As the flagship model of the world’s most famous luxury carmaker, the Rolls-Royce Phantom is a rolling throwback to an age when the super-wealthy lived in 100-room estates and employed dozens of staff, a few of them chauffeurs.
The debut of the modern Rolls-Royce Phantom, in 2003, ushered the company into a new era under BMW ownership. Ever since the German automaker acquired the British one in 1998, the company has grown considerably with annual global sales reaching 4,000 cars in 2014.
In 2013, Rolls-Royce introduced an updated Series II Phantom, but by 2016 the company announced that the Phantom as we know it will cease production after next year and be replaced by a brand-new car. But before the Phantom fades into history, we had to drive one.
Rolls-Royce recently dropped off a 2016 model in regal black paint. The Phantom starts at $417,825, but our options-heavy test car left the factory with a price of $506,900, making it the most expensive vehicle we’ve ever tested.
Photos by Hollis Johnson unless otherwise credited.
Our test car came in at a substantial 19.1 feet in length, but there is an extended-wheel-base version that is nearly a foot longer.
In addition to the sedan, Rolls offers the Phantom in a convertible and a coupe. But both versions will be discontinued at the end of 2016.
The Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament can be lowered electronically. It is equipped with its own spotlight.
The floating Rolls-Royce wheel emblem is a cool touch. It doesn't move, even when the car is travelling at high speeds.
The Phantom's tapered rear-end design gives the luxury limo a pseudo tear-drop shape. Don't worry: There's plenty of space for a set of custom luggage.
Or as Rolls-Royce prefers to call them, 'coach doors.' Even though personal expression has always played a major role in car culture, ultra-luxury brands such as Rolls-Royce take the art of the bespoke automobile to a new level.
As a result, Rolls is capable of creating whatever interior -- or exterior paint job -- a customer's heart desires. Our car came with a stately black leather interior.
Instead of a small-diameter steering wheel popular on modern cars, Rolls sticks with a modern iteration of the large, thin steering wheel that the company has been installing on cars for decades. It's an oddly satisfying wheel to grip, a real throwback.
It features Rolls-Royce's signature 'Power Reserve' meter, which exists in place of the traditional tachometer.
The engine start button is located on a round panel to left the steering wheel. The panel is one of many part of this interior designed to mimic the dashboards of previous Rolls-Royce models.
As a modern automobile, the center stack of the Phantom is dominated by a 8.8-inch infotainment screen, running a Rolls-Royce version of the iDrive system from parent company BMW.
When not in use, the screen is neatly hidden behind a wood veneer panel containing an analogue clock.
There is a hidden mobile phone holder built into the dash. This little feature is useful: It is large enough to stow a phone and a pair of glasses, along with a few other small items that would otherwise be bouncing around the vast interior.
As nice as the front cabin may be, open up the rear coach door and you'll find the kind of accommodations that you just don't get in 21st-century automobiles anymore.
Slotted into the rear coach doors are a pair of umbrellas that are kept in special drying compartments.
The electric curtain keeps the sun out. It is another throwback to classic luxury limousines from the days when well-heeled Rolls owners spent their time being driven by a member of the household staff.
Physically closing the door is too vulgar an activity for the Rolls-Royce owner. A button mounted behind the door sill takes care of that unpleasant business.
Back-seat passengers are treated to headrests that redefine comfort. They're the most exquisite we have seen.
Above the rear seats is Rolls-Royce's starlight headliner. It features 800 fibre-optic lights that can be tailored to create any pattern the customer fancies.
Even though the Phantom can be optioned with seating room for three in the back row, our test car came with a souped-up center console.
These screens are built into back of the fronts seats and can be folded down to double as picnic tables. Included in the infotainment package is a 15-speaker, 600-watt Lexicon sound system.
The front cabin is more workspace than hideaway. We are not saying the fit and finish are not top notch or not beautifully appointed. The driver's seat just has a different purpose.
You fire up the Phantom's herculean 6.75-litre, 453-horsepower V12 engine. Rolls-Royce claims the car is capable of reaching 60 mph in a brisk 5.7 seconds and achieving an electronically limited top speed of 149 mph.
Although the Phantom is capable of brisk acceleration when called upon, it never feels rushed. Every action the car undertakes feels deliberate. That is not a flaw; it is by design.
Unlike most motor cars, the Phantom customer is not the driver. The owner is the person sitting in the back. As a result, driving enjoyment is far from this car's top priority. In fact, one could argue that motoring pleasure is least important.
Consequently, the Phantom is tuned so that conditions won't interfere with the passengers' enjoyment of their journey.
About those passengers: Rolls-Royce has curated an rear-seat experience like no other in the automotive world. The level of isolation and serenity is unparalleled.
It is as quiet as a monastery. And the glazing on the windshield was so thick that the signal from a toll booth could not penetrate and reach our receiver. According to the company, the goal is to offer customers a 'magic carpet ride.'
On its self-levelling-pneumatic suspension, the Phantom glided effortlessly across even the most pothole-ridden terrain we could find -- in New York City, land of the pothole. On suburban roads in New Jersey, we barely felt a thing.
The new Dawn convertible. This trio of models were conceived with a heavier dose of BMW DNA, and it shows when you get behind the wheel. None of the three offer anything in the neighbourhood of a BMW M-car experience, but they are far more fun to drive than the Phantom.
But ripping around corners isn't the point of the Phantom. It is an evocation of a vanished era, a time of sprawling country estates and a life lived in a never-ending series of ostentatious environments. It is reminiscent of the Rollers that once conveyed entire 1970s English rock bands. Business Insider's Matt DeBord drove his kids around in it, and they were swiftly transformed into temporarily celebrities. The car is so grand it engenders fascination, as if taken from a fairy tale.
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