The Rolls-Royce Phantom is one of those things that breathes air so rarefied, one's imagination runs wild. It's not hard to envision a factory perched atop Mount Olympus that's staffed by gods turning solid blocks of unobtanium into these individualized rolling spectacles. Remarkably, the Phantom is actually the work of mere mortals. Some are in Germany, the rest in England at Rolls-Royce's Goodwood factory where these cars are hand-assembled with an incomprehensible attention to detail. Massive in form, decadently appointed, stratospherically priced and absolutely, positively unmistakable, each Rolls-Royce exiting this facility is an event in and of itself. The experience is reserved for the select few who can cover the significant cost of entry, but sometimes there are exceptions. Like me, for example. The Car Gods (and the good people at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America) saw fit to place a two-tone silver Phantom in my care for a weekend. When it pulled into my driveway, I couldn't help thinking my life had turned into a rap video.
Okay, maybe an otherwise very boring rap video. After all, I have no entourage of yes-men and bikini-clad dancers, no motorcade of Escalades and G-Wagens on standby, and no paparazzi giving chase. Nor are any of those things required. The Phantom transfers instant demi-celeb status to its driver and passengers. A car longer than a Chevy Suburban with a sticker price equal to a substantial mortgage tends to have that effect. Plus, the Phantom is awesome to behold, carrying with it a unique road presence, to say the least. If someone were to say that it had its own gravitational pull, we'd simply nod and avoid driving near shopping carts. Then, for kicks, we'd head to the seashore and investigate whether we could alter tidal patterns with a few drive-bys.
As mentioned earlier, ours was decked out in a classy two-tone silver finish -- dark on the bottom, lighter on top, with subtle contrasting pinstripes running along the coachwork's upper swage line. The car's mammoth physical proportions are best appreciated in profile. Despite a hood that looks expansive enough to support naval flight operations, the car's front overhang itself is actually very short. A rakish windscreen climbs up to a roofline that's taller than the angled side glass would suggest, and it arcs back down into the Phantom's signature, ultra-thick C-pillar. A longer rear overhang accommodates a spacious trunk, which RR says will swallow four golf bags. There are no unsightly antennae marring the Roller's bodywork -- they're all hidden beneath the radio-transparent composite front wings (that's "fenders" to you, my fellow Americans). The chrome 21-inch wheels' always-upright "RR" center caps are spaced 140 inches apart. Let that sink in for a moment, and then realize that this is the "short" wheelbase Phantom.
Moving forward, the car's expressive front end coolly sizes you up through its narrowed "eyes," which actually house the high-beams and turn signals. The round, low-mounted lamps are the Phantom's Xenon headlights, and they flank the iconic, Pantheon-shaped radiator grille. That highly-polished edifice is topped, as always, by the Spirit of Ecstasy, and when the sun hits it straight on, playing off the vertical slats and that flying lady, we're pretty sure it's visible from the International Space Station. The car's uncluttered rear is the only area that can be accused of coming up short in terms of visual drama. Aside from a substantial chrome trim plate on the bootlid, there's little flash to be seen back there, and the subtly detailed taillamps look small against the rest of the package. That stated, it doesn't matter. There are cars that make an impression when they arrive, and then there's this. This, dear friends, causes a commotion. And if the outside isn't impressive enough, opening the doors to the cabin introduces you to new, absurdly fabulous levels of luxury.
If you're the driver, a pull on the front door's chrome handle grants you entry into a cockpit that is a visual and tactile feast. Sliding into the the Consort Red leather seat, the first thing to cross my mind was, "so this is what 'no expense spared' looks like." How else can one react to the ambiance Rolls-Royce has created? Before you, the instrument panel is finished in splendid, warm Elm, which also dresses up the wide spokes on the thin-rimmed multifunction steering wheel and the lid to the front seat cupholders. Three round white-on-black gauges tell you what you need to know. In lieu of a tach, Rolls-Royce uses a Power Reserve % gauge. At idle, the needle sits at 100%. Give the car gas, and it creeps leftward as the engine uses more of its available power. You quickly learn that the Phantom always has a healthy power reserve available. It never breaks a sweat.
A 160-mph speedometer sits front and center, and to its right is a combination fuel/temperature gauge. A pair of small rectangular displays house the warning light cluster and the digital multifunction readout (fuel consumption, trip odo, etc.), completing the set of primary instrumentation. A handsome analog clock takes up the middle space, and tumbles out of sight to reveal the main LCD screen if the hidden iDrive controller is popped open (a nice touch) or if the "organ pull" located to its left is pressed. More often than not, I kept the LCD screen tucked away, preferring the classic look the clock bestows. The nav display isn't the only thing that's hidden, either. The power seat controls are placed out of view under a front-hinged leather lid in the center console.
While iDrive is required for a number of the car's myriad techno features like the navigation system and Tomahawk missile launcher, the things you're most likely to adjust while underway can be set with old-fashioned dash-mounted controls. (We're kidding about the TLAM, by the way. It's not standard, but we're sure Rolls can accommodate you via the Bespoke program.) The controls at hand (or on the steering wheel) let you tune the radio, change audio sources and manage the HVAC system without delving into a menu. Oh, and all that switchgear is high quality, too. Everything from the little "violin key" nubs used to control a variety of different functions (window lifts, radio presets, sunroof -- the list goes on), to the fan-control dials and HVAC temperature selectors have a robust feel. The same goes for the round air vents, which are heavy to the touch and, like everything else in this rolling salon, simply ooze sybaritic quality.