Luxury hits a new high in the Rolls-Royce Phantom

Rolls-Royce Phantom takes luxury to a whole new high

LET"S face it, ladies. When it comes to luxury goods, there’s a certain element of competition involved in ensuring you set yourself apart from the rest. Ahead of the rest preferably, especially if your spend is in the million-dollar zone.
Needless to say, when Madam Wheels was invited for a sneak peek of the all-new Rolls-Royce Phantom in Melbourne, she was looking for standout features with show-off value. It turns out there were a few, but Rolls-Royce Motor Cars had her when they said it was possible to model the Phantom’s front seats with wood and leather in the fashion of the classic Eames Lounge Chair. Gasp! 
Things got even better in the back when it was revealed that an optional refrigerated console could accomodate crystal champagne flutes and whisky tumblers as well as their partner bottles. Frankly, if it’s possible to add features such as these, you would, wouldn’t you? Because if you’ve already forked out $1 million for the car, the paltry $20,000 or so for the console seems a stylish no-brainer.
And there are so many truly stylish things about this Phantom, the eighth iteration of Rolls-Royce’s flagship model since its debut in 1925. Most exciting, perhaps, is the way “art” can be integrated into the reinvented dashboard (to be known, henceforth, as “The Gallery”). The version Madam Wheels got to see (shown lower down) included a steel cascade effect achieved by sandwiching two pieces of laser-cut aluminium together. It’s one of 10 options Rolls-Royce has fashioned for The Gallery which include hand-painted silks, lush wood grains, carbon fibre and leather, wrapped in a sail effect, all behind a sheet of tempered glass.

In reality, though, the possibilities are endless. If you’ve got the head and inclination for it, you can bring your own artist on board, in which case pretty well anything goes. “Rolls-Royce won’t preclude anything - we’re not the arbiters of taste,” says Kristian Dewsnap, of Melbourne’s Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. “The only reason we will ever knock anything back is because it’s not safe or it can’t be certified.”

Rolls-Royce expects every car coming into Australia will be bespoke - and, if you’re playing at this level, why wouldn’t it be? But even before you enter that realm, there are 32 paint colours, 22 leather colours, 12 veneers and four different wheels to choose from in the standard mix. Talk about spoilt for choice. 

Inside the car, every detail feels luxurious, from the (optional) starlight headliner in the roof featuring 1334 hand-carved fibre optic lights (at $22,000), to the retro door grabs, chrome air-vent stops, right down to the fold-away foot rests. And on the floors, the lambswool mats are so plush, the Louboutins simply had to come off so the bared soles could properly enjoy the opulence of it all.

Back in the Gallery, which sits behind tempered glass, a high-definition retina display screen folds away at the push of a button. The bespoke clock with counterweighted hands suits the steel finish of this upgrade. Behind the steering wheel, the instrumentation has moved to digital but maintains the authentic, original Rolls-Royce style of dials and needles.

Under the imposing bonnet, you’d think the 6.75-litre twin-turbo charged V12 engine would be a thumping beast to hear in action. Madam Wheels never had the pleasure of finding out during her look-see as it wasn’t fired up. But Dewsnap assures her that 130kg of additional sound-deadening insulation built not just into the car’s headliner, trunk and doors but also the self-sealing Continental tyres all but eliminates road noise in the cabin. 

The tyres themselves went through about 90 different iterations before Rolls-Royce engineers would accept them as part of the mix, he says. They sit on 22-inch alloy wheels, the largest ever seen on a Rolls, delivering the perfect two-to-one ratio in profile. A smaller tyre might give an even better ride but the 22-inch versions I saw filled the arches beautifully and are expected to be the tyre of choice for most buyers.

Speaking of the ride, this all-new version of Rolls-Royce’s flagship is underpinned by something new that’s designed to set the brand apart from any other (as if it’s not already there): its so-called “Architecture of Luxury”. That’s basically a fancy term for a new construction technique Rolls-Royce engineers came up with to make this 30 per cent-stiffer iteration of the Phantom ride better, quieter and 10 per cent lighter than the seven versions that have come before it.

The resulting all-aluminium “spaceframe" is scaleable, so will underpin future versions of all existing Rolls-Royce models, as well as the forthcoming SUV, the Cullinan, Dewsnap told Madam Wheels during her one-on-one inspection of the Phantom. Rolls-Royce will take the high road with this IP, he says, leaving the low road to other “so-called luxury manufacturers” which seek to save money by sharing ideas. Rolls-Royce is keeping Mum on its Architecture. 

“The platform has been designed and commissioned by Rolls-Royce for itself, and it is not to be shared with anyone else,” he says. (Don’t you LOVE that, ladies!) “This will be the underpinning of a Rolls-Royce and Rolls-Royce only. We’re maintaining the exclusivity of the brand.”

And in a lovely one-way relationship, there’s nothing to stop Rolls-Royce from taking the best of the rest from its parent group, BMW, including its super-smart satellite navigation system which includes 3D maps and live traffic features. Rolls-Royce describes its 7x3 high-resolution Head-Up display as industry-leading, and the car provides a WIFI hotspot, too. Of course.

Overall, Phantom VIII is being billed as the most technologically advanced Rolls-Royce ever, featuring every assistance system you’d expect such as all-round and top-down cameras, active cruise control and collision/pedestrian/cross-traffic and lane-changing warnings. The brand’s Flagbearer system is also in place, involving a windscreen-mounted camera system which reads the road ahead and proactively adjusts the car’s suspension to contribute to the “magic carpet ride”. Not a drop of champagne would be at risk even when cornering at speed - anti-roll bars engage as the car begins to turn, keeping the car completely flat, then disengage while driving in a straight line for a better ride comfort, says Dewsnap. I wouldn’t mind putting that to the test with some Cristal on board.

It helps that the ZF 8-speed auto transmission is also satellite-guided, feeding information to the gearbox so it can prepare the appropriate gear for upcoming road conditions. “You won’t know it’s working,” he says, “but when you drive the car you’ll never feel like it’s in the wrong gear.”

But would you really want to drive yourself in a car that’s designed to be chauffeur-driven? Let me tell you, with its claimed top speed of 250km/h (155mph) and a 5.3-second run time to almost 96km/h (60mph), Madam Wheels would most certainly want to be putting this 2.6-tonne car through its paces for herself.

Outside, the car is unmistakably Phantom, though efforts have been made to soften the box-like lines of earlier variations to give the illusion of the car being in motion rather than a stationary block. Its front grille is larger, more upright and more integrated than it has been, now wrapping around the bonnet and positioning the brand’s muse - it’s Spirit of Ecstasy figurine - at a higher vantage point. New laser headlights (which, with a claimed 600m range, puts them among the world’s most advanced) look somewhat sinister with their newly flattened tops, though the embedded “RR” logo in the light clusters front and back give them a jewel-like finish.

When Rolls-Royce talk about boot space they do it in terms of golf bags - up to three in this case. Madam Wheels and her fetish for road trips, however, would rather talk Louis Vuitton steamer trunks before heading for the hills.

So, ladies, consider this: the latest Rolls-Royce Phantom could see you driving (or being driven, if you must) as if floating in your own private bar, decorated by art of your choice in a cocoon of silence surrounded by exquisite finishes while your toes are buried in lush lambswool. If anyone reading this knows of any other car that even comes close to delivering luxury to this level, Madam Wheels would like to know about it. In the meantime, she’d have to say this truly is a point of difference that no other car could match. 

Madam Wheels Verdict

Madam Wheels worthy? Externally, it’s a magnificent beast with incredible presence and class. Internally, passengers are wrapped in a world of unsurpassed luxury. 

Buy: If you have a driver and you like to get through work in the car. 

Avoid: Unless you’re prepared to do something really special with it because, if you’re playing at this level, you can. So you should.

Likes: The heated everything; the fact you can commission your own moving piece of art; the slew of technological improvements; and the notion of the magic-carpet ride (yet to be tested on this model).

Dislikes: It’s a bit serious.

Bottom line: The Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII standard wheelbase starts from $A950,000; the extended-wheelbase version, from $1.1m, though these should be considered true base prices. Owners spend at least $100,000-$150,000 on specifications but could easily pay the price of the car again. Due date: Arriving in Australian now but the waiting list for new orders sits at six months to a year, depending on the bespoke nature of the vehicle.