A few years back we were invited to a networking event in Geneva that was hosting no less than former Rolls-Royce CEO Tom Purves. In a moment of absolute clarity, and total hubris, we took the microphone during the Q&A and asked Purves whether Rolls-Royce was still relevant. To anyone. Or anything.
Needless to say, Purves’ look could have felled a forest. We don’t recall his exact responses, but it could be summarised as such: get stuffed. Fair enough, we thought, as we reached for another glass of wine. But while the awkwardness of the moment faded quickly, the question remained.
Getting off the plane in Nice, we chuckled as we reminisced over the Purves encounter. Mostly because we’d just been invited to join a very small and select group of “bloggers” for the international launch of the all-new Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II in pearlescent white.
Let us be clear: you wouldn’t mistake a Phantom for anything else but a Rolls-Royce. And this immediate recognition is very much the reason you don’t evaluate or critique a Rolls-Royce like you would any other car. You simply stand there for a moment, looking a bit dumb-founded, as you run your eyes over the 6 metres or so of unapologetic automotive magnificence. You feel humbled; not a familiar reaction for us, we can assure you…
Our driver, Andre, opened the door to the Phantom in the Nice airport car park, inviting us to get in for a ride to the sumptuous Hotel Le Cap Estel. And nothing would ever be the same again.
While we have some terrific vids introducing you to the Phantom further down – courtesy of jovial and endearing Product PR Manager Nigel Wonnacott – we also wanted to walk you through the experience ourselves.
With the Hotel Le Cap Estel as a backdrop (this divine building and location has hosted the likes of the Beatles and Greta Garbo; the bar is a masterpiece in and of itself), we shuffled up to the pantheon front grille of the Phantom Series II and drank in the changes.
Given the Phantom was originally launched in 2003, it’s clear it was getting a little long in the tooth. Mercifully, the Series II benefits from a face-lift, in that the awkward round “faux-foglamp” driving lights have finally been nipped and tucked out in favour of all LED light clusters. The latter ensure the Series II sports a far more harmonious and attractive “smile”. It also telegraphs the fact that much of the changes within the Series II are under the skin.
While the glorious naturally aspirated 6.75-litre V12 engine remains – wafting you to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and up to a top speed of 149 mph – the Series II hasn’t made any progress in terms of shedding a little weight, remaining decidedly gargantuan at some 2,500 kg. At a time when lightweight materials offer a clear way out of the automotive fat farm (and the Phantom Series II actually uses an aluminium spaceframe…), we’re somewhat dispirited to note that the Series II managed to shed a mere 20 – 30kg compared to its predecessor.
However, in typical Rolls Royce fashion, they’ve managed to use a new eight-speed transmission to reduce both fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by some 10%. Not bad, although many will argue that existing and potential buyers won’t give a hoot.
So, what is it like to be driven around in the Rolls Royce Phantom Series II? Well, we’d like to preface our response by stating that Rolls Royce has always been beyond the reach of The Prodigal Radar. Simply put, it’s not a brand or a product that we’d ever really formed an opinion on, other than to recognise its existence.
We pressed Andre, a professional racer who was heading off to Spa the following weekend, on what he made of the Phantom Series II. He was unequivocal: “it’s unlike any other car I’ve ever driven. It’s simply beyond comparison!” And you know what? He was absolutely right.
There’s a very real and overwhelmingly sensory chasm that separates the Phantom from every other luxury car we’ve floated around in – and we’ve been in them all. Little indicates you that you’re inside a moving object, such is the cocooning and pampering effect of the Phantom. You hear nothing of the engine or exterior world; the transmission shifts imperceptibly and even acceleration and braking appear to be entirely seamless. One doesn’t sit inside a Phantom, you inhabit the space, making it your own as you would a favourite couch or armchair. In a day and age when people jam pitiful ear-buds into their auditory canals to shut out ambient noise with, well, more noise, the Phantom delivers the sound of pristine, absolute silence.
The Phantom Series II has another trick up its sleeve, one hinted at by the facelift that so discretely integrates advanced technology without shouting in the process. A wealth of technology lies at your fingertips, hidden behind the sumptuous woodwork of the Phantom cabin. The rear passengers each have access to large screens which fold out of the picnic tables in the back of the front seats, and a controller from which they can perform all the usual connectivity tasks. The point is you can access all these goodies should you wish, or instead let them remain hidden and keep running your eyes and fingertips over the finest parlour a gentleman or woman could imagine on four wheels. Nice.
Constructive criticisms? Well, the tomb-like cabin meant we could pick up on the road surface texture beneath the immense 21-inch wheels. There was also a fraction more roll than we might have wished for, although there is something called the laws of physics that’s to blame here, rather than the good folk at Goodwood.
Closing the doors with the button option resulted in a rather unexpected ‘bang’ in the final inch or so of travel. You’re better off using the soft-close function which gracefully seals the door shut after you’ve almost closed it. Given the utterly seamless nature of the drive and ride dynamics, we found that some more work could have gone into ensuring complete consistency in the feel, weight and travel of the interior controls. An example was the opening and closing of the screen-equipped picnic table-tops, which we found to be less than perfectly oiled and intuitive.
Are we being picky? Isn’t this a bit like trying to argue the Mona Lisa could have shown a bit of tooth? Yes, absolutely. However, Rolls-Royce do seek “to take the best that exists and make it better”, and we believe nothing should penetrate the orb of perfection that is the Phantom Series II. Certainly not for an entry-level price of some £350,000. And many customers spec their cars up to £500,000. And beyond…
After a few single malts and a tasty Cohiba on the terrace of Le Cap Estel, we concluded that our question to Purves back in Geneva was, ironically, irrelevant. The Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II has pulled off the greatest trick we’ve yet seen: it is no longer a car, but a profound and totally engrossing experience that yielded the most fabulous bit of travel we’ve yet savoured. Anywhere.
Next up in our three-part series on the new Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II are interviews with the good folk that actually breathe life into the vehicle: the wood, coach liner and leather artisans of Goodwood.
Wings of ecstasy: The Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II
There is no greater automotive peak than Rolls-Royce. As part of a very small and select group of bloggers, The Prodigal Guide scaled the heights with the launch of the new Phantom Series II in southern France. And leave changed forever.
Eric (AKA Straight-Six) had a proper job as a journalist for Dow Jones before lowering himself gently into the warm, forgiving waters of The Guide. He’s our resident fanatic: he relished detailing his BMW M3 for two full days at a time before crashing it at Eau Rouge in the wet; he spends insane amounts on his home-cinema system and has thrown tens of thousands of euros at vintage Rolex sports watches. The little fool simply does not understand the concept of restraint or the meaning of excess. He also – following a legendary "heavy" lunch – once nibbled (yes, like little dogs do) a dear lady friend of ours.
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