If ever a brand name stood for superlative quality, it would have to be Rolls-Royce. We’ve all heard it used in describing the best of the best, so much so that the name is has become a part of our everyday vernacular: the “Rolls-Royce of furniture” or the “Rolls-Royce of appliances”.
So when the brand was relaunched in 2003 under BMW’s ownership, the first car that Goodwood-based Rolls-Royce built came with a crushing weight of stratospheric expectations. The Phantom had to have the world’s best ride, coupled with interior quality that competitors could only dream of, plus a road presence that was completely unrivalled. It didn’t disappoint.
Nine years later, the Phantom was still a very nice machine, however the world had moved on. Its quality was never in question but it lagged sorely from a technological standpoint. Sure, there were running changes during its near decade-long lifespan but they were purely cosmetic; even Rolls-Royce’s smaller car, the Ghost, left the Phantom languishing in its electronic wake. The big car was in dire need of an update.
Thus, in March of 2012, Rolls-Royce announced the Phantom Series II, a thorough makeover of its flagship model, boasting a range of technological and mechanical enhancements to bring the Phantom into the age of the iPad.
The casual observer will pick the obvious changes; the full LED upper rectangular headlights replace the lower circular lights and there’s a small indicator strip below, the front bumper curves up into the front end more, while the mirrors are slightly tapered on the outer edge. However, trainspotters will notice the detail changes. The tail-lights have a tiny chrome bar separating the lamps, echoing the headlight design, the side indicator is now housed in the Rolls-Royce badge, the wheels are 21-inchers as standard, while the rear bumper features a stainless steel strip that matches the boot width.
Thankfully, the update hasn’t altered the painstaking build process. There are still around 60 people who spend more than 450 hours on each car. It takes 18 days to finish just the woodwork in a standard car (running two consecutive eight-hour shifts) and longer if the client requests bespoke wood monograms or logos. The wiring loom in each car weighs over 35 kilograms and laid end to end, the wires in a Phantom would stretch for over 1.6 kilometres.
Read about our factory tour at Rolls-Royce HQ in the UK here, if you're interested.
There is approximately 40 square metres of hide in each car, or more than 15 cows, yet dependent on the model and owner’s requirements, sometimes up to 20 animals are used. 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.
Open the doors and the scent of richly tanned leather is what first hits you. The front pews feature gleaming chrome pedestals (as do the foot vents under each seat), while the seat design itself is one of simplicity yet total comfort. Combine buttery soft hide with proper padding and hours can be spent behind the wheel without resorting to shifting in your seat. Simply adjust to your preferred driving position using toggles under the centre armrest, and then enjoy the trip. It’s one of the few cars from which you emerge refreshed.
Open the rear-hinged back doors (coach-doors in Rolls-Royce-speak) and you’re treated to colossal legroom and kneeroom, heaps of width, and the most comfortable rear chair to be found in any car on sale. Your feet sink deep into the lambswool floor mats and there are tray tables and (optional) screens in front of you. Our test car also came with a bespoke wine cooler which pops out from under the centre seat.
The wood throughout 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 dashtop is trimmed in the smoothest, softest aniline leather, and where plastics are used they’re always of high-grade. All the touch-points are wood, leather, chrome or lambswool.
Whether it’s the lacquering of the genuine wood surfaces or the gleam of the polished metal, or even the way that the two substrates meet together without a ridge, the build of a Rolls-Royce lives up to its reputation.
The Series II update brings a far larger sat-nav screen which, like the previous Phantom, hides behind a wooden panel replete with analogue clock. At 8.8-inches, even octogenarian millionaires can read it, and the resolution is far better than the previous Phantom. Though we would have liked to have seen the rotary controller’s touch-pad top found in the Ghost and Wraith, the BMW iDrive-based software is far simpler to use than previously. You can now also stream your music via Bluetooth to the Harman LOGIC7 system (arguably one of the industry’s best), or simply connect your iPhone via USB and play music. One thing’s for sure, audiophiles will be in their happy place.
In keeping with the technological update, five cameras give a surround view of the Phantom, and the front wing cameras can be used when pulling up to an intersection to nose ahead of the truck which may obscure your view.
Under the bonnet is still the glorious direct-injection, naturally aspirated, 6.75-litre V12, which puts out 338kW and 720Nm; its silky smoothness and (literally) vibration-free start needed no improvement. But in an effort to improve its efficiency, it’s now backed up by the excellent eight-speed ZF auto (down from 385g/km to 347 g/km), enabling it to lunge to 100km/h in the most serene 5.7 seconds you will ever experience.
Flatten your foot from rest and the V12 evidently works somewhere up the front, despite it feeling completely removed from the equation; there’s a faint metallic whirr and the car slowly yet strongly builds speed until you’ve reached triple digits where, if your keep your foot buried, it has deceptively piled on enough momentum to cause alarm; after all, nearly three tonnes of metal hurtling down the road needs to be planned for in advance.
The Phantom’s brakes are more than up to the challenge, though. Pedal feel is very good and although you’re acutely aware of the extra assistance, the pedal progression is very linear.
The addition of extra bracing to the aluminium spaceframe now allows for a “dynamic” package, which was fitted to our test car. While the Phantom’s standard ride is nothing short of amazing, the dynamic package lifts the bar even further by increasing the roll resistance. The suspension’s compression stroke gets progressively firmer, so the fabulous ride is still there smothering bumps (though being air suspension, the occasional jolt gets transmitted through), but there’s a comforting solidity to be found when the roads become more twisty. It’s in no way a sports car and there’s a degree of restraint required, but it’s more agile than you’d expect from a car of this magnitude. Helping here is the thicker steering wheel, which is weighted on the light side, but there’s a good amount of true feedback.
Okay, it’s easy to drive and nice to steer, but surely parking this behemoth is best left to someone else, right? Actually, the Phantom has a secret up its sleeve.
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 parking space, or even a lane, a lot easier than you’d first imagine. Understanding exactly where the bonnet finishes, unlike today’s cars where the bonnet curves away from you, you’ll know exactly how far you are away from the wall, or car in front. Couple that with a clear reversing camera with guide lines and parking sensors, and the Phantom is a relative breeze to park.
Being Rolls-Royce’s flagship, the Phantom still remains an automotive highlight and despite its styling being quite a subjective thing, either driving or being a passenger in a Phantom will not fail to impress. It carries all of the classic brand hallmarks yet remains a thoroughly modern motor car underneath. It feels more upmarket than the Ghost, and its serenity is peerless.
For sheer presence and build quality, there are few cars on sale that can match the Phantom. And with Rolls-Royce’s bespoke programme, and the build options are almost limitless.
Yes, the Series II update is certainly welcome - the Phantom has been brought into the modern era without losing its old-school cool.