PALM SPRINGS, California —How do you redesign a car when money is no object, and it already has everything in excess?
Well, you tinker with the engine for more and smoother power; you tinker with the chassis to get the weight down; and, you fiddle with the pinstriping. That’s the Rolls-Royce approach to the new Phantom, now in its eighth generation of the name since 1925, and its second generation since BMW bought the company and redesigned the car in 2003.
The biggest change is the use of an all-new aluminum space-frame chassis, which helps trim the overall weight of this most heavy of sedans by about 90 kilograms. Other car-makers use such a saving to improve their fuel economy or perhaps quicken their performance, but not Rolls-Royce. It doesn’t really care that much about fuel economy or a faster ride; so instead, engineers stuffed an extra 90 kg of sound-deadening foam and materials into the structure.
The Phantom still weighs about 2,700 kg (that’s more than twice the weight of a Honda Civic), but boy, is it ever quiet. The loudest noise comes from the 22-inch tires on the road.
It should really come from the engine, because there’s a massive 12-cylinder under the hood with 6.75 litres of twin-turbocharged power, which is good for 563 hp and 664 lb-ft. of torque. If you floor it from a standstill, the Phantom will hit 100 km/h in less than 5.5 seconds, and you just might need it, escaping from maniacal fans or from an assassination ambush.
This is actually a big increase in power: the previous generation Phantom, which was not turbocharged, created 454 hp and 531 lb-ft. of torque. It also used a 6-speed automatic gearbox, while the new Phantom VIII benefits from an 8-speed automatic transmission. As before, the transmission is linked to the car’s GPS, so it knows when there’s a hill or a corner approaching, and if it should hold the gear or shift up and down.
What other changes? Well, the pinstriping now ends halfway along the rear door – Rolls-Royce seems to think this is a big deal – and the huge engine grille is set into the front panel for a smooth punch into the wind. The headlights are redesigned. Otherwise, the car is still unmistakable as the pinnacle of opulent badge appeal.
Inside, all the dials and screens are set behind a shallow panel of glass that runs the entire width of the cabin. This is actually a lot more impressive than it sounds, and it gives the instrument panel more of a feeling of an art gallery than just a bunch of performance displays. The actual set-up behind the glass is fully customizable at the factory, so you can have pictures of your kids in there, or a favourite piece of art in the blank area above the glove box.
Of course, absolutely everything in the new Phantom is customizable at the factory: colours, materials and textures, for example, as long as it’s legal. Rolls-Royce makes a number of different models now, but it tries to discourage its dealers from actually stocking any Phantoms, preferring to ensure they’re ordered as bespoke units by customers. (In practice, some dealers will order a bespoke unit for themselves and then park it on the showroom floor. In Canada, about one in three customers end up buying the vehicle they can see there and then.)
What’s interesting are the features that you cannot buy. There’s no moonroof or sunroof, for example, because the starlight head liner is now standard – it used to be a $16,000 option, in which up to 1,300 little lights are pressed into the leather of the ceiling for a relaxing feel, especially at night. You can still order a custom pattern to the lights for about an extra $10,000 or so, if you want to recreate the night sky of your wedding night, or whatever.
If you don’t want to drive, hire a chauffeur
There’s also no autonomous driving option, with lane guidance assistance or self-parking. You’d think a car that’s as long as a football field (well, almost six metres, anyway) would offer some help with this, but Rolls-Royce says that if its owners want a car that drives itself, they’ll just employ a chauffeur. Fair enough.
The new Phantom comes in two lengths: long and really long, with the stretched wheelbase version offering an extra 23 centimetres of leg room to rear-seat passengers. As before, the doors are so heavy and large, and the reach to open and shut them so ungainly, that they’re each operated with a couple of handy electric buttons.
The drive itself is now aided by 4-wheel steering, in which the rear wheels turn in by up to three degrees at slower speeds, for manoeuvrability; stay put at intermediate speeds for stability; and turn again up to one degree at higher speeds, for greater response. But you’ll never notice this. The car will just go where you point it, and will waft you along in a complete cocoon from the outside world.
Just as well. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and Rolls-Royce owners who can afford the $530,000 US starting price, or the $643,360 US price of the Autofile tester, probably know this better than most. It’s a good thing the Phantom has curtains, so you can avoid the stares of the hoi-polloi outside.
- Model: 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom
- Price: $643,360 US (as tested)
- Engine: 6.75L twin turbo 12-cylinder
- Peak output: 563 hp
- Peak torque: 664 lb-ft
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Length: 5,762 mm (EWB: 5,982 mm)
- Width: 2,018 mm
- Height: 1,646 mm (EWB: 1,656 mm)
- Wheelbase: 3,552 mm (EWB: 3,772 mm)
- Curb weight: 2,560 kg (EWB: 2,610 kg)
- Fuel Consumption (city/highway/combined): 20/12.4/16.6 L/100 km