Is The Rolls-Royce Phantom The "World's Best Car"?
In 1925, the owners of Rolls‑Royce had one goal in mind: to create the world’s best car. Over time, this has come to mean many different things for car manufacturers but to Rolls-Royce back then, it meant building the most comfortable, luxurious and well-appointed car of its time. The result was the Phantom. Rolls‑Royce introduced its seventh-generation Phantom 14 years ago, the first under the aegis of the BMW Group since the German company acquired the British marque in 1998. Last September, the eighth‑generation Phantom made its Southeast Asian premiere in Singapore.
(Related: Rolls-Royce Reveals New 2018 Phantom)
Rolls-Royce has never been about speed or power, as it is in a league of its own. In fact, it is reticent to brag about the V12 engine in its new Phantom. To the marque, it seems almost crass to mention that the twin-turbo 6.75L engine delivers 563hp and 900Nm of torque, significantly higher than the 459hp and 720Nm proffered by its previous V12 engine. Yes, V12 engines today produce far more power than that, but the intention for the Phantom is to have an immense swathe of refined power at low engine speeds. Hence, its torque of 900Nm arrives at just 1,700rpm, effortlessly and instantly giving the car excellent flexibility.
Being equipped with the latest eight-speed ZF automatic transmission allows the 2,560kg giant to reach 100km/h in 5.3sec, half a second quicker than its forebear, and an electronically governed top speed of 250km/h. This is a smart transmission aided by satellite navigation to predict the best gear for the road up ahead. It accelerates away quickly and regally without drama, which is the very definition of what Rolls-Royce calls “waftability”.
Oasis of calm
Performance aside, the Phantom is undoubtedly the world’s most luxurious automobile. It is all about handmade craftsmanship, using the finest materials in the most tasteful and elegant manner, pampering those who sit in it by providing the most refined drive experience, and travelling and arriving at a place in a manner fit for royalty. Its sheer size and styling make the biggest statement.
The Phantom VIII is an evolution of its predecessor, but also deliberately similar to assure a continuity of the lineage. Its front Pantheon grille, for example, is as prominent as ever, but now blends more seamlessly with the lines of the body. It is also taller and canted slightly rearward to enhance the sense of dynamism. Overall, the Phantom’s styling exudes an air of minimalism, where surfaces are smoother, corners more rounded and wheel arches devoid of any significant flaring.
Just opening the car’s large, hefty doors provides a sense of occasion. The tactility is nigh on perfect and immediately feels as if all parts are hewn from solid metal. When they close softly behind you, there is no more noise from the outside world. Rolls-Royce terms this “The Embrace”, where the owner is warmly greeted and ushered into the sumptuous cabin that serves as a sanctuary on wheels. The rear seats are possibly unsurpassed in the automobile kingdom, and there is ample legroom, especially in the Phantom’s extended wheelbase version. The unrivalled suppleness and smooth texture of the leather upholstery seduces you to keep running your hands over it. The pampering does not stop at the seats’ ability to recline or provide optimum cushion for your body, it also comes with a massage feature to relieve you of your knots.
For the front dashboard, Rolls-Royce design director, Giles Taylor, felt that owners might get bored staring at a huge expanse of veneered wood panels. So he came up with the concept of “The Gallery”. As its name suggests, it transforms part of the dashboard into a gallery display of sorts by encasing any artefact dreamt up by Rolls-Royce or artwork commissioned by the car owner behind toughened tempered glass.
When it comes to driving the Phantom, it is truly effortless, except for the period when you accustom yourself to the size of this behemoth! Of course, it is doubtful that any of the Phantoms sold in our region will be personally driven by their owners. Nonetheless, the car proves to be a breeze to drive thanks to a well-behaved chassis and electric power-assisted steering system, while agility is greatly improved thanks to the inclusion of a rear-wheel steer system. This system also simply means that the rear passengers will perceive more of a sideway motion, which is more comfortable and sometimes unnoticeable.
It felt almost strange watching this behemoth scythe through the hairpin turns of the Swiss Alps. The turns were managed efficiently, but it was the narrowness of the road around Lake Lucerne that proved to be a hindrance. Thanks to an active anti‑roll system, it cornered quite flat without affecting ride comfort, although needless to say, the Phantom responded better when driven gently.
Along with test drives, Rolls-Royce had at our disposal chauffeurs so we could experience the best seats in the house—the rear seats. The cabin is already commodious in the normal wheelbase car, but in the extended wheelbase edition, you would have to shout to communicate with your driver. But of course, I exaggerate, because this car is so incredibly quiet on the inside that you could whisper and be heard. The engineers started their quest for noise elimination at the very source: the tyres. The Phantom’s huge 22‑inch Continental tyres have been filled with a special noise-dampening foam to drastically cut noise transmission. Any noise that escapes the tyres will be stymied by 130kg of sound insulation material that promises serenity within the cabin.
The tuning of the car’s air suspension is perfect for comfort especially for those seated in the back and is the closest thing to a magic carpet ride. The two rear seats have every conceivable luxury and modern functionality—far too many to count, but most notably, a champagne cooler box for when you want a flute of your most exquisite bubbly on the go.
At the end of my two days with the Phantom VIII, it became clear that nothing can hold a candle to it in terms of status, stature and luxury. The eighth generation is a proud continuation of the legacy the Rolls-Royce founders have established.