Riding high on the coattails of the Flying Lady
The Rolls Royce marque needs no introduction. Cars bearing the ‘RR’ badge have been providing exemplary service to royalty, captains of industry, and the rich & famous since the early 20th century.
This mantle of service, and the corresponding wealth of heritage, now rests in the pragmatic hands of BMW. While an all-new Rolls Royce factory still resides in the UK, ownership has been with the Germans since 1998, and BMW since 2003. The car you see here is the first car developed solely under BMW’s control – albeit designed by Englishman Ian Cameron. He seems to have risen to the challenge and pulled off the unmistakable look of a Rolls Royce while also bringing the car into the 21st century.
In September 2008, Rolls Royce expanded its worldwide dealerships to 82 with its latest addition in the heart of the Indian Capital. Rolls Royce and India share a long and fruitful history with the Indian royalty being one of the luxury car makers’ largest customers in the early 20th century. The Delhi showroom is their second in the country – after 50 years, Rolls Royce returned to India in 2005 with a dealership in Mumbai.
So if you have the means, which would need to be considerable, to say the least, and the inclination, then one of the 10 or so Rolls Royce Phantoms assigned to the Indian market each year could be in your (almost certainly) vast driveway.
From the outside
The Phantom is truly massive – it absolutely dwarfs everything else on the road. The front grille is fittingly large and fantastically imposing – let’s just say you wouldn’t exactly enter into an argument with whoever’s behind the wheel of this car. Surprisingly, despite its size, the Phantom has a drag coefficient of just .38. I would have thought just the grill alone would annihilate (or, being a Rolls, gently disburse) the air molecules it comes in contact with as it storms down the road, but such a low drag coefficient suggests that it simply slices through the air.
The Phantom has been accused by some of looking a little over the top, but to me, it just looks incredibly impressive and very stately indeed. And boy does it draw a crowd. In fact, you can hear people speculating on how much they think it costs – inflating the price three times over as they look on in amazement.
Even the wheels on the Phantom are massive at 21 inches – a wheel diameter that even rap stars would be happy with. Yet, it’s the small things that completely win you over – the way the RR badge on the wheels always stay upright; the evocative, delicate and legendary ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ hood ornament; the multiple Rolls Royce badges and emblems that invoke a sense of awe and admiration; the chrome door handles that meet in the middle of the suicide doors – or as Rolls Royce calls them, coach doors. Even the paint is exquisite, it takes just one look at the car to be in no doubt that it really does receive five coats of primer, paint and clear coat – other cars look almost unfinished in comparison, or at least like they have a matte finish instead. And, of course, you can choose between a mind-boggling 44,000 different shades of paint – just that in itself should take about a week or so once you’ve actually decided to buy a Rolls.
From the inside
Climb into the rear seat, which is a throne finer than any other you’re likely to experience, and you’re transported into an entirely different world where leather is softer than a baby’s bottom, where you’re surrounded by different types of wood hand-picked and crafted to absolute perfection – it’s literally like being in a parallel universe with you at the centre of it. If this is what it feels like to be a dictator or monarch, I’ll take it, thank you very much.
Should the valet, butler or chauffeur forget to close the door for you, shudder the thought, you simply have to extend your index finger to press a button and its done. Here again, there’s so much to feast your eyes on, such as the chrome plungers that open and close the AC vents or the art deco roof light – everything is exquisite to look at, and fine to the touch. Every button, switch or knob makes a satisfying sound, and has an engineered feel – even the clicking of the umbrella as you insert it back in the door is satisfying (if those kinds of things do in fact satisfy you). You won’t find a hard surface or a sharp edge anywhere in the cabin – the attention to detail is truly extraordinary.
The rear-hinged doors open generously and provide easy access to the cabin. The high roof and flat floor, covered in some 6-inch thick carpets of the finest wool, ensure that you remain dignified during ingress and egress. However, since the rear seat is set quite far back to ensure absolute comfort and provides some privacy, it does require a step or two when getting in and out of the car. And the front seats are no less inviting, with a stunning and elegant dashboard laid out in front of you – the shell of which is built from a single piece of cast magnesium to ensure that there are absolutely no squeaks or rattles whatsoever.
On the road
The sensation of being in a parallel, and completely serene, the universe continues from behind the wheel. Nevertheless, even Rolls Royce has to adapt to current trends, and hence there’s an engine-start button in the Phantom, as has become the norm these days. The difference here, of course, is that it activates a starter motor (which incidentally has its very own battery) that itself makes a brilliant and purposeful sound as it fires up the mammoth 6.75-litre V12 BMW power unit – that’s all you hear of the engine though, as it’s eerily silent in the cabin thereafter.
The Phantom has double glazed glass, enough sound deadening material to outfit a recording studio and a double bulkhead – all of which ensures that absolutely no noise or sensation permeates the cabin. Everything you’ve been told is true – the only thing you can hear in a Rolls Royce at 100km/h is the clock ticking. Only, in this case, the clock doesn’t tick – so in reality, the only thing you actually hear is your heart beating a little faster every time someone comes even remotely close to the car. It’s a slightly strange sensation because you can see the chaos on the roads, but you feel far removed from it all because you can hardly hear it. It’s almost like being in a dream, as though there’s an elaborate silent film playing out all around you.
From behind the wheel, the first thing that strikes you is the view – you look out onto a massive bonnet outstretched in front of you, with the glorious Spirit of Ecstasy pointing the way. Nevertheless, should you for some reason tire of seeing her – she’ll slink away into the grille at the touch of a button. The other thing that strikes you is a ‘power reserve’ meter right next to the speedometer – where you’d ordinarily expect to find a tachometer. In this case, the gauge moves anticlockwise from 100% to 0 depending on how much of the engine’s power you’re actually consuming.
Now this may be a large car at over two-and-a-half tonnes, but it feels incredibly light thanks to the more than generous power reserves of the engine – as a result of which, every time I looked down at the power reserve meter, I found that I almost always had close to 100% of the engine's power still at hand. On the few occasions when I actually tried to make use of these liberal helpings of force, I was amazed at how quickly, yet inconspicuously, the transmission would downshift, and just how rapidly we’d make progress. This should come as no surprise, however, since the Phantom supposedly accelerates from 0-100km/h in a sports car rivalling 5.9 seconds. Although, it seems like you should have to apply for permission from the Geological Department before a full-blooded start in the Phantom because it’s sure to upset the balance of the tectonic plates below the earth’s surface.
It may cause carnage below the earth’s crust, but in the cabin, it feels like you’re floating on a cloud. The Phantom just wafts you serenely from place to place. The ride is astonishing despite the 21-inch rims. Plus, it doesn’t suffer from pedestrian characteristics such as dive under braking or squat under acceleration. It does what you ask of it, and it does it well indeed, but its first priority is to ensure the comfort of its well-heeled occupants. The strange and surprising thing is, though, that it actually feels wonderful to drive. You would expect it to feel lifeless and vague like an American luxury barge, but in fact, it feels delicate and light through its dignified thin-rimmed steering wheel. And you can be sure that this hasn’t happened by chance, Rolls Royce and BMW have worked extremely hard at it. You see, the Phantom has an aluminium spaceframe to guarantee lightweight, yet ensure rigidity. The majority of body panels are also made from aluminium – the front wings are even made from a composite material.
The steering rack is a rack and pinion, which should explain the steering feel. All of this combines to ensure that the Phantom feels just as good from behind the wheel as it does from the rear seat. The car responds to your inputs in a way that you don’t expect from a vehicle this large. It moves, and it moves fast, but there are no jerks or jolts – it doesn’t throw you back in your seat. It just picks up the pace quickly and progressively and goes – as you’d expect with a 450 horsepower V12 under the hood. But, it does so in a dignified way – after all, you don’t expect the queen to just pick up her dress and run do you?
The other thing that strikes you is just how incredibly easy it is to drive. The car really does seem to shrink around you – it’s manoeuvrable with a great turning circle. And visibility is good since you sit relatively high up. The only thing that takes some getting used to is the fact that the front end, which can feel like it’s in another zip code, enters an intersection before you’ve had the chance to look around the corner. Once you learn to compensate for that, it should be no problem to drive the Phantom every day, which I’m told some owners actually do – thankfully.
The Rolls Royce Phantom is everything you expect it to be – only much more so. You think you’ll have an idea of what it's going to be like if you’ve spent time in an S Class Mercedes, 7 series BMW, or even a Bentley, but the Rolls really is on another level – you have to experience it for yourself to really get a sense of it. Once you get used to this kind of luxury, there’s no going back. Like the sales manager at Rolls-Royce, Delhi said, you can’t take your money with you – so, if you can afford it, you ought to invest in a Rolls. It’s so calming, and everything is so pleasurable, that it really is the ultimate anti-ageing device, and that’s priceless isn’t it? But it is a land yacht, and like its seafaring counterpart, if you have to ask how much it costs to maintain, you can’t afford it.
So, is this the best car in the world? It depends on your definition, but any car that can make such a strong case for itself both from the rear seat as well as from the drivers’ chair, deserves serious consideration. In keeping with its heritage, the Rolls Royce Phantom truly is majestic
Also read: Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe Review
- Rolls Royce Phantom
Engine: 6,794 cc / V12 / 48 valves / variable valve control and variable camshaft timing
Transmission: 6-speed automatic / Rear Wheel Drive
Power: 453bhp @ 5350rpm
Torque: 531 lb/ft @ 3500rpm
Acceleration: 0-100km/h – 5.9 seconds
Price: 3.6 crores (ex-showroom, Delhi)