If ever there was a car that made a statement about a person’s status in life, it would have to be the Rolls-Royce Phantom. No other vehicle embodies success.
Yes, there are Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and other brands which amount to automotive eye-candy, but only the Rolls-Royce Phantom emphatically states you have 'made it'. And only a Phantom is instantly recognisable by people who have no interest in cars - it won't be assigned to any brand other than Rolls-Royce.
It catches the eye with its stunning stainless steel front grille, its sheer size, and those Rolls-Royce logos in the wheel-centres which remain upright no matter if you’re driving or stationary.
Rolls-Royce chief designer Ian Cameron understood that the Phantom had to have presence.
“Our priority was to create a car that was obviously a Rolls-Royce from any angle”, Mr Cameron said, “even if the Spirit of Ecstasy or the famous grille could not be seen.”
Job done, I’d say. Whether it’s the rear-hinged coach doors, the long bonnet, or the huge 21-inch wheels, the Phantom never just blends into the crowd. But there’s more to it than just its bluff styling.
It’s the craftsmanship that ensures the Rolls-Royce Phantom remains peerless. Oh, sure, there’s that melted-plastic-looking Germanic competitor, but that still looks like a bloated S-Class. The Phantom, however, is distinctive, and when you see the time and effort which goes into creating it, it becomes clear that this is not a car built to a price, but a price built to a car.
There are around 60 people who spend more than 450 hours on each Phantom. It takes 18 days to finish the woodwork alone in each Phantom, and that’s running two consecutive eight-hour shifts.
The wiring loom in each car weighs over 35 kilograms and comes in its own bag, which allows workmen to lift it. Laid end to end, the wires in a Phantom would stretch for over 1.6 kilometres.
There is approximately 40 square metres of hide in each car. Let’s put that another way: more than 15 cows are used to make up all the leather in a Rolls-Royce Phantom, and, dependent on the model and owner's requirements, sometimes up to 20 animals are used.
The process of installing the drivetrain into the Phantom is affectionately called the “Marriage” by the workers at the Goodwood factory. It takes three men around 150 minutes to install the completed assembly into the car.
Each Phantom is sprayed in its base colour and then hand sanded for five hours, before painting clear over it, ensuring a mirror-like finish. And if you want a pinstripe on it, then one man hand paints it on – no vinyl striping around here.
It all adds up to ridiculous amounts of detail and care. You can even watch the entire process of your Phantom being built, if you’ve got the time.
But what’s it like to drive, I hear you ask? In a word, magical.
The whole Rolls-Royce Phantom experience starts when you press the Start/Stop button. The Phantom was one of the first petrol cars to use direct injection, and as a consequence, it achieves a smoothness not seen in any make before.
There’s a faint hum while the starter motor brings the huge V12 into life, but then silence. Seriously.
It’s said that you can place a cup of tea on the rocker cover of a Rolls-Royce motor, start it and you won’t spill a drop. Yes, it’s true. The lack of sound and vibration when firing up 12 cylinders and 6.75 litres from an internal combustion engine - you know, the one where petrol is bursting into flame inside each cylinder - just doesn’t make sense. Neither does the fact that when the doors are shut, there is no way of telling if fuel is being burned. If you think I’m kidding, just try it.
The Phantom always starts in second gear, giving you the smoothest of take-offs. And even when revved right out, it’s still exceptionally smooth. Despite its subtlety, the Rolls-Royce Phantom will go from 0-60mph in a staggering 5.7 seconds and on to a top speed (which is limited) of 250km/h.
The huge V12 puts out a massive 338kW and 720Nm, but if you’re asking about fuel consumption, then you’re reading the wrong review.
It’s said that the Phantom has a magic carpet ride, and in a way, that’s true. Just like the magic carpet, the Phantom rides on a cushion of air, keeping passengers completely unperturbed. It uses its weight to its advantage, by damping things very progressively. You do feel like you’re floating around, rather than banging over harsh tarmac.
The ride is simply the best in the world, and there’s little that will upset it. But surprisingly, you don’t feel completely disconnected from the road.
The Phantom’s size and weight ensure you don’t throw it about like a sports car, however there’s a good amount of feedback through the steering wheel, but more so at speed – it’s a little light-on at low speeds, but that makes parking all the more easy.
It would be nice to have a slightly thicker steering wheel – the standard issue one is quite thin, but it’s extremely comfortable to hold.
Of course, the back seat is the experience that everyone wants from a Phantom, but I say give driving it a go. It’s a lot less intimidating when you’re in control, and one of the design elements gives you complete piece of mind. Let me explain.
Running along the outside length of the bonnet are two sharp ridges. Because the car is so square, these accurately show both the length and the width of the car. It makes placing it inside a lane a lot easier than you’d first imagine, plus you know exactly where the bonnet finishes, unlike the generation of cars these days in which the bonnet curves away from you so you continually have to guess how far you are away from the wall, or car, in front.
With its reversing camera and parking sensors, the Phantom is also very easy to park. For an ultra-luxury car, it’s a pleasure to drive.
Of course, sit in the back and you’re treated to colossal legroom and kneeroom, heaps of width, and the most comfortable chairs to be found in any car ever made. Up front, the superlative quality continues with the finest leather, super glossy woodwork (which is perfectly book-matched, I might add) and gleaming chrome pedestals for the front pews. Even the way the chrome around the inside door frame meets up with the wood shows how careful the craftsmen have been in ensuring surfaces almost blend together. Run your fingers over it – I guarantee you’ll be impressed.
Then, of course, there’s the Bespoke programme, in which just about anything you want to include in your car can be handcrafted for you – as long as it’s in keeping with the Rolls-Royce brand, you understand.
It was the maxim of company founder Sir Henry Royce that brought the Phantom to life – “Strive for perfection in everything you do.” It’s been with us since 2003, and in eight years, it hasn’t aged at all. But I’d still like to see the sat-nav updated to come into line with the super high-resolution screen that the Ghost receives. The low-res reversing camera is also a bit long in the tooth, but I’m told that both of those may see an update next year. Not before time.
Still, they’re the only two niggles in a car that screams wealth and good taste like no other. Say what you will about its bold looks, but I challenge anyone to drive - or just be a passenger in - a Phantom and not be impressed.
It carries all of the classic Rolls-Royce hallmarks and has single-handedly redefined the brand.
The Rolls-Royce Phantom is (still) without a doubt the greatest luxury car ever built.