I’m in one of the most exquisite drivers seats ever conceived in any car, leave alone a coupe – but it’s a fairly large car, and I’m sitting virtually at SUV height. So, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it all – you see, this is a Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe, which is meant to be sportier than the traditional palace-on-wheels that is the Phantom. Now, you wouldn’t ordinarily put Rolls-Royce and sporty in the same sentence – luxurious, palatial, exotic, plush, opulent, grand (you get the picture), but not sporty!
Believe me when I tell you, though, that it takes a mere 60 seconds behind the wheel of a Phantom – and I don’t mean just the coupe – to dispel any notions that you may have had about the fact that a massive luxury land-yacht simply cannot be involving to drive. The Rolls-Royce Phantom is nothing short of one of the greatest cars that I’ve ever driven, and it takes you completely by surprise as it wraps around you, tells you exactly what it’s doing (in gentle tones no doubt), and lunges towards the horizon with elegance, grace and unrelenting pace. You see, it may be about the size of a small house, but it does have an aluminium space-frame to ensure that it weighs a bit less than an actual condominium – and that means it goes quite swiftly indeed, seeing that it’s propelled by a 6.75 litre V12 producing a not inconsiderable 450 horsepower.
You also have to understand that the Phantom is the first car built under BMW ownership, and they know a thing or two about chassis dynamics. About 20% of the components on a Rolls are made by BMW. For instance, when we first tested the Ghost some time ago we noticed that the upper A-arm of the front suspension was stamped ‘BMW.’ But, as Andrew Ball, Corporate Communications Manager for Rolls-Royce, pointed out when I visited the factory in Goodwood a few years ago, BMW components consist mostly of the electronics and other components that are under the skin – any part that a customer touches, feels, or sniffs is purely Rolls-Royce. Moreover, as Andrew says, they celebrate the link with BMW – they don’t hide it. They have an autonomous business, but benefit from having BMW as a parent.
And that benefit is clearly apparent in the Coupe that we have here. It simply provides a relentless surge of get-up-and-go that is inconceivable in a car of this size. 0-100 comes up in under 6 seconds, and you find yourself unknowingly aiming to get the needle in the ‘Power Reserve’ gauge to 0, which takes some doing. You see, a Rolls doesn’t come with something as pedestrian as a tachometer – it has this Power Reserve gauge instead, which starts at 100 (that means you have 100% of the power of the engine in reserve), and goes all the way down to 0 when you’re using all the thoroughbreds hidden beneath the engine bay. Most of the time, though, you find that you’re using only about 5% of the engines power – which only entices you more to bury the throttle when you find an empty stretch of road.
Terms such as gear changes mean absolutely nothing in the road test of a Phantom, because you simply don’t feel them at all – the only thing you get is constant power and torque. The other trait that catches you completely off guard is how the Phantom Coupe corners – not only does it grip the tarmac with the ferocity of a sports car, it doesn’t have the slightest hint of roll, squat, dive, or pitch. And the primary reason for that is the fact that you’re able to keep it within its (considerably high) limits, thanks to the precise feedback provided by its thin rimmed steering wheel.
So, we’ve established its coupe credentials – this is a car that you do actually want to get in and drive. But, is it special enough to be a ‘pukka’ Rolls-Royce? Well, it has the rear-hinged suicide doors to start with – or ‘coach doors’ as Rolls likes to call them. Naturally, of course, once you’re in the car you merely have to depress a button to instruct the doors to close, should your indignant attendant neglect to do so behind you – shudder the thought. Once seated, you’re faced with the familiar dash from the Phantom, which is to say that it’s crafted to same levels of insane detail – right from the single piece of cast magnesium that constitutes the shell of the dash to ensure that there are absolutely no squeaks or rattles whatsoever. It goes without saying as well that you get the same bouquet of the finest materials of hide, wood, chrome, and wool. You even get 1,600 LEDs in the headliner to resemble a starry night. The double glazed glass and double bulkhead, plus enough sound deadening material to outfit a recording studio, all ensure the same (almost) eerie feeling of calm inside the cabin. The honk of horns outside the cabin appear to be coming from a faraway place, and it’s only when you put the window down that you’re bombarded by reality. Then, there are the small things, such as the delicate touch of the indicator stalks, or the sound of engineering precision that emanates from the starter motor – which makes me go a little weak in the knees I hesitate to admit – that all points to this being as special (if not more so) than the four-door Phantom.
In the old days, if you were a Maharaja and you bought a Rolls, you would have to choose from a handful of select coachbuilders to put the body of your choice on a Rolls-Royce chassis – so, in a sense, it would be truly bespoke. Now, the factory does it for you. As a result, they offer every option imaginable – to the tune of 44,000 different shades of paint (best of luck making that decision). Plus, they also offer their well heeled clientele different body styles – ranging from standard to extended wheelbase, to coupe, to convertible.
For me, though, I would still buy the four-door Phantom and drive it myself. It feels practically as good, if not better – merely because you don’t actually expect it to be sporty. I would then take the few crores saved, and buy a supercar if I really wanted a coupe. I still absolutely love the Phantom – now the Series II – but I’m not sure that I’ve been able to figure out the Coupe. But, then, that’s probably because I don’t quite have 6 crores in my back pocket to surrender at the nearest Rolls-Royce showroom. I would actually spend 4 crores on a Phantom if I could – simply because it really is what a vehicle bearing the RR badge is meant to be, ‘The best car in the world.’ But it would be the one with four doors, not two!