First Drive: Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe

Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe – Click above for high-res image gallery

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.

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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.

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All photos copyright Jonathan Ramsey / Weblogs Inc.

Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

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