air. Muller-Otvos was responsible for relaunching Mini, a task he says meant developing a uniquely British character so it is “polyglot and works anywhere’’. But with Rolls, “it is truly British and that is one reason people buy;” so the car will never be built elsewhere. Or in big numbers – exclusivity is a core attribute, so increasing profits means boosting the bespoke department in charge of altering the standard car to your requirements – about 90 per cent of Phantoms are custom tailored.
That Rolls-Royce makes amodern car which oozes classic elegance and an almost tangible sense of history. And that it still fosters craft skills otherwise becoming rare.
The bespoke department’s commitment to keeping every buyer happy has led to some atrocities – a prosthetic-beige-pink car with maroon interior was on the line for my visit. We asked the bespoke general manager Lars Klawitte if there’s anything he wouldn’t deliver on the grounds of taste? “No. I would not suggest to a client that my taste is better.”
Superior: The Phantom oozes money, power and substance in every larger-than-life line.