Re­defin­ing the ul­ti­mate in lux­ury

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE -

It’s pour­ing with rain in Zurich, Switzerland. I would de­scribe it as a very Bri­tish kind of a day. Ap­pro­pri­ate, per­haps, be­cause we are in the home of lux­ury to ex­pe­ri­ence none other than the new Rolls-Royce Phan­tom.

The Phan­tom has been around for 92 years, mak­ing it the old­est name­plate in the automotive in­dus­try. In that time each one has been revered as an icon of crafts­man­ship and lux­ury. In the new one there are hints of the past in the de­sign, with de­sign di­rec­tor Giles Tay­lor say­ing that in the Phan­tom VIII “we dip our toes back into the ex­pres­sion of the 1920s”.

That is most clear in the sweep­ing lines of the rear, but it is also in the char­ac­ter of the car which is all about the ul­ti­mate in re­laxed lux­ury with­out over­do­ing things and cer­tainly with­out be­ing crass.

Lux­ury comes at a price, but hon­estly we are in­clined to say that if you have to ask and all that. The ex­act price is tricky any­way be­cause the ex­change rate moves around more than a plane in a Joburg thun­der­storm, but ob­vi­ously we are talk­ing mil­lions, lots of mil­lions, and then there are op­tions.

It is de­scribed as “the world’s ul­ti­mate lux­ury prod­uct”, not sur­pris­ingly by Richard Carter, the di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Rolls-Royce, but the world’s lux­ury houses are all likely to agree, af­ter all, many of them re­fer to their prod­ucts as “the Rolls-Royce of”.

The lat­est gen­er­a­tion is all­new from the ground up, in­clud­ing at ground level, noise in­su­lat­ing tyres. These are im­por­tant be­cause CEO Torsten MuellerOtvos laid down a clear brief to his team to “make sure it is the most silent vehicle in the world”, says Philip Koehn, the com­pany’s head of en­gi­neer­ing.

Those mas­sive 22-inch wheels fea­ture the fa­mous dou­ble R logo that al­ways re­mains up­right in the wheel hubs. But sur­round­ing the wheels are clever Con­ti­nen­tal tyres that fea­ture not only a layer of mousse to self-re­pair the tyre in the event of a punc­ture, but an­other layer of foam which re­duces the amount of sound em­a­nat­ing from the rub­ber on the road sur­face. It is im­por­tant that the at­mos­phere in the cabin is as quiet as pos­si­ble.

Koehn says the Phan­tom fea­tures the “ar­chi­tec­ture of lux­ury” which in­cludes a brand new plat­form that will un­der­pin all fu­ture new mod­els in­clud­ing the new Cul­li­nan SUV. It fea­tures ex­ten­sive use of alu­minium, in­clud­ing the roof and C-pil­lar which, in this age of robot weld­ing, still have to be welded to­gether by hand be­cause a robot gets very grumpy at try­ing to deal with the im­per­fec­tions in the edges of the metal.

Two chaps have to hit the weld­ing spots at ex­actly the same time with ex­actly the same amount of heat to avoid any con­tor­tions in the metal and en­sure it re­tains its struc­tural rigid­ity.

But this is a Rolls, all about hand­crafted at­ten­tion to de­tail and lux­ury — and there is lots of it. I can go on about the beau­ti­ful, smooth, 6.75l twin-turbo V12 en­gine with one of the most pro­gres­sive power bands on the planet (I find my­self us­ing words like planet when talk­ing about the Phan­tom) but it is the re­fine­ment, the am­bi­ence and the in­te­rior qual­ity that counts.

“We are not in the car busi­ness in a tra­di­tional sense,” says Mueller-Ot­tos. That’s true, Rolls is in the lux­ury con­veyance busi­ness and that means en­sur­ing the oc­cu­pants of the new Phan­tom are as cos­seted as pos­si­ble. That in­cludes en­sur­ing a quiet cabin, a very quiet cabin. Koehn says that the in­te­rior is three to six deci­bels qui­eter than its near­est com­peti­tor.

We drove the ex­tended wheel­base ver­sion which mea­sures in at 5.98m (the stan­dard ver­sion is 5.76m) which means legroom for miles and thick pile car­pets to lose your shoes in. The seats fea­ture the best leather and you don’t sit on them, you sink into them, your head nes­tled in the head­rest as though it is a pil­low at the Saxon or the Savoy. You lounge in the back, sur­rounded by cham­pagne flutes, technology such as the in­fo­tain­ment screen hid­den dis­creetly be­hind a wood panel on the back of the seat and a

footrest which rises up at the touch of a but­ton. You can push a but­ton to close the doors now too and the ro­tary dial to con­trol the in­fo­tain­ment turns with an in­cred­i­bly sat­is­fy­ing feel­ing.

Spec­ify the starlight roof and at the push of a but­ton, hun­dreds of LED lights in the ceil­ing twin­kle away and with the noise of the out­side world al­most com­pletely iso­lated cour­tesy of more than 130kg of sound-dead­en­ing ma­te­rial, you quickly feel as though you are in your own lux­u­ri­ous world.

That world can also be tai­lored to your own taste. We are not just talk­ing about leather and trim op­tions, but your taste in art. The dash­board fea­tures “The Gallery” which Tay­lor says is the largest piece of glass in front of the driver any­where in the world. The in­fo­tain­ment screen (Rolls has adapted it from the BMW sys­tem be­fore you ask) sits be­hind the glass but at the touch of a but­ton it can dis­ap­pear. And when it does, you are left with a piece of art that spans most of the dash.

It is also a vehicle with immense pres­ence. The fa­cade is more dy­namic in its ap­pear­ance than be­fore and fronts a vehicle that can best be de­scribed as im­pos­ing. Tay­lor refers to it as a “sense of en­gi­neer­ing per­ma­nence”.

But it is not im­pos­ing to drive, even when you are chauf­feur­ing Tay­lor in the back seat. He was quick to point out that the steer­ing wheel is thicker, mainly be­cause it houses heat­ing technology and sen­sors, but this small change made driv­ing it feel more nat­u­ral. The Phan­tom is the ul­ti­mate sym­bol of lux­ury and, quite hon­estly, it is ab­so­lutely flaw­less.

The de­sign of the new Phan­tom aims to give it a ‘sense of en­gi­neered per­ma­nence’.

The rear, above, pays par­tic­u­lar homage to Phan­toms of the past. Left: The in­te­rior com­bines clas­sic el­e­gance with the lat­est technology.

The rear seats can be tai­lored to your in­di­vid­ual taste.

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