2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Expert Review:Autoblog
We were lucky enough to ride in the concept car two years ago, when the now Phantom Coupe was called the 101EX. Our words that day were "You have to build this car." And we've been waiting ever since the end of that sentence for this day to come. It was evident even as a concept that no other coupé -- with two syllables, please -- promised such a return to Jazz Age glamor, when a gentleman motored from Antibbes to Monaco in a Hooper bodied Phantom II to visit that Polish countess he'd had his eye on. So, when Rolls-Royce called with the invite to Goodwood to drive the new Phantom Coupe from England to Crozet, in the South of France, it would be our chance to see if the promise was delivered. Follow the jump to find out.
All photos copyright Jonathan Ramsey / Weblogs Inc.
The Phantom Coupe is a large car. This is not surprising -- it's a Rolls-Royce, and it's based on the Phantom, which is an even larger car. But parked among other Coupes and Phantoms, it didn't seem so big -- not even when we had to stand on tip-toe to sit in the seat. But at one point, when we pulled into a gas station in France, we lined up for a spot between a Golf cabrio and a Renault, and all of a sudden it felt like we were trying to park the Death Star. Incredibly, even once we had slotted in, there was plenty of room to open the massive suicide doors and retrieve the French chocolate we'd been craving.
The sleight-of-car is due to the magic Rolls-Royce has in making its vehicles drive a lot smaller than they are. The Phantom Coupe has the same dimensions as the Drophead Coupe, at 18.5 feet long and 6.5 feet wide, but a half an inch lower due to the hardtop. For comparison, we drove the Phantom EWB right after getting out of the Coupe. The EWB is ten inches longer than a regular Phantom, which is itself ten inches longer than the Phantom Coupe, and there was practically no difference. You look in the rearview mirror and you can see that the guy in back is a lot further back... but the cars feel the same size. In the Coupe, at no point do you think you're driving a car that is 17 inches longer than a BMW 760Li. Speaking of length, though, that back seat isn't anywhere near as spacious at the one in the BMW, but there's room for an adult to be comfy long enough to get wherever you'll be going, which is probably from your penthouse to the club, or the yacht, or the Michelin three-star restaurant...
Since it sheds the convertible top, the Coupe also benefits from a gas tank and trunk that are both 25-percent larger than its droptop sibling. Filled up, the fuel gauge said we could go about 635 kilometers on the 100-liter (26.4 gallons), and we were told that you can fit four bags of clubs in the 395-liter boot.
Underneath, the car features the 6.75-liter V12 that well heeled customers have not stopped loving. Chassis-wise, it's the stiffest Rolls-Royce in the lineup, and utilizes different spring rates, stiffer dampers, a thicker rear anti-roll bar, and steering tuned for more response. The car also sports a 49:51 weight ratio. With all that, its 453-HP and 532 lb-ft pulls 5,798 pounds of car from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds, on to a governed 155-MPH top speed. Imagine being able to sit on the back of a white rhino and hit the gas, you'll get the feeling.
Inside, the car is pure Rolls-Royce: an uncluttered, leather-stuffed, organ-stop- and violin-key-ornamented suite. There isn't really much going on, but it's almost all there. Some of it is hidden, like the seat controls under the center armrest, which is a minor issue, and the media screen controller, which is a good thing. The dash is little more than a speedo in the center, a gas gauge to the right, and a Power Reserve meter to the left, which we guarantee you will never have cause to look at, unless you're drag racing Astons up Mont Ventoux.
But let's get to the pièce de resistance inside the car: the starlight headliner. Sadly, the northern latitudes of our locations meant daylight came so early and stayed so late we were never in the car at night. The darkest it got while we were actually driving the car was during the Chunnel ride from Dover to Calais. We turned on the headliner in our boxcar, and frankly, it wasn't that impressive. It made us go "Ah, neat... lights..." On the last night, however, Paul Farraiolo, president of Rolls-Royce NA, swiped some keys so we could experience the headliner in the dead of the Alpine darkness. And then it made us go "Ah. I see. Lights!"
There are 1,600 fiber optic lights placed in the headliner, each one created by one woman -- by hand. It comes with what was called a "rheostat," but what laymen would call a "dimmer switch." At its lowest setting the headliner is twinkle, twinkle little star. At its highest setting, there's a lot of light. It's soft light, not like the klieg lights in some other luxury cars, and probably bright enough to read the paper by. It really will be good for more than a few oohs and ahhhhs. It was a tad odd to be sitting in the driver's seat at 2 am and have the car lit up like the dining room. Rest assured, though, that that Argentine model you're taking to dinner next week is going to love it.
We asked a Rolls-Royce honcho on the first day, when we'd drive from the factory in Goodwood to the Champagne region in France, what he really wanted us to get from the car. They wanted us to see how easy the Phantom Coupe is to drive over long distances. With six hundred kilometers ahead of us, we'd have plenty of time to find out if he was right.
Well, he was. In fact, he was almost too right. The car is so easy to drive, so comfortably over long distances, so uncluttered in presentation, and asking nothing in return, that, dare we say it, at one point... cruising effortlessly at speeds you don't want to know about down the French autoroute... the car... ceased to feel special. That's right. It felt so much like driving our living room that we began to feel as special as we do in our living room... and although we like our living room... it just doesn't make me feel all kingly.
How can we say this? Let us count the ways: the car doesn't register anything but the mightiest of bumps, lumps, and holes; the steering is just-right responsive for a big luxury tourer, requiring neither laser focus to keep things straight, nor being so lax that you need to turn the wheel before you actually want to turn the wheels; the only thing there is to play with are the climate control knobs, which, not being digital, could involve a bit of finessing to get the temperature you want; and the last thing: when the windows are up, the outside world ceases to exist.
The windows on the car are two slabs of glass that sandwich a thick slice of glazing material. Journos at another publication wrote that they noticed the windshield wiper motor noise. And we noticed it too, as well as the furious amounts of wind gliding around the massive front end and A-pillars. But all wiper motors make noise, and all vehicles feature some sound effects from wind. The reason you notice them so much in the Coupe is that there is nothing else to hear. The car is so well insulated, and the windows are so thick, that there's no road noise, you don't hear cars and trucks next to you. It's you, the wind noise around the A-pillar, and... the crickets. That's it. So when you roll down the windows, the volume inside the car jumps a noticeable number of decibels, and you remember, "Oh yeah, there's, like, stuff out there." Yeah. It's called the Earth.
It was day two in the car that returned the feeling of privilege to us. We had another 600 kilometers, but this time it would be over back lanes and B-roads. And it was then that we discovered the "S" button on the steering wheel, also called "The Roundabout Button." It doesn't do much: it changes the gearbox programming, dropping you down a gear immediately, and then kicks down gears faster, holds gears longer, and increases accelerator pedal response. But it has a much larger affect on the car than those changes would imply. Come to twisties, and the car jumps out of corners and bolts for the next one. Imagine that white rhino mentioned earlier, after doing 0-60 in 5.6 seconds in its basic guise, then put on a pair of gold Nikes like the kind Michael Johnson wore in the 1996 Olympics, and gave you a look like "Let's get it on!" It's hard to believe, even while doing it. If anything -- or rather, if there are any other Coupe buyers who drive like us -- we can imagine a few of them ending up in walls and ditches. The car hurtles out of turns and down straights, but there is still the issue of 6,000 pounds needing to enter and get around the next turn, and you could end up having so much fun that you forget about a silly little thing called physics. By the end of that day, all was rosy in the world again, and we felt as just special as we thought we should.
There are things I could complain about, like the BMW 7-Series key and the finicky iPod integration. But I won't. People buying this car simply don't care. Issues like that are on the list entitled "Things Phantom Coupe Buyers Don't Give One &%$#@! About," and just after gas prices and insurance premiums, they are numbers "Whatever" and "Did you say something?"
What you need to know is this: the car is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. All promise has been fulfilled, and it has all the grace, presence, manners, and gawk factor that you would expect from any Rolls-Royce. What's more, when you decide to give it the Big-Brown-down-the-back-straight treatment, the car goes. It's big and drives small. It's massive and goes fast. It's luxurious and uncomplicated. It looks great and will get you looks -- and crowds -- all day. And remember, get a model close to that starlight headliner and it's a done deal. The only catch is that you'll need $400,000 before taxes, options, models, and Polish countesses. But honestly, is that too much to pay for a leather-lined ticket to the promised land? As far as we're concerned, no. In fact, we'll still take two, thank you.
One last note: Rolls-Royce had a few words to say about the RR4, the first being "Don't call it a baby Rolls-Royce. It will be noticeably larger than a 7-Series, and it will be more expensive than any Bentley." When Tom Purves, CEO of Rolls-Royce, was asked "Even the Arnage?" his answer was "Any Bentley." So there.
All photos copyright Jonathan Ramsey / Weblogs Inc.
Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.
New Car Test Drive
New convertible for the new Rolls-Royce.
For 2008, Rolls-Royce has added a significant new model to its range of Phantom sedans and limousines. This one is the first convertible to be built from the ground up since BMW took over Rolls-Royce and built a brand new factory in Goodwood, England, to build them.
It's also the first Rolls-Royce convertible in history to be priced at more than $400,000.
It's a different kind of convertible in terms of design details, closely related to the overall look of the Phantom sedans, but worlds apart in many ways. It is intended to occupy the market segment vacated by the old Corniche line of convertibles, and carries the Phantom name quite deliberately to relate it to the new BMW-run company and erase memories of the old Rolls-Royce.
The Phantom Drophead Coupe comes to market almost intact from the 100EX roadster concept car that the company first showed in the spring of 2004, a car designed to celebrate the company's centennial, using a 9-liter V16 engine. After it was shown around the world, the clamor from customers and the media for a production version of the 100EX was so loud the company went ahead with it. The giant engine didn't survive the transfer to production, but almost every piece of the 100EX concept, inside and out, has made it into the production convertible.
All Phantoms are handbuilt from the ground up around a tremendously strong welded aluminum space frame that is accurate to 0.004 inches in every single dimension. If there were six-star crash ratings for front and side impact, we're sure this car would qualify.
With this ultra-luxury car, the customer buys all the Rolls-Royce hallmarks: hand-built craftsmanship, exclusivity, head-turning style and size, and power aplenty. As for its market competition, well, there simply isn't any.
There will be only on Phantom Drophead Coupe model. The bespoke nature of the car and the factory option list for this car make it a virtual certainty that no two cars will be built alike.
There are nine exterior paint colors, none of which is shared with the Phantom sedan or limousine. The windshield surround and A-pillars can be painted body color, or made of stainless steel, buyer's choice. There are six contrasting hood colors plus stainless steel. There are ten interior leather colors to choose from. The interior veneers include elm, oak, ash burr, mahogany, rosewood, and piano black.
Options are few and expensive. If you want the stainless steel hood, you have to take the teak convertible top cover with it, for a mere $17,000. The 21-inch, nine-spoke wheel and run-flat tire package is $3000. Other than those two packages, the Drophead Coupe comes with every conceivable comfort and convenience item there is, including a Rolls-Royce umbrella hidden away in each of the two front door frames.
The warranty is four years with unlimited mileage. The Phantom Drophead also comes with free full service for four years and unlimited mileage, Rolls-Royce Assist (road side assistance and concierge service) for four years, and a free subscription to Sirius satellite radio for the life of the car.
Safety features include ABS with emergency brake-force distribution, traction control, and electronic stability control. A forward-looking wide-angle TV camera helps the driver see around corners, useful in big-city parking garages.
The exterior design of the new Phantom Drophead Coupe makes a statement like no other car. It is substantially different from the sedan and limousine, far more sporty and elegant. The car is almost 10 inches shorter overall than the Phantom sedan, shares no body panels with the larger sedan, and it features what the English call coach doors (what we used to call suicide doors), hinged at the rear and opening at the front, for more elegant entry and exit from both front and rear seats.
The door skins go way, way forward of the windshield frame and incorporate a lovely swoop in the front fender sheetmetal to add visual interest to what is probably the largest convertible in the industry. The headlamps, signal lamps and driving lamps are new. The grille looks like a Phantom grille, but is sized and shaped for a sporty convertible and includes the world's only power-operated hood ornament, which flips over out of harm's way at the touch of a button, locking into place and leaving only a flat stainless-steel plate, so it can't be stolen.
On the Drophead Coupe, the trunk lid is made in two sections, the long horizontal one aft of the convertible top cover, and a vertical one that folds out into a carpeted picnic table or tailgate arrangement that can hold up to 330 pounds of human or other weight.
Trunk space itself is 11.1 cubic feet, enough, Rolls-Royce says, for three sets of golf clubs. The five-layer-thick cloth convertible top folds away completely behind the rear seats in a few seconds under a panel that can be painted in body color, contrasting color, or covered in optional genuine handcrafted teak strips that look like they belong on a Chris-Craft runabout.
Standard wheels and tires are Michelin PAX metric-sized run-flat tires on seven-spoke alloy wheels that are slightly larger than 20 inches because they are metric, and Goodyear 21-inch EMT run-flats on nine-spoke alloy wheels are optional. The wheels themselves have lightweight composite center sections, and of course, the car carries no jack or spare tire to save weight (which is kind of silly when the car ends up weighing 5700 pounds, but there it is).
The Phantom Drophead Coupe cabin was designed to reflect the materials and designs used in, and the pure romance of, racing sailboats of the Thirties. The thin-section rim on the nautically flavored steering wheel is a carryover from the old days, and one that we don't particularly care for. A big car like this deserves a big, thick steering wheel. The seats are huge, thick and supremely comfortable, front or rear, and they are upholstered in very simple large rectangular sections of world-class leather. In case you get caught in the rain, it will be fast and easy to wipe all of the water off the leather very quickly, since there are no nooks, crannies, seams or tufting. The door panels on the extremely thick doors are likewise very simply decorated.
The interior design scheme is a mix of Rolls-Royce tradition like the chrome, wood and leather, the organ-pull controls for the vents, and the column shifter with its unusual R-N-D-P layout, blended with 21st-century requirements like Bluetooth telephones, auxiliary audio inputs, 6-disc CD changers, and navigation screens (hidden behind the analog clock at the top center of the dashboard).
The instrumentation is very simple, with a centered speedometer, a combination fuel and temperature gauge, and a meter on the left that resembles a tachometer, but is a power reserve meter that reads in percentage used and remaining. Quirkily wonderful.
The detailing on this car is remarkable. Every piece of chrome trim, every seam, every joint is perfect, as it should be for a handmade $400,000 car. The chrome looks deep enough to swim in, and there is lots of it, including large pieces on the edges of the coach doors. The leather is the best available, selected from large, unblemished hides. The music system plays through nine channels and 15 speakers arrayed around the cockpit, and it's very, very good at ear level.
The Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe that we test drove was black with the stainless-steel hood, stainless-steel windshield surround, and teak decking on the convertible top cover, with a gorgeous Moccasin leather interior and door panels and dark wood interior trim. Push the large key into its place on the left of the dash, press the engine start button, select D, press the electronic parking brake switch on the dash to release, and you're off.
The way the Phantom Drophead Coupe accelerates its considerable mass, almost 5800 pounds, is nothing short of miraculous. The big V12 is tuned to give 75 percent of peak power, or 340 horsepower, at just above idle speed, 1000 rpm, and all 531 foot-pounds of torque at a mere 3500 rpm, so you never have to push into the upper rpm ranges to get truly rewarding performance. Rolls-Royce claims a 0-60 mph time of well under six seconds flat, which, at this weight, is remarkable. Upshifts are quick, and downshifts are a bit on the lazy side, but the power never wanes.
Braking is equally awesome, sporting extremely large and powerful discs, almost 15 inches in diameter up front, with ABS. In Tuscany, anything can happen with scooters, pedestrians, and drivers gawking at a $400,000 Rolls instead of paying attention, so we were happy to have the monster brakes along for the ride. We would appreciate them just as much in the Hamptons or in Beverly Hills.
Do not think of this big Rolls as an elephant on roller skates, because it is quite the opposite. Remember, BMW is running the company now, and they are famous for performance and handling. Through the air suspension and the stiff body and chassis, there is a tremendous amount of isolation from noise, vibration, and shake, but the steering is relatively lively and communicative, and the car changes direction with serious authority and accuracy on those big tires. With the cashmere-lined, five-layer convertible top up, the Drophead Coupe becomes an island of serenity in a noisy world.
We're quite sure that the American Rolls-Royce arm will be able to sell every Drophead Coupe it can get its hands on for the foreseeable future. There are enough sports stars, entertainment stars, entrepreneurs, and generally wealthy people to keep Goodwood busy for years to come building them. Status and exclusivity are fine, but this car is also very rewarding to drive right up to its top speed of 150 mph, a precision navigation instrument, extremely quiet and peaceful inside, and built like no other car in the world.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw test drove the Phantom Drophead Coupe around Maremma Toscana, Italy.
Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe ($407,000).
Options As Tested
brushed stainless-steel hood and teak deck ($17,000).
Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe ($407,000).
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