What's it like to drive a Rolls-Royce Phantom? We take the £350k 'most silent and luxurious car in the world' for a spin
- Ray Massey is one of the first to test the new Rolls-Royce Phantom - as both driver and passenger
- Phantom's dashboard displays specially commissioned works behind a sheet of glass
- For £40,000 you can have a gold-plated Flying Lady and the options list stretches as far as your imagination
- Largest starlight 'headliner' ever seen in a Rolls-Royce - and now the stars have been made to ‘twinkle’
- Should you ever venture up front the Rolls-Royce Phantom is no slouch, hitting 62mph in 5.4 seconds
Silence is golden, so whisper it softly, I’ve just been in Switzerland driving what Rolls-Royce claims is the 'the most silent car in the world' – the new £350,0000 Rolls-Royce Phantom.
And it certainly helps if you have a fair bit of gold bullion stashed away in a Swiss vault if you want to buy one of these precious vehicles. Super-rich owners who can stretch to one are not just choosing a mode of luxurious transport, but a lifestyle.
And though Rolls-Royce don’t shout about it, it’s also the most technologically advanced car that they have ever built and about as luxurious as you can get.
It is the first time the undisguised British-built limousine has been driven on the road and I was one of the first journalists not only to get behind the steering wheel but also, more importantly, as some of its well-heeled customers might prefer, to experience the elegance of being chauffeur-driven in it.
Luxury: Ray Massey road-tested the eighth-generation flagship Rolls-Royce in Switzerland from the driver's seat and the back
This privileged opportunity is well before the first customers take delivery in January, and before even the dealerships get their hands on demonstrator models.
Few people in life will be lucky enough to have the chance to do either. So the opportunity to experience the eighth-generation of the flagship Rolls-Royce to be released over its 92 years is to be savoured – following in the tyre-tracks of former Phantom owners such as Beatle John Lennon, dancer Fred Astaire, military hero Field Marshall Montgomery, and speed-record breaker Sir Malcolm Campbell.
And it’s not just a car – it’s a work of art on wheels that even has its own onboard gallery built into the dashboard, which displays specially commissioned works behind a sheet of glass.
Built at Rolls-Royce’s boutique factory at Goodwood, in West Sussex, it is only the second Phantom since German car-maker BMW took control of the company - in 2003, it previously launched the Phantom VII.
New Phantom sales will account for around 10 to 15 per cent of the 4,000 Rolls-Royces to be built annually.
So what’s the Rolls-Royce Phantom like to experience?
Even before you step inside you are confronted by a commanding presence, with that monolithic and monumental grille made from hand-polished stainless steel that for the first time is integrated smoothly into the vast bonnet to create a cleaner and more contemporary look. Above it sits the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ flying lady at the prow of your limousine, half an inch higher than before, guiding you on your way.
It really does turn heads and announce your arrival. And it is such a tempting but quietly satisfying put-down to drivers of rival luxury vehicles – or brash supercars - at traffic lights and junctions, to just ease the nose of your car into the eye-line of the driver next door and announce your ‘arrival.’
Take that BMW 7-series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, not to mention the ‘B-word’ Bentley.
You sit surrounded by high gloss and tactile wood panelling in the door interiors, centre consoles, dashboard and picnic table
Deciding to buy a Rolls-Royce Phantom is just the start, you then need to decide how to customise it.
Indeed, elite customers spend up to double the starting price of the Phantom – adding bespoke items and twists such as a crest or initials stitched into the leatherwork - making each one unique, but recognisably a Rolls-Royce
For an extra £40,000 you can even specify a gold-plated Flying Lady – in place of the silver-plated version.
After the Phantom's feast for the eyes, comes the touch. If you are being chauffeured, your driver will open the rear door to allow you to step inside to the inviting rear seats. And if you’re not driving, you can relax with a glass of chilled champagne that can be stored with two specially crafted classes in the central divider.
You can press a button for the drop down screen to see your progress on the sat-nav or simply watch a movie. Every item of switchgear is made from metal or glass, or wrapped in the finest leather.
For a car so large and expensive and imposing, the Phantom is surprisingly easy to drive and nimble
For an extra £40,000 you can even specify a gold-plated Flying Lady – in place of this silver-plated version
If you are driving, then you head up front and your first contact is with the solid door hand-polished stainless-steel handle which opens the coach-style doors the opposite way to normal.
You can close both rear and front doors from buttons inside the car.
Snuggle into the driving seat and you are confronted by the large but easy to manage steering wheel and that magnificent view through the really useful head-up display, down the long bonnet to the Flying Lady. You feel immediately like a million dollars, even if you don’t have it.
For a car so large and expensive and imposing, it is surprisingly easy to drive and nimble to manoeuvre. Engineers have worked especially hard to make it so. Its manners are refined and encourage you to drive with dignity and style. Slot it into drive via the stalk near the steering wheel and off you glide. No wonder they call it the ‘magic carpet ride.’ You really are flying.
The Phantom really is so quiet. Sweeping effortlessly through towns and villages you really can almost hear yourself think
Artful dasher: The dashboard of the new Phantom includes a space for the owner's personally-selected artwork
When you look up to the ceiling you see the largest starlight 'headliner' ever seen in a Rolls-Royce, comprising pinpricks of light in the roof. Now the stars have been made to ‘twinkle’ as they pulsate. You can even have the constellation made to coincide with how it looked on the day that you or a loved one were born, or any significant anniversary.
The silent inner sanctum of the cabin allows connoisseurs and collectors of fine art – which many wealthy owners will be –to quietly contemplate in silence their own specially commissioned artworks set behind a long stretch of protective glass on the dashboard that doubles as an art gallery on wheels.
It also houses an analogue clock – a nod to the fact that this is ‘the loudest sound you can hear in a Rolls-Royce’. The central information screen can be retracted behind the centre stack when not in use.
And it really is so quiet. Sweeping effortlessly through towns and villages you really can almost hear yourself think. Conversations are made easy because of all-round cocooning sound insulation.
Starlight 'headliner': You can have the constellation made to coincide with how it looked on the day that you were born
Keeping the noise down was a major task of Rolls-Royce engineers and designers - unless you really put your foot down
Keeping the noise down was a major task of Rolls-Royce engineers and designers. From the powerful but quieter new engine, to echo-dampening padding in the roof, two layers of thicker 6mm glazing and a special film all around the car, 130kg of sound-deadening acoustic insulation around the cabin, foam-filled tyres, and soft-touch self-closing doors.
Rolls-Royce worked closely with tyre supplier Continental – which tried 180 versions to get it right - to invent ‘Silent-Seal' 21-inch and 22-inch tyres, which have a foam layer inside to reduce overall tyre noise by 9db.
But this peace and quiet can be broken – a little – if the limousine is unleashed like a rocket by tapping into its sports-car performance.
Press the large accelerator pedal hard to the floor and this vast but exquisitely streamlined 2.6tonne Rolls-Royce Phantom will accelerate from 0-62mph in just 5.4 seconds thanks to the powerful all new 6.75 litre twin-turbo V12 engine which bosses call ‘the silently beating heart of the new Phantom.’
You hear a bit of a roar and feel the boost. But it is a controlled burst of power – a rush of unleaded adrenalin to the system. Top speed is electronically restricted to 155mph, should you be tempted to try it.
Hi-tech is part of the weft and weave of the new Phantom which is based around a new and stiffer aluminium space-frame
Hi-tech is part of the weft and weave of the new Phantom which is based around a new and stiffer aluminium space-frame to be the basis of all new future models.
A high resolution 12.3 inch colour instrument display with LED backlighting now communicates all driver information from within the round chrome surrounds.
Satellite Aided Transmission linked to a 8-speed automatic gearbox ‘also ensures that the driver is prepared for whatever the road has in store for them’.
Self-levelling air suspension makes millions of calculations every second to continuously vary the electronically controlled shock absorber adjustment system – reacting to body and wheel acceleration, steering inputs and camera information. You really are riding on air.
A ‘Flagbearer’ system – evocative of those men required by law to carry a red flag walking ahead of early motor cars – adds a stereo camera in the windscreen to scan the road ahead, adjusting suspension ahead of time at speeds of up to 62mph.
Will it fit in my garage?
New Rolls-Royce Phantom 8
Price: from £350,000
First deliveries: January 2018
Turning circle: 13.09m
Boot Volume: 548Ltr / 19ft²
Engine: New 6.75 litre twin-turbo V12
Fuel: unleaded petrol
Top speed: 155mph
Acceleration 0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
Fuel Consumption: Urban: 13.3mpg / Cruising: 29.1mpg / Average: 20.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 318 g/km
Phantom extended wheelbase
Turning circle: 13.77m
Boot Volume: 548Ltr / 19ft²
Engine: New 6.75 litre twin-turbo V12
Fuel type: Unleaded petrol
Top speed: 155mph (Limited)
Acceleration: 0 - 62mph: 5.4seconds
Fuel Consumption: Urban: 13.2mpg / Cruising: 29.1mpg / Average: 20.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 319g/km
Driver assistance and safety systems include: alertness assistant; a four-camera system with panoramic view, all-round visibility including ‘helicopter view; night vision; vision assist; active cruise control, collision-warning, pedestrian warning, cross-traffic warning, lane departure and lane change warning, a high-resolution head-up display, WiFi hotspot, and the latest navigation and entertainment systems.
New headlamps include the most advanced laser-light system of any motor car that at night casts light 600 metres down the road.
But if you are a Rolls-Royce Phantom buyer, you probably won't want to trouble yourself with all that too much.
For those who will rarely, if ever, drive the car, life in the rear is an extension of their five-star luxury lifestyle.
You sit surrounded by high gloss and exquisitely tactile wood panelling in the door interiors, centre consoles, dashboard and picnic tables. The armrests are inspired by the classic J-Class yacht.
Phantom customers have a choice of seats: the more intimate lounge seat, individual seats with an occasional armrest, or fixed centre console, plus the newly introduced 'sleeping seat'.
The rear seats are carefully angled so that passengers can talk to each other without straining their necks. And on long-wheelbase models you can specify a foot-rest extension that turns your seat almost into a bed.
Should you be entertaining guests, the fixed rear centre console incorporates a drinks cabinet with whisky glasses and decanter, champagne flutes and cool-box.
Rear picnic tables and screens are cleverly secreted behind the wood panelling on the rear of the front seats and can be electrically deployed and retracted at the touch of a button.
It could be easy to get into this life of luxury. Home for Rolls-Royce during the international launch of the new Phantom is the Park Hotel Vitznau on the shores of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland.
Bought for £30million by billionaire Peter Pühringer, who spent a further £300million turning it into a ‘wealth and health’ centre for the seriously wealthy movers and shakers of the world, it is packed with original artworks and sculpture.
Guests can choose between its Michelin one-star or two-star restaurants. Rolls-Royce said they chose it because it reflected the lifestyle of the people who bought their cars.
Intriguingly, part of the recommended test route goes through Switzerland’s nearby Fulka Pass, which fans of James Bond may recognise from the movie Goldfinger in which the eponymous villain smuggles gold bullion in the panels of his Phantom III.
It’s where Tilly Masterson tries to shoot Goldfinger in revenge for the death of her sister, but almost hits 007 by mistake.
Now if only I had that Midas touch, I might just stretch to the latest Phantom. One can but dream.
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