To prepare for our road test of Rolls-royce’s magnificent Phantom, I de-mothballed my tailored Richard James suit; took my Cad & The Dandy twill shirt off its hanger and matched it to a bespoke Rochefort necktie; and, finally, gave my two-tone Foster & Son Oxford shoes a quick dust over with a polishing cloth.
Armed with the latest edition of the Review, I was now ready to sink into the soft Signal Red leather seats in our test Phantom’s rear passenger compartment.
And what a truly pleasant place that promised to be — with acres of gorgeous, hand-stitched leatherwork, deeppile lambswool rugs, and swathes of rich walnut-burr veneer. The Phantom even comes with a set of bespoke cushions — just to make sure passengers are well and truly comfortable.
Once settled in, I would be able to connect my ipad to the internet while my chauffeur for the day — young Ashley Mcparker — wafted me along Auckland’s highways and byways as I considered the niceties of my stock portfolio. I just hoped that the Phantom was equipped with a cooler so that the fizzy contents of the bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal Brut I planned to bring along would be maintained at the correct temperature.
It was a perfect plan — until we spoke to the very helpful Neil D’arcy-brain at Team Mcmillan Ltd, authorized Rolls-royce Motor Cars Dealer, and discovered that, while Rolls-royce customers in overseas markets such as the Middle East and China plump for being chauffeur-driven, as do those in Europe and the US, New Zealand Phantom owners prefer to drive themselves.
Indeed, our test car even came fitted with the ‘Dynamic Package’, an option that provides additional bracing front and rear, a meatier steering wheel, and improved braking feel — all designed to enhance the selfdrive experience. Well, talk about the best-laid plans of mice and men! The bespoke gear was bunged back into storage and, instead, I cracked out my best pair of denim strides, a clean NZ Classic Car T-shirt, and my most comfortable sneakers. My borrowed copy of the National Business Review was consigned to the rubbish bin — after all, the only stock I own is a few cubes of Oxo in the pantry. The ultra-expensive bubbly had been, of course, a figment of my imagination — so the bottle of el cheapo sparkling vino went back into the refrigerator.
With driving duties decided on, it was time to face up to the massively imposing Phantom — one of the largest cars you’ll spot on Kiwi roads — and there’s little doubt about the car’s overwhelming presence, from the massive 20-inch alloy wheels to the traditional, almost architectural front grille, gold coach lines (these are hand-painted onto the car’s body with squirrel and ox-hair brushes), and massive rear suicide doors.
Take a peek under the huge bonnet, and you’ll discover the Phantom’s all-alloy 48-valve 60-degree V12, a 6.75-litre development of the engine that powers BMW’S 760il.
Despite the Phantom’s aluminium skeleton and lightweight panels, the car’s weight is as massive as indicated by its outward appearance — tipping the scales at 2630kg. That’s a shade over 2.5 imperial tons and sufficient reason for the Phantom’s serious braking set-up — with massive 374mm discs up front and 370mm diameter discs at the rear.
For the SII Phantom, introduced in 2012, Rolls-royce made a series of minor modifications to the car — the most noticeable being the replacement of the earlier round headlights with neater-looking rectangular units. As well, the Phantom received a new eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Step inside this car, and you’re suddenly in the ‘Phantom zone’ — quite simply, no other vehicle gives you the same feeling of being surrounded by bespoke luxury. For some, the traditional combination of leather and walnut burr may not be their cup of Earl Grey, but nobody can dispute the fact that the Phantom is beautifully put together.
Indeed, Rolls-royce says that every Phantom comes together through 60 pairs of highly skilled hands, with every detail carefully attended to. And that includes five coats of paint, hand-stitched leatherwork that takes two weeks to complete, bespoke umbrellas concealed in each rear door, and wood veneers that are taken from a single tree to ensure the perfect finish.
Comfortably seated behind the Phantom’s steering wheel — complete with sumptuously veneered spokes — the driver has a commanding view of the road ahead from a seating position that’s a high as most off-roaders.
So, accompanied by the heady aroma of leather, it was time to see how the Phantom felt like on the road.
The power and the Phantom
Needing to check out some work carried out by a tradesperson at my Awhitu Peninsula lifestyle block, I thought we’d press the Phantom into making the trip.
For the most part, the main road up the peninsula is well suited to the Rolls-royce, although I suspected that the Phantom would be less than happy once we forked off onto the narrow and twisting secondary road that leads to my block.
Before we got to the challenging section of our test drive, the Phantom had very quickly showed itself to be supremely comfortable, even when negotiating rough road-repair patches or mid-corner ripples. Showing off impressive refinement, the car simply wafted over such imperfections as if they didn’t exist, while, up front, the silky-smooth V12 easily proved that it possessed serious power reserves. Of course, this being a Rolls-royce, the lovingly veneered dashboard doesn’t include anything as plebeian as a tachometer — instead, you get a ‘power reserve’ gauge, which tells you how much power you have available at any time. Suffice it to say that, even when being pressed along at a decent clip, the gauge indicated that the all-alloy V12 still had plenty of power available up its tailored sleeve.
What also became apparent during our drive was that, despite its size and weight, the Phantom is no sluggard. It showed itself to be surprisingly rapid —