Latest Rolls redefines the ultimate in luxury
Motor News was among the first in the world to drive the ultimate symbol of luxury
It’s pouring with rain in Zurich, Switzerland. I would describe it as a very British kind of a day. Appropriate, perhaps, because we are in the home of luxury to experience none other than the new Rolls-Royce Phantom.
The Phantom has been around for 92 years, making it the oldest nameplate in the automotive industry. In that time each one has been revered as an icon of craftsmanship and luxury. In the new one there are hints of the past in the design, with design director Giles Taylor saying that in the Phantom VIII "we dip our toes back into the expression of the 1920s".
That is most clear in the sweeping lines of the rear, but it is also in the character of the car which is all about the ultimate in relaxed luxury without overdoing things and certainly without being crass.
Luxury comes at a price, but honestly we are inclined to say that if you have to ask and all that. The exact price is tricky anyway because the exchange rate moves around more than a plane in a Joburg thunderstorm, but obviously we are talking millions, lots of millions, and then there are options.
It is described as "the world’s ultimate luxury product", not surprisingly by Richard Carter, the director of communications at Rolls-Royce, but the world’s luxury houses are all likely to agree, after all, many of them refer to their products as "the Rolls-Royce of".
The latest generation is all-new from the ground up, including at ground level, noise insulating tyres. These are important because CEO Torsten Mueller-Otvos laid down a clear brief to his team to "make sure it is the most silent vehicle in the world", says Philip Koehn, the company’s head of engineering.
Those massive 22-inch wheels feature the famous double R logo that always remains upright in the wheel hubs. But surrounding the wheels are clever Continental tyres that feature not only a layer of mousse to self-repair the tyre in the event of a puncture, but another layer of foam which reduces the amount of sound emanating from the rubber on the road surface. It is important that the atmosphere in the cabin is as quiet as possible.
Koehn says the Phantom features the "architecture of luxury" which includes a brand new platform that will underpin all future new models including the new Cullinan SUV. It features extensive use of aluminium, including the roof and C-pillar which, in this age of robot welding, still have to be welded together by hand because a robot gets very grumpy at trying to deal with the imperfections in the edges of the metal.
Two chaps have to hit the welding spots at exactly the same time with exactly the same amount of heat to avoid any contortions in the metal and ensure it retains its structural rigidity.
But this is a Rolls, all about handcrafted attention to detail and luxury — and there is lots of it. I can go on about the beautiful, smooth, 6.75l twin-turbo V12 engine with one of the most progressive power bands on the planet (I find myself using words like planet when talking about the Phantom) but it is the refinement, the ambience and the interior quality that counts.
"We are not in the car business in a traditional sense," says Mueller-Ottos. That’s true, Rolls is in the luxury conveyance business and that means ensuring the occupants of the new Phantom are as cosseted as possible. That includes ensuring a quiet cabin, a very quiet cabin. Koehn says that the interior is three to six decibels quieter than its nearest competitor.
We drove the extended wheelbase version which measures in at 5.98m (the standard version is 5.76m) which means legroom for miles and thick pile carpets to lose your shoes in. The seats feature the best leather and you don’t sit on them, you sink into them, your head nestled in the headrest as though it is a pillow at the Saxon or the Savoy.
You lounge in the back, surrounded by champagne flutes, technology such as the infotainment screen hidden discreetly behind a wood panel on the back of the seat and a footrest which rises up at the touch of a button. You can push a button to close the doors now too and the rotary dial to control the infotainment turns with an incredibly satisfying feeling.
Specify the starlight roof and at the push of a button, hundreds of LED lights in the ceiling twinkle away and with the noise of the outside world almost completely isolated courtesy of more than 130kg of sound-deadening material, you quickly feel as though you are in your own luxurious world.
That world can also be tailored to your own taste. We are not just talking about leather and trim options, but your taste in art. The dashboard features "The Gallery" which Taylor says is the largest piece of glass in front of the driver anywhere in the world. The infotainment screen (Rolls has adapted it from the BMW system before you ask) sits behind the glass but at the touch of a button it can disappear. And when it does, you are left with a piece of art that spans most of the dash.
It is also a vehicle with immense presence. The facade is more dynamic in its appearance than before and fronts a vehicle that can best be described as imposing. Taylor refers to it as a "sense of engineering permanence".
But it is not imposing to drive, even when you are chauffeuring Taylor in the back seat. He was quick to point out that the steering wheel is thicker, mainly because it houses heating technology and sensors, but this small change made driving it feel more natural. The Phantom is the ultimate symbol of luxury and, quite honestly, it is absolutely flawless.