Full disclosure: Up until very recently, the only chance I had to drive a Rolls-Royce Phantom turned out to be a very brief liaison. In a driving rainstorm, I piloted the Phantom Coupe to a photo shoot, a distance of some 10km, and was filled with trepidation the entire time.
You see, the Rolls-Royce Phantom is a very imposing, very expensive automobile and it’s only after some extended time behind the wheel that things begin to feel a bit more relaxed. Fortunately for yours truly, this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterey, California, afforded me the chance to secure precious time in the revised edition of the Phantom line, dubbed Series II.
The stately saloon and drop-dead gorgeous Drophead Coupe versions of the Rolls were made available for a leisurely drive along the Californian coast and surrounding area.
It’s hard to believe that this generation of the Rolls-Royce Phantom was introduced nearly a decade ago. Since the takeover by BMW in 1999, the Rolls-Royce line has managed to showcase superior engineering without detracting from the inherent timelessness that has typified the brand from its very beginning in 1906. To be sure, the changes distinguishing Series II from the new Phantom are subtle but effective.
Under the massive, stainless steel hood, the 2013 Rolls-Royce Phantom line retains the 6.7-litre V12 direct-injection petrol engine. This behemoth generates 338 kW and 720 Nm of torque and is linked to a new 8-speed automatic transmission from the cog-swapping masters at ZF. The new transmission delivers more refined shifts and an estimated 10 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency over the previous model.
Out on the open road, the Phantom is unquestionably smooth. The saloon felt a bit livelier under power as it’s slightly lighter, albeit both cars weigh well over 2500kg. In either two- or four-door form, the Phantom is certainly capable of keeping pace with traffic, but much of the impact of the V12 has been muted by the sheer size of the car. The accelerator pedal is weighty and there’s some hesitation in the response when it’s first pressed to the floor.
Nevertheless, speed is not the raison d’être for the Rolls-Royce, effortless performance is - everything about the Phantom appears to be designed and engineered to make the driver forget all about the tedious aspects of driving.
Armed with a new dynamic package that includes a “sport” setting, the Rolls-Royce Phantom changes gears more quickly and features a more bolted-down suspension system with stiffer anti-roll bars. This doesn’t mean to say that the Rolls is now an excellent choice for your next autocross, but body roll has been reduced and the car’s ability to cling to the corners was surprisingly good.
More importantly, the Phantom’s ability to iron out imperfections in the road is flat-out awesome; this is down to the 21-inch wheels, vast wheelbase and expert tuning of the suspension system. These elements combine to make the driving experience - over a wide range of road surface - an incredibly serene one. The steering is by no means direct, but it does have heft and a natural feel.
Inside the passenger cabin, the Phantom is, as expected, superb. Of course, there are countless ultra-luxury touches everywhere you look, but the defining characteristic of the interior may just be what you hear - next to nothing. While driving the saloon along the Pacific Coast Highway, my co-driver asked about a ticking sound that dominated the space - it was my wristwatch. Wind noise in the Phantom is minimal, road noise is negligible, overall impression is favourable.
Other Series II revisions comprise a seemingly minor collection that, nevertheless, gives the Phantom a more cohesive and less brutal look. The LED front light cluster includes rectangular headlamps, rectangular high beams in place of the former round ones and a narrow running light bar placed in between. Coupe versions have been given a new single-piece front grille, while the saloon has a slightly revised front and rear fascia.
Inside, there are even fewer revisions to report, apart from an infotainment system screen that has grown from 6.5 inches to 8.8 inches. The Phantom is equipped with all the key tech amenities one would expect, including a full suite of connectivity options, satellite navigation system and a 360-degree camera for easier manoeuvrability. On the pure luxury side, the memorable touches include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, five-zone climate control system, power-closing doors, heated and cooled cupholders, and 16-way power rear seats.
The cabin retains the Rolls-Royce standard of using premium materials such as real wood, leather and metal - and the impeccable workmanship behind their use. The pop-open centre console, which conceals some of the controls including the power seat switches, is a bit of an annoyance, but it’s also original.
The other unique aspects of the Phantom, the narrow black steering wheel, rear-seat tables and power reserve meter, still manage to impress. Of course, through the Rolls-Royce Bespoke offering, there are a limitless number of personalization options available to the discerning customer. At Pebble Beach, one of the company’s more loyal clients showed off a purple Phantom that would’ve been a perfect match for the pop star Prince.
There’s no question that the coupe/convertible version of the Phantom is the more impressive model. While the saloon is a Rolls-Royce in the more classic sense, the two-door is a visually arresting design that continues to stop traffic some five years after its debut. The Drophead Coupe, in particular, is an impressive piece of kit; lowering the top and stepping inside through the coach doors of the white-on-white beast never failed to draw a crowd of onlookers.
The distinctive convertible is also the most expensive Rolls-Royce Phantom in the range and by some margin; while the saloon is priced at USD $403,970 to start, the Drophead Coupe begins at an even loftier USD $474,900. The experience of driving the 2013 Rolls-Royce Phantom, however, is as far from tedious as one can get. Behind the wheel, the only thing to worry about is dirtying the lamb’s wool carpets with the soles of your shoes.