2013 Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II (video)
‘Take the best that exists and make it better’ Sir Henry Royce
By Shahzad Sheikh
The Cote d’Azur; Cannes, Nice, Monaco: a breathtaking landscape of lush green hills, deep blue seas, all bathed in the warmth of a glorious sun that is neither too sharp nor too hot. Idyllic doesn’t get close to describing the here and now, as we cruise along the coast in a Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II Drophead Coupe. The roof is down, the teak deck ostentatiously on display, and the sensational sound system pumping out the tunes. It’s a fine way to end a couple days of driving the new flagship Rolls-Royce range, but how is the new Phantom Series II?
Well technically it’s not exactly new of course, despite the nomenclature. But it’s the most extensive revision of the ‘world’s best car’ (trademark!) in its near decade-long history; the original Phantom was introduced back in 2003, the year when US troops went into Iraq, took it over and captured Saddam Hussein.
The biggest and most obvious change is at the front. The bumpers have been revised but you’ll immediately notice that the big round lamps are gone, replaced by two rectangular light apertures with full-LED clusters. They’re not only new and look pretty neat, but are rather clever too with ‘curve-light’ that points the beams in the direction you’re going and adaptive headlamps that change light patterns according to your speed.
At the rear the only change is a stainless steel slash that accentuates the rear bumper. And on the front fenders the RR badge is now incorporated into the indicator lights.
The styling also serves to bring the Phantom closer to the style of the newer, but smaller, Ghost, although there’s definitely no confusing the two in the metal – the sheer presence of the Phant remains unmatched even by its own sibling.
For the Coupe and Drophead Coupe the grille surround has been tweaked and is now a one-piece item. For all cars there are also three new wheel options for the 21-inch rims (still the largest to be fitted as standard on a production car) – all still fitted with the interlocked double R monogram that magically stays upright at all times – actually it’s gyroscopic voodoo.
If you were able to peel off that gorgeous all-aluminium coachwork to look at the amazing hand-welded aluminium spaceframe beneath, you’d find on the saloon that it has been further reinforced with the addition of brace bars. This is to allow the saloon to be offered with the dynamic package (sports mode to you and me), previously only offered on the Coupe and Drophead.
The double-floor which so effectively isolates the occupants from noise and vibration remains and there’s a new rear differential which allows you to drift this car like a Toyota 86. Actually it doesn’t really, but we got your attention didn’t we? That’s good, because the next bit is even more tedious: the longer ratio in the new diff compensates for shorter ratios in some of the gears of the new 8-speed transmission (previously a six-speed).
Fuel economy improves by 10% and CO2 (for those who might be interested in emissions) falls from 385 to 347g/km. The engine remains unchanged – it’s a perfectly ‘adequate’ 6.75-litre V12 putting out 453bhp and 531lb ft of torque with a flat curve between 1000-3000rpm. The saloon will do 0-100kph in a remarkable 5.9 seconds (Coupe and Drophead do it in 5.8) with a restricted top speed of 240kph across the range, apart from the Coupe which gets an extra 10kph.
Existing owners of Phantoms will probably notice that the front door side pockets are slightly smaller – don’t worry, you haven’t been cheated, they’ve shrunk to make space within the door for the addition of a crash pad that distributes impact forces over a wider area in a 30 degree side-impact test – you’ll be thankful for that should the worst happen.
Even more reassuring is to know that there are sensors throughout the car and the computer makes 4000 calculations a second to establish an accident’s severity as it’s happening and deploying, as required, safety systems in its armoury including clever brakes, restraint systems and of course the traction nannies.
Pricing and equipment changes
The nice thing about the prices is that the increase is a modest five percent over the outgoing series 1 Phantom. Of course when you’re talking a ‘base price’ of the saloon at AED 1.7million ($462,000) that five percent represents one brand new Toyota Camry! And that base prices rises to 2.2mil ($598,000) for the long wheelbase (EWB) Phant.
Still, even inside you’ll notice the model year 13 upgrades, most noticeably in a new 8.8-inch centre display (previously 6.5-inches) – that’s once the wood panel holding the lovely analogue clock whips round to reveal it. There’s a much better new satellite navigation system with 3D map display and even a ‘guided tours’ feature which can take you around a tour of interesting or historic locations in the immediate vicinity. I’d like to try that in Liwa!
In the saloon rear passengers get monitors in the veneered picnic tables linked to all multi-media connectivity-ness including AV plugs, six DVD changers, USBs and even holographic subspace transmissions – yeah, I made that last one up.
It does have a rousing sound system though with LOGIC7 surround sound by Harman Kardon with a nine-channel amplifier, ‘exciter’ speakers in the headlining and subwoofers in the floor space. Hook up your tunes and even in the Drophead with the roof down, they always sound boombastic!
You also now get lots of cameras – four to give you a 360 all-round view of the car which certainly helps should you be manoeuvring the near six-metre behemoth in very tight spaces (as we had to in some parts of Nice). Of course it helps that the car has an tight turning circle, very, very light steering and with the flying lady up front and visibly expansive bonnet, it’s an easy car to place.
Rear visibility can be an issue – and using the central rear-view mirror in the coupe is almost hopeless, so you resort to those massive elephant ear wing mirrors, and even in the saloon, it’s only a little better due to the curvature of the roof. No such problems in the Drophead with the roof down though!
The thin-rimmed steering wheel, bulls-eye air vents, organ-stop plunger controls and chrome controller hidden in the centre consoles both front and rear (it’s a BMW iDrive controller, but they don’t like to call it that; and parts of the system still remain just as fiddly and annoying) are all present and correct. As are the 43 pieces of splendid wood trimming the cabin, each constructed with up to 28 layers interspersed with aluminium for strength and flexibility and then lacquered and layered to an exquisite eternal sheen.
There are acres of luscious leather made from hand-selected hides from pampered Alpine bulls, and you just have to take your shoes off and sink them into the deep lambs wool carpets. Everything that you see, touch, smell inside the cabin is simply sublime. Nobody does it better. For feel-good factor, just about nothing beats it.
Even on the outside, you can glide your fingertips over the body with almost no resistance at all and feel as if you could dive into the deep lustre. Unsurprising considering there are at least five layers of paint and clear lacquer coating – seven if the car is two tone. And between each layer the body is sanded by hand (can you imagine doing that to a Rolls?). In the final stage it’s hand-polished for five hours.
As for the coach lines, they are applied by hand – by one pair of hands for the last ten years in fact, steady ones though! – and it takes three hours to apply each five metre line using only the finest squirrel hair brushes. It takes 60 pairs of hands more than 450 hours to build each car.
Ride and comfort
Rolls-Royce once said that the Phantom’s ride was ‘designed to lower the pulse’ and for once this isn’t manufacturer hyperbole. To be a passenger in a Rolls-Royce is to experience serenity and calm in motion. Rear passengers sit 18mm higher to get a better view ahead. Truth be told though, you just want to recline into the cosseting seats and wallow in the extravagance of your surroundings.
‘Waftability’ has to be a given in a Phantom – well they invented the word – and what that means is that the car just seems to glide along, making you believe for long periods at a time that you’re not really connected to the road surface at all, until you’re mildy disturb by a speedbump. Considering these cars weight at least two and half tons, and the size of those gargantuan wheels and the rubber stretched around them, it’s incredible that there is nary a sound from the road – helped no doubt by that double floor.
From the driver’s seat you find yourself eerily isolated from the world outside. Even at speed, only a slight whoosh from those cartoony wing mirrors can be heard. And you’re so relaxed and at ease during your drive, that you have plenty of time to imagine various solutions to that problem, finding yourself wondering why they don’t just employ sleek cameras instead. And for that matter, considering the M5 has a brilliant full-colour, high-resolution heads-up display, why isn’t that fitted to my Rolls costing over two and half times as much?
And whilst you’re grateful for the touch-sensitive programmable buttons underlining the large display, each time you get flustered just trying to get your favourite music in a folder on the USB stick to play, you remember there are far simpler and more effective systems in cars costing less than your chauffeur’s salary. And how comes your mate’s dull and cheap Audi A8 has superb massage seats up front and this doesn’t?
But this line of thinking doesn’t last for long as you caress the thin-rimmed steering and luxuriate in the sumptuous surrounds whilst being whisked to a far flung destination, your pulse is indeed lowered and you’re once again content that there just couldn’t be a better way to spend your money; besides this Rolls is fraction of the price of your yacht or private jet. Then you switch on the starfield roof lining with its individual LEDs carefully placed by hand, marvel at your own instant night sky and feel smug that no other car on the planet has any feature as romantic as that.
Performance and handling
It’s seems rather appalling and somewhat unseemly to be raising the question of performance in references to a Rolls, after all for many long years the company even refused to release horsepower figures, saying only that it had ‘adequate’ power. Even today, instead of a rev counter, one of these evocatively classic dials on the instrument panel depicts not revs, but a power reserve metre. It’s telling you how much of the awesomeness that lives between you, and that Spirit of Ecstasy mascot perched on the grille ahead, and pointing her pert little bottom at you, is NOT being used.
By the way passengers can amuse themselves by opening the glovebox and making that flying lady duck into her hiding place and then re-emerge – it’s positively hours of fun for those easily amused – ie small children and car journos.
Ah, but back to raising the pulse again, and you may be able to hasten it just a little by selecting the Spor… nah, that’s not the right word for this car… let’s call it the ‘Swift’ mode. This remaps the 8-speed transmission so that it goes from slurring shifts undetectably to punching in gears a tad quicker, holding them ever-so-slightly longer, and kicking down more urgently and more promptly. The throttle response is also dialled up.
All this makes for even ‘swifter’ progress and finally you do get some sense of the colossus of power and potency that is that mighty V12 – you might even get to hear it (yes there really is a combustion engine in this car!). But unless haste is essential, you’ll find this indulgence a brief excursion, perhaps to shake off the cobwebs, impress the passengers or just to smoke that snotty upstart in a pimped hatchback, before allowing the Rolls to regain its natural state of composure. Revelling in engine noise and getting shunted by transmission shifts is not what this ride is about.
Admittedly the performance is more acceptable in the Coupe version, but then that car has the more dynamic suspension set-up and feels more eager to do a quick tango on some twisty roads. It’s actually quite impressive how this great dame will lift her skirt and do a quick-step when you want it too. There’s mild understeer until the front wheels find purchase, the lack of weighting in the steering suddenly becomes an issue though, until you grow your faith in the Phant’s remarkable abilities. And of course it does that miraculous trick of not really feeling as gargantuan as it is on the go.
The Drophead is my absolute favourite of the range, well if you’re going to be decadent, why not do it in open-top style. Inspired by the J-Class yachts of the 1930s the teak decking features 30 wooden pieces protected by a formulate blend of oils – you’ll have to hire a person just to keep them treated and looking lovely. How’s that for indulgent?
Its personality is as relaxed as that of the saloon (but way more extrovert) and the zen-like atmosphere (even when it’s open to the atmosphere) immediately suffuses you with contentment, graciousness and a generosity of spirit that leaves you unhurried and carefree. You so get to just enjoy the moment with the Drophead.
The Phantom lives in an exalted realm all of its own. Its nearest rival might have been Maybach, but thankfully that was recently put out of its misery by Mercedes having conceded its embarrassment at the shameful exploitation of a once legendary brand. Bentley’s are awesome, but whilst the Mulsanne would give the Ghost a run for its money, it’s not in the Phantom’s league.
Frankly nothing is, if you’re ready to spend obscene amounts of money, and I mean really offensive amounts, on a car buy a Phantom. And as I head off to ask for one more run in the extremely elegant Drophead, I’ll leave you with my verdict: with the Series II, they took the best and made it better. Ergo, it’s the best car in the world – but then you already knew that.
2013 Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II
Price: Saloon AED 1.7m ($460k), Coupe AED 1.9m ($515k), Drophead Coupe AED 2m ($545k), EWB saloon AED 2.2m ($600k)
Engine: 6.75-litre, V12, 453bhp @ 5350rpm, 531lb ft @ 3500rpm
Performance: 0-100kph Saloon 5.9, Coupe & Drophead 5.8, EWB 6.1seconds, 240kph(limited), 250kph (limited) for coupe, 14.8L/100km
Transmission: eight-speed auto, rear wheel drive
Weight: Saloon 2560kg, Coupe 2580kg, Drophead 2630kg, EWB 2670kg