Rolls-Royce Phantom a cut above other cars
SPIRIT OF ECSTASY AND PANTHEON GRILLE ARE SET IN STONE BUT FINAL ASSEMBLY IS COMPLETED TO EACH CUSTOMER’S SPECIFICATIONS
When it comes to Rolls-Royce, the legendary quote goes: “The brand’s vehicles do not compete with other cars, but with helicopters and yachts.”
That’s how illustrious the hand-built British marque considers itself, that no other vehicle is its equal, not even a Bentley or Mercedes’ re-launched Maybach.
When it comes to the most expensive Rolls-Royce, the Phantom, for a Kiwi angle you can add racehorses and prestigious beach houses to that list of competitors.
The Phantom is the epitome of luxury and indulgence. You expect to see Phantoms driving billionaires around Hong Kong and Russian oligarchs through London, or as fleet vehicles for five-star hotels and, of course, the daily transport for royal families.
There’s another well-known quote that is aligned with the British brand: “Whenever you get frustrated with yourself remember that it takes 13 hours to build a Toyota and six months to build a Rolls-Royce.”
In reality it takes about three-and-a-half months to build a Rolls-Royce with a minimum of bespoke details at the company’s factory at Goodwood.
And bespoke is the key word for the marque. While the Phantom’s aluminium frame is hand-welded from more than 500 separate parts, the final assembly — including a choice of 44,000 paint colours and any hue of leather, plus wood veneers from a single tree – is completed to each customer’s specifications.
But what is it like in New Zealand to own a Rolls-Royce? I had the chance to drive a Phantom Series II for two days; encountering throngs of hangers-on whenever I parked it and dealing with the practicalities of driving a nearly 6m-long, $1.1 million car around Auckland.
While we’re seeing more of these refined, hand-built vehicles on our roads, in the past the $1million-plus price tag would have triggered a fainting spell — these days that’s the price of a do-up house in the outer suburbs of Auckland.
But it seems ridiculous to compare a do-up with a luxury limo – and for most people, the Phantom isn’t your everyday runabout. The luxury sedan is built for owners who want to be ensconced in the rear seats and that starts with the rear-hinged coach doors (all the better for ma’am and sir to enter) and continues to the umbrellas in the rear doors so the chauffeur can protect you from the weather (or pesky paparazzi) when you exit the car.
Entering the car is easy for passengers because of the low sill height and flat floor. And, once in the car, the two main rear seats recline and have heat function. They are positioned higher than the two front seats so you have a great view of the traffic ahead – as well as being able to keep an eye on your chauffeur.
The large C-Pillar and the tinted side windows give the passenger privacy from the outside, and the rear-hinged doors can be closed with a push of a button located by the passenger’s head rather than having to pull the heavy door closed.
That back is where the luxury touches are focused. My Phantom was optioned up with 800 optic fibres in the ceiling – creating a starlight affect. It’s a delightful touch and one that impressed the hangers-on.
It was painted black kirsch metallic (giving it more of a purple tinge) with a hand-painted gold line running along the side. The interior leather was signal red with walnut burr fascia plus the extra comfort of lambswool floor mats.
My Phantom had rear theatre, two 12in screens built into the fold-down picnic tables on the back of the front passengers’ seats. While passengers can watch DVDs, the Phantom doesn’t have digital TV. That is a feature I’d expect to see in this level of luxury vehicle, especially when Mercedes-Benz S-Class cars sold in New Zealand have that option.
Another feature the S-Class has is a massaging seat package (including hot stone and relaxing options) but this is not available in the Rolls-Royce line-up. Yet.
If the team at Goodwood isn’t adding massaging (and while we’re at it, cooled front seats) to the leather chair line-up, I’d be surprised, because Rolls-Royce customers will be demanding it.
While the rear passengers are cocooned in optic lights and reclining seats, the driver doesn’t miss out, and to be honest (though I did spend most of my time behind the steering wheel) I prefer the dashboard to the rear area interior.
The long panel of walnut burr, plus the fact the front infotainment monitor can fold into the dash and be replaced with an analog clock, plus the old-fashioned vents, oozed traditional British elegance.
The first question from the throng, after they took the obligatory selfie in front of the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy on top of the Pantheon grille, was, “what is it like to drive?”.
A swathe of practicalities from parent company BMW are under the hand-built touches, and the driver’s seat and steering wheel are easily adjusted for my 1.53m height. It’s just that with passengers in the rear seat I look comical driving it – or maybe I need a chauffeur’s hat.
Luckily, especially when trying to manoeuvre out of work’s busy loading dock area, the Phantom comes with front, rear and top cameras. Before you even turn on the engine remember that the Phantom is big. Very big. It’s 5840mm long and nearly 2m wide with a height of 1638mm, a boot space of 460 litres and kerb weight of 2630kg, making it one of the largest sedans in the world.
So for all that metal you need a powerful engine and it comes with BMW Group’s 6.75-litre, V12 direct injection with 720Nm of torque and 338kW of power with a top speed of 240km/h.
While the instrument panel is BMW, it differs from the German brand as it has no tachometer, instead there is a power reserve dial that shows how much of that V12 engine is being used.
Once you engage Drive in the Phantom’s new ZF eight-speed auto transmission you have to remember that the bonnet is the size of most hatchbacks — and it has a turning circle of 13.8m.
Sitting on 21in tyres, the Phantom also has Dynamic Package that includes a thicker steering wheel while adding strengthened crossbars to the aluminum structure, stiffening the suspension, and recalibrating the transmission.
Throughout Day One of ownership, my driving is restricted to chauffeur duties around Auckland’s city centre (for colleagues) and, with my mother as rear passenger, the usual haunts for the Rolls: the waterfront suburbs from Orakei to St Heliers and through Parnell and Remuera.
The rear cabin gives impeccable comfort and sophistication to even the most niggly of passengers relaxing in the cocoon-like luxury of the rear seats.
With iDrive in the pull-down middle cushion of the rear seat, passengers can control their DVDs and lock in sat nav and radio stations.
The next day it’s the Phantom’s photo shoot at the extremely apt Kelliher Estate on Auckland’s Puketutu Island, thanks to Dawsons Catering. The luxury limo fits in beautifully in the 1920s mansion surrounds, especially as the estate’s famous owner, Sir Henry Kelliher, was chauffeured around the island in a Phantom.
The true power of Phantom’s V12 engine doesn’t get a chance to perform until I head north of Auckland to visit friends and, after picking up their teens from their colleges, head on to the motorway.
The Phantom hits 100km/h in 5.8 seconds but once you hit that mark the refinement of the suspension, engine and short gear ratios in Drive mode come to the fore.
And once the traffic is off the motorway and your passengers are in bed you see the Phantom transform in Dynamic Mode from Downton Abbey-esque to more Fast and the Furious.
I enter a motorway on-ramp and keep my foot planted as the Phantom moves into virtually empty lanes.
The open road is where you appreciate the engine and the Phantom’s unique “floating-carpet” style suspension. Even over bumpy bitumen, the softness of the ride gives you impetus to keep on going.
Sure, you may always have the size of the car in the back of your mind as you drive (plus the insurance excess figure reminding you to watch for bad drivers), but the Phantom has been created to be driven.
And that’s why I’ll always prefer to be behind the steering wheel of the Phantom than behind a glass of champagne in the delightfully opulent rear cabin ... okay ... 99 per cent of the time.
■Thank you to Dawsons Catering for the use of the beautiful Kelliher Estate for the photo shoot (dawsons.co.nz).
|PROS:||Prestigious, exclusive luxury with performance to boot.|
|CONS:||No massaging seats or digital TV.|