Dreams Delivered: 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom First Drive
Rolls-Royce makes its self-proclaimed best car in the world even better
It's chilly and gray, and reasonably hard rain is coming down, casting a pall over the otherwise lush, rugged beauty of this German-flavored slice of Switzerland. A terrible day to drive, a great day to be driven.
I'm in the backseat of the all-new 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom, and I roll down the double-glazed acoustic glass window to get a quick blast of fresh Swiss air. A cacophony of wind and water rudely intrudes into the cabin. Enough of that.
The metal button is cold to the touch when I press up, and as the window hits the seal, it's as if a set of noise canceling headphones has suctioned over the car. Time to recline the seat, let my head hit the pillow, and enjoy the magic carpet ride.
There are few cars in which the backseat experience is just as important, if not more so, as what happens from behind the wheel. For some 92 years, longer than any other nameplate, the Phantom has transported rock stars and starlets, monarchs and maharajas, captains of industry and hip-hop kingpins. The car has in many ways served as the brand's foundation, a vehicle that helped propel Rolls-Royce beyond a mere manufacturer of fine automobiles and into a global luxury icon. As the Phantom enters its eighth generation, the stakes have never been higher to deliver an ever richer, more immersive package, with cutting-edge, 21st century tech and even more ways to make it your way—the bespoke way. And it should drive better, too.
The new Phantom has been five years in the making, and as Rolls-Royce officials acknowledge, it really needed to take a two-generation leap, given that the model it replaces is 14 years old—which may as well be 80 in car years. Everything starts with its all-new aluminum intensive endoskeleton the marque calls the "Architecture of Luxury," a versatile, lighter platform that will underpin all future Rolls-Royces. It makes the car some 30-percent more rigid than the previous Phantom, and additional cast aluminum structures reinforce areas wherever heavy loads are attached to the chassis.
Building on all that luxurious architecture is a new double-wishbone front and five-link rear suspension, supported by active stabilizer bars front and rear and a traditional anti-roll bar in front. Four wheel steering appears for the first time, which increases the car's overall maneuverability and high-speed stability, critical for such a long (just south of 19 feet for the short-wheelbase model) and heavy (almost three-ton) car.
According to engineering director Philip Koehn, the Phantom's adaptive, self-leveling air-suspension setup—the magic in the car's vaunted Magic Carpet Ride—has undergone significant changes as well.
"The springs are bigger, and they ride on more air than ever before," he says. The system in part uses a stereo camera sensor in the windscreen to monitor and proactively react to road conditions up to 62 mph. There are no settings to dial in, just endless calculations made with the goal of keeping the ride pleasant and cosseting in virtually any situation. Koehn and his team also had a mandate from Rolls CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös: "He said, just make sure it's the most silent motorcar in the world, full stop."
Engineers crammed sound-deadening foam and insulation into virtually every nook, cranny, and crevice, some 360 pounds of it in all. Those double glazed windows feature an additional plastic layer wedged between, the floor pan and bulkhead alloys are thicker than before—even the Continental tires are lined with a layer of foam. In fact, Koehn said Rolls tested some 180 sets of tires before hitting on the right setup. Interestingly, no active noise-canceling tech is employed because research showed it could make some occupants car sick.
As you can probably guess, Koehn and team say they exceeded their goal of creating the world's quietest cabin. From my perch behind the front seat as we wind our way through the Swiss countryside, the 6.75-liter twin-turbo V-12 humming along as it delivers effortless power, I have zero reason to disagree with that assessment. I also have zero reason to quibble with the notion that the new Phantom is also the world's most luxurious production car.
Sitting in back with product manager Christian Wettach, he points out heavily lacquered, contrasting wood veneers that dominate the center stack. The starlight headliner now has more than 1,110 lights in the short wheelbase model (you can even get a shooting star option if you like) and extends further front to back. Everything that's shiny is real metal.
Wettach presses a button in the armrest's center controller, and out pops a table and rear monitor from which you control a host of vehicle features, watch TV, or jam to Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express," which seems appropriate given the location and vehicle. Want a footrest? Press a button behind the door and up it pops from the floor. Champagne? Open up the coolbox in between the rear seats and pour it into the crystal glasses.
There are of course even higher spec options available, including a fixed center console with a drinks cabinet, and the more comfortable extended sleeper seats. And then there's the Gallery. Think of the glass case extending the width of the dash from the right of the instrument panel as a mini art installation. "In the future we can offer our customers this amazing space to personalize their vehicle like no other vehicle on earth," says design director Giles Taylor. Conceivably you could have a famous artist do a piece in the Gallery and immediately your car is worth a whole lot more.
Taylor also had plenty to say about the Phantom's design to our own Robert Cumberford in our preview story. He's particularly proud of the grille that's now integrated into the front fascia for the first time ever, an on-its-haunches stance he likens to a boat cutting gracefully through the water, and two unique character lines in profile. There's also a more purposeful chrome rear element that helps frame the rear end, and interestingly, head- and taillamps that are on the smaller side and do not dominate the proceedings. There's a clear, purposeful lineage between the new Phantom and the previous model.
Now it's my turn to feel what it's like to be a chauffeur. Actually, we've been told that as many as half of Phantom owners in the U.S. actually drive their cars. I can safely assure those moneyed few that they are going to enjoy it even more than before.
There's no getting around it, this car is big (especially the long wheelbase version), but it's not a wallowing beast. The hardware upgrades have turned the Phantom into, dare we say, a decent car to drive. The steering wheel is on the bulky side, so it takes some getting used to. Summon its power reserves and the fully revamped twin-turbo V-12 with 563 horsepower and 664 lb-ft that comes on full at 1,700 rpm emits a satisfying, muted roar and hustles the car from 0-60 mph in around 5 ticks for the short wheelbase model. Ample power is available from virtually any speed, and its ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic is absolutely money in any situation.
The steering predictably feels more than a little boosted, but it's hardly vague and turn-in is relatively direct. When hustling the brawny lad, its brakes don't bite but rather politely and progressively bring things to a halt. But I never felt any need to drive like a maniac. Maybe it was because I was chauffeuring people, but this car cries out to be driven with civility and class. And so you do.
This new Phantom is of course also loaded with all manner of standard safety warning systems, connectivity options, and convenience features, including a standard head-up display, Wi-Fi, around view monitors, etc., etc.
Müller-Ötvös, who is constantly mind-melding with the Rolls-Royce customer base, knew his team had to get this car right. "We're selling dreams, building dreams," he says. "We've delivered a true Phantom. We haven't messed it up." No, you haven't. Let's pull the champagne out of the fridge and toast to that.
2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom Specifications
|ON SALE||January 2018|
|PRICE||$450,000 (base, short wheelbase); $530,000 (base, long wheelbase)|
|ENGINE||6.75L twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve V-12/563 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 664 lb-ft @ 1,700 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 4-5 passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan|
|L x W x H||227.2 x 79.4 x 64.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.1 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|