Rolls-Royce has flipped the script on its origins
On gymkhanas and off-road trails, Phuti Mpyane discovers Rolls-Royces waft over even the most demanding terrain
The scene was set this week to create a most expensive, most outrageous start to the week with a bevy of Rolls-Royces.
Contrary to typical reaction of hushed tones and careful steps when we mere mortals experience the world’s best cars, the day of rebellion kicked off with the Phantom sedan hurtling onto a skid pan, its driver prodding the throttle and struggling to elicit a sideways drift. Then a Ghost appeared, as did a Wraith, then a Dawn on the Phantom’s tracks, all arriving in a tail slide.
Once the rare and unnerving sight of sideways Rolls-Royces was over, a pair of hulking new Cullinan SUVs appeared gracefully. . We were not watching this spectacle from some ritzy joint — we were at Gerotek near Pretoria, the country’s premier vehicle-testing station with the harshest terrain.
Hosted by local Rolls-Royce importer Daytona, the day was aimed at showing that one doesn’t need to traipse nervously around these ultraluxury cars. Even the latest marketing material featured people engaging in edgy and fun stuff.
Some of the brand’s famous owners are pretty outrageous individuals: Sean John Combs (aka Diddy), Donald Trump, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sammy Davis Jnr and Elton John. Others such as John Lennon pushed the envelope further and have shown us that we needn’t be intimidated by the brand. Aside from its psychedelic paintwork, Lennon radicalised his Roller with a rear seat that could be converted into a double bed.
The Phantom of a silent opera
I began with driving the Phantom on Gerotek’s suspension track, comprising many poor road surfaces. The Phantom was the latest version of the Rolls-Royce flagship that sits on an all-new suspension with a double-wishbone in front and five-link rear axle with active antiroll bars, adaptive dampers and four-wheel steering.
It took its epic wafting and magic carpet ride along onto the world’s craggiest surfaces, unashamedly showing off why it’s the choice of some of the planet’s most affluent individuals. It’s the grandest, most comfortable, sophisticated, silkiest and quietest 2.8 tons of super luxury limousine you’ll ever want to sit in.
The stylish Wraith
Then it was onto a gymkhana course on a skid pan behind the wheel of the humpbacked, two-door Wraith Black Badge, the Rolls-Royce with the sportiest intent of all.
It is gargantuan by coupé standards, but based on what I’d seen earlier it and the more compact four-door Ghost Black Badge are seemingly better versed in weaving between cones.
The Wraith explodes out of the blocks with serene but tremendous force created by 870Nm torque that’s unleashed as early as 1,700 rpm from a 465kW 6.6l V12 engine.
No sooner had my right foot hit the pedal than I’d arrived at the first turn. It’s quite effortless to swivel around and has an impressive turning circle for a 5.4m long torpedo. At times I’d violently slam on the brakes while on some sections I’d be countersteering against progressive oversteer.
Everything remains prim and proper on a wet surface due to an intuitive and unobtrusive stability-control system. According to its makers, the Wraith will courteously dash from 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds and has a top speed of 250km/h.
The polished diamond
From the opulent seat and peering over the Spirit of Ecstasy perched on the nose of the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan at some choice off-road obstacles, it felt eerily quiet and efficient at this foreign undertaking.
The big SUV remains poised ploughing through axle-twisters or plunging up and down the craggiest of steep hills.
Its fistful of 420kW and 850Nm at 1500rpm is wonderfully balanced for effortless tractability on all types of terrain. What’s more, you don’t have to be fully engaged in the act of driving. It has a self-drive system, an off-road cruise control of sorts, which works with advanced hill descent control that autonomously brakes or throttles up at crawling speeds set by the driver.
Should it get stuck, traction control automatically apportions power from its 6.75l V12 engine to the wheels with the most traction.
As we continued to forage deeper in the bush, I kept thinking there’s no way a Rolls-Royce should be doing this. But it can, even though the average owner is more likely to experience it on tar, in the back seat of the lavish cabin with a plate of oysters on the tray and a bottle of bubbly and crystal glasses chilling in the cooler between the rear seats.
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