It’s about 22 degrees and sunny, with a light wind at Apollo Bay where we’ve stopped to enjoy a meal at the local hotel. But the staff aren’t interested in serving us right now; they’ve all wandered outside to check out the pearlescent beast sitting out the front. Yes, the $1.35 million Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe has drawn a crowd.
You’d think that residents of Apollo Bay, situated approx 90km from the start of the Great Ocean Road, would have seen these kinds of vehicles before, given the attraction of this drive, but apparently not. In fact the staff are poring over the vehicle, pointing out the parts that they love.
There are gasps and dropped jaws as they examine the way that the sat-nav screen hides itself via a rotating wooden block, exposing the traditional analogue clock. They’re blown away by the softness of the leather and the glossiness of the mahogany. The elegance of the chrome pedestals on which the seats are mounted is also mentioned.
“Want to go for a drive?” we ask. All seats are instantaneously filled. As we cruise up and down the main street of Apollo Bay there are cheers and waves from the passengers who have never experienced a $1.35 million car before, and no wonder: it’s not just the price tag that astounds.
This is the world’s most luxurious convertible, and CarAdvice has been given the keys and instructed to explore the Great Ocean Road along Victoria’s southern coastline. The way this car suits this stretch of road is seriously impressive.
Picking up the car in Melbourne, the man from Rolls-Royce tells us that there’s no car more perfect for that road. Well, of course he would say that.
“No, seriously, I was thinking about which cars most suit the road, and it was this,” he said, pointing to the Drophead Coupe, “or an Aston Martin DBS Volante. I’d still go with the Rolls-Royce.”
It was a good choice, upon reflection. There are some parts of the road which would break your back in anything other than a Rolls-Royce, due to their harsh, pock-marked nature. The tarmac has disintegrated in some areas, yet the Phantom convertible took it all in its stride; its massive 21-inch wheels oscillating vertically and air suspension trying to cope with the inertia of moving those huge and heavy wheels and tyres to follow the bumps.
As a result, the cabin remained utterly composed, with a slight hint of suspension rumble coming through at times, but for the most part it’s a fabulously soft and comfortable ride. There’s no doubt the Aston Martin DBS Volante would have cornered quicker, but the driver would be worn out by the end and when you've always got traffic ahead of you, it's better to sit back, relax and enjoy the drive. Which is why we remained refreshed and alert throughout the entire journey.
That’s also thanks to the seats. The design of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe’s seats is one of simplicity but of total comfort. Seriously, not once did I have to shift around to regain a comfortable position, yet literally hours were spent behind the wheel. It was simply a case of adjusting to your driving position using the excellently designed toggles under the centre armrest, and then enjoying the trip.
The space is just colossal, even with four on board. It’s a four seater, but the rear passengers will never complain about a lack of foot or leg room, unless the driver is exceptionally tall. The boot space seems out of proportion with the car’s size, however we packed in several overnight bags plus a couple of backpacks and laptops, and there was room to spare.
Of course, this is a Rolls-Royce, so the cabin quality is second to none. As a benchmark for the entire automotive industry, the interior of a Phantom is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Whether it’s the lacquering of the wood surfaces or the gleam of the polished metal, or even the way that the two substrates meet together without overpowering each other, the build of a Rolls-Royce always meets, and sometimes exceeds, expectations.
The wood is book-matched, meaning you can draw a line down the centre of the car and the grain is a mirror image on each side. The dashboard is trimmed in the smoothest, softest aniline leather, matching the seats for feel. While driving, your hands only ever touch wood, leather or chrome.
Around the back of the cabin, a tribute to yachting is evident by the teak decking which extends toward the boot. Over 30 individual pieces of wood are used, with grain that looks like it was only just sawn. Yet it's weather-resistant, due to an impregnation of oils that keep its natural appearance looking fresh.
That natural theme continues even down to the floor mats. Sisal has been used, and at first it looks a little out of place in such an expensive car. However after living with it for a few days, you begin to understand how practical it is, and how well it integrates with the other wood finishes around the vehicle. A simple shake out and the dust and dirt from your feet is gone.
But what about if it rains? Chief designer Ian Cameron explained that unlike other convertibles in which you need to dive off the road to get the roof up, the Phantom Drophead Coupe is more accomodating.
“We didn’t want owners to feel as if they had to pull over at the first spot of rain,” says Cameron. That's why the seats are almost completely smooth, with minimal stitching, so they can be wiped down. Attention to detail even sees the carpets being manufactured from moisture-resistant fibres.
When you do put the roof up, there are five layers of insulation to keep the noise down - and it works. Despite passing trucks on the freeway at 100km/h, both wind noise and external noise are impressively suppressed. Just a word of caution: you have to be completely stopped to put the roof up, and when you do it takes a while. The roof mechanism is deathly quiet so it works in a very relaxed and Rolls-Royce-like manner.
The biggest complaint when driving a convertible, however, is its torsional rigidity. You know all about it when you hit a pot-hole and the whole car shimmies as the body flexes. Usually there's a bit of windscreen wobble and the steering wheel shakes in your hands - not so in the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe. This would have to be the stiffest convertible ever made. It does not, and I do mean does not, suffer from scuttle shake. At all. Like none.
Which is good when you're pressing on around the twisty sections between Apollo Bay and Lorne. Some of the most spectacular scenery and winding roads are to be found there, and the Phantom Drophead Coupe just lapped it up.
It's a big car, mind you (5609mm long) yet it never felt like it was out of its depth or too large to negotiate the bends. You do have to watch out for cyclists, however. In fact, in my opinion, they should be banned from the Great Ocean Road.
The steering comes as a surprise. Both my drive partner, a motoring scribe from New Zealand, and myself commented on how alive it feels. Despite the thin-rimmed, large diameter wheel, the feedback is superb, and its turn in is quick and light. For a drive like this, it's just perfect. The brakes, too, worked a treat, though the stability control was a little over eager to grab you on some tight downhill sections, even if you weren't powering on.
The whole drive, from Melbourne to Warrnambool was a pure delight. The road goes inland and gives you bush and forest, it flattens out for long straights where you can stretch the big Roller's 338kW 6.75-litre V12 - the legal limit is a joke in this car - while closer to the water the twisty sections are just eaten up with disdain.
The Twelve Apostles (well, there are actually nine, now) are a highlight, and further along, the Bay of Isles is worth stopping off at, too. But if there was one car that you could enjoy the drive in more than anything else, it's this one.
With the roof down, the warm sun bathes its occupants, however if the weather turns sour, it's calm, quiet and composed with the roof up. Fifteen speakers means you can crank up the stereo and enjoy your iPod, or you can simply enjoy the silence.
It has the handling, the speed, the power, the smoothness, the involvement, the quality - everything. It is, without a doubt the most luxurious convertible ever made. The Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe also has masses of presence, which helps to convince slow-moving traffic to move out of the way.
That's what you need when there's one of the best driving roads in Australia in front of you.