Stance is usually something we associate with low-riding custom cars and serious sportsters. It’s certainly not a word you expect to hear at the launch of a new Rolls-Royce, especially that of a brand new Phantom, the jewel in the crown of the range. And yet, Giles Taylor, design director for Rolls-Royce, explains how his vision for the eighth-generation luxury saloon included a little more flamboyance and yes, even a bit of stance thanks to the sculpting of the rear bumper and bodywork. If you squint at it from a certain angle then you might see what he means, but to most, the new Phantom carries on from where its predecessor left off, with a solid, square, imposing front end, a tall yet elegant glasshouse and massive alloy wheels.
There may be a flourish to the design that wasn’t there before, but you need to examine it in detail to pick up on why. Up front, for example, the commanding chrome ‘plinth’ radiator grille is larger than before, but it’s also more integrated with the bodywork to give it a more modern appearance. That’s further enhanced by the highly technical headlights. They seem to glow thanks to a rim of LED daytime running lights yet they also feature laser high beams. The rear lights get a distinctive LED signature too and the back of the car is smoother and more flowing in design.
If you feel the need, you’ll still get four sets of golf clubs in the cavernous boot, but that’s of minor consequence next to the opulence of the main cabin. As before, the rear doors are of the ‘coach’ variety, so they hinge from the back, but Rolls-Royce has engineered a new trick that allows them to be closed by a touch of a button from inside the cabin or outside the car — by a doorman or chauffeur presumably. That sets the tone for extravagance beyond most other cars in the world.
Once inside, rear passengers are treated to gorgeously soft carpets and the supplest of leathers to luxuriate in. Apparently, it’s quite normal for female occupants to kick off their shoes and wiggle their toes around in the squishy mats. Probably a few men too. All of them will appreciate the incredible attention to detail and fantastically tactile controls. Not only do the switches and buttons all turn or press with a reassuring solidity, they are unique in style too. Take the climate controls for example: the fan speeds and temperatures are not done by numbers; instead, the fan speeds are Off, Soft, Med, High and Max, while each of the four seats has its own red and blue rotary selector for upper and lower temperatures.
But you’ll be too busy oohing and aahing at the sheer comfort of the thing to bother with any of that. And then, assuming your chauffeur knows what he’s doing, you may not even realise that you’ve started moving. Rolls-Royce bullishly claims that the Phantom is the most silent car in the world, and it really is something. In our two days with the car, one situation really underlined how quiet it is. We were travelling through a long tunnel, the roads were soaking wet and there was a constant stream of fast moving traffic coming in the other direction. Each passing car was signalled by the merest hiss through the thick acoustic glazing (and 130kg of extra sound deadening the new car has in comparison to the one before it). We never needed to raise our voices above a whisper to be heard. Even the tyres feature a noise-absorbing foam.
Of course, the refinement is also due to the exceptional V12 engine under that long bonnet. It’s a 6.75-litre unit, as is the Rolls-Royce way, but it’s now fed air by two turbochargers. With all that in mind, the peak power output of 563bhp might sound a little unimpressive. It’s produced at 5,000rpm, which is, apparently, about double the highest engine speed most Phantoms will ever experience. Hence, this car is all about its torque. The V12 produces a monumental 900Nm from just 1,700rpm, so really, there’s never any reason to push the engine faster. It’s all-but-silent up to that and, if you have left a couple of uncouth motoring journalists loose in it to explore the full rev range, it’s still silky smooth when extended. There’s nothing so unbecoming as a rev counter, but we’re told the engine idle has been set at about 600rpm, which is astoundingly low. It could be lower still, but then the effortless response would suffer according to Philip Koehn, director of engineering.
And effortless it is. Once we had our fill of the massaged, heated and ventilated rear seats, we ditched our chauffeur and took the (very large diameter) wheel for ourselves. The engine is so quiet, and the torque delivery so smooth that it takes a little readjustment to realise that you’re effortlessly travelling along at a decent lick in no time at all. The throttle and brake pedals are beautifully damped and long in travel, presumably to make the job of professional chauffeurs a little easier. It also makes the Phantom quite satisfying to drive. As does the well-weighted steering and response from the throttle.
There’s a lot of high-tech engineering going on under the metalwork to enable all this, including big-capacity air suspension, four-wheel steering and active roll control, but the owner/driver need never know anything about it, as none of it is adjustable in any case. Likewise the eight-speed transmission. Don’t expect to find gearchange paddles behind the wheel. It is, as you’d hope, silky smooth. We’re not saying that the Phantom is a driver’s car, but it is one that its owners will enjoy driving despite its considerable weight — and Rolls-Royce surprises us by saying that it expects more than ever to do so.
There’s a lot of high-tech engineering going on under the metalwork to enable all this, including big-capacity air suspension, four-wheel steering and active roll control...
To try to get into the mind-set of a typical buyer, you have to realise that cars such as the Phantom are not seen as mere vehicles; its owner will likely have many other cars to choose from for various practical duties. Instead, the Phantom is a luxury item, something to be enjoyed and shown off from time to time. To that end, the level of personalisation is near-endless. However, Rolls-Royce has really raised its game in that regard by the introduction of the ‘Gallery’ feature of the interior. This takes the form of a single sculpted piece of glass that extends the width of the cabin in front of the driver. Behind it sit the wonderfully simple instruments, the retractable infotainment screen, an analogue clock and an area about two-thirds the width in which the buyer, for a price, can do pretty much whatever they want. The idea is that they commission a piece of art or sculpture, or match their favourite shoes. The sky really is the limit, though it can take up to a year to produce so some will ‘make do’ with some of the pre-conceived finishes Rolls-Royce offers off the shelf.
The Gallery is perhaps the standout feature of the new Phantom, but it doesn’t overshadow the fact that Rolls-Royce has made considerable strides in virtually all facets of the car’s make-up. There is no doubt in our minds that it merits the overused ‘best car in the world’ title. Now with extra stance.