Rolls Royce has finally unveiled their ode to excess: the new Phantom. After pleading with their PR department, I reckon I could learn German between now and the time they'll lend me their land yacht. But everything I've read indicates that Rolls' new owners have finally done what their former stewards failed to do: build a proper "gentleman's" luxury motorcar.
No surprise there. Even a brief examination of a 7-Series' fit and finish indicates that an Anglo-German alliance was the only way to restore Rolls Royce to its rightful place at the summit of sumptuousness. The Japanese would have made the Phantom as reliable as an atomic clock. The French would have given it Gallic flair. The Americans would have given it, um, a Ford engine. But the Phantom's success was never going to be measured by its ability to avoid mechanical mishap, or delight the aesthetic sensibilities of rappers or architects. To reclaim its rep, the new Roller had to combine German tactile precision with English opulence.
Mission accomplished. The new Phantom incorporates everything the Germans know about build quality (perfect panel gaps, infinite noise suppression, silky-smooth controls, etc.) with everything the English know about comfort (burled wood, fragrant leather, ankle kissing carpet, etc.) and class (gargantuan dimensions, discreetly shielded passengers, etc.). Although the Phantom reconnects with Rolls' dimly remembered reputation for engineering excellence, the fact that it goes, stops and steers like a car, rather than a drawing room on wheels, is merely a bonus. The style is the thing.
Again, the Phantom collaboration was a no-brainer. German cars are precision instruments that lack soul. English cars are charismatic icons that lack mechanical precision. Put the best bits together and you've got a sure-fire winner. BMW tested the concept during their short and abortive ownership of England's Rover Group. Although the Rover 75 didn't set the world on fire, its elderly buyers will attest that it was one Hell of a motorcar. The 75 proved that two wildly dissimilar auto-making traditions could create synergy.
If you doubt that such nationalistic clichés still apply in these days of platform sharing, multi-national car companies, simply compare the Anglo-German Phantom with its deadly rival, the all-German Maybach 57.
Start with model designations. German manufacturers have traditionally turned to alpha-numerology to give their variants identity: SSK, 507, M3, Z8, 996, etc. These model designations create deep emotional resonances for petrolheads, but do little to engage less maniacal buyers. English automakers have always understood that in the beginning, there was the word. "Ah. Here comes my Phantom now!" has far more oomph than "Ya, here is coming now my 57." It's the difference between "something illusionary or visionary" and "something 573cm long". It's the difference between English romanticism and German efficiency.
The visual contrast between the two products is equally stark. Well, the 57 is stark. The Phantom is lush. The Roller looks like an enormous sedan morphed with a stately home. The Maybach looks like a stretched S-Class morphed with a suppository. The Phantom is fashioned entirely out of bold design cues, from the massive cowcatcher front grill to the glittering boot badge. The Maybach is made entirely of aerodynamics, from its fish-faced front-end to the horizontal taillights. You don't need to see either of these luxobarges looming in your rear view mirror to guess which one has more "character".
The interiors diverge along similar lines. Although both the Phantom and the 57 are as long as two MINIs, the cabin proportions vary significantly. The Phantom divides the front and rear appointments more or less equally, striking a very English balance between personal space and potential intimacy. The Maybach is heavily biased towards the rear passengers. Though faultless in execution and materials, it's a clinical, cavernous enclave. The Phantom is welcoming, where the 57 is accommodating.
The divergent philosophies are typified by the Maybach's rear speedometer. You might say that only a German passenger would fully appreciate a constant, objective indication of velocity, but I couldn't possibly comment. Suffice it to say, the Roller boasts Teflon-coated umbrellas embedded the rear doors. Sense vs. sensuality? Put it this way: the sound of the Phantom's partition sliding into place would probably suggest that something very pleasurable was about to occur. The same sound in a 57 would probably signal the start of an evil conspiracy.
So what does this £240,000 (plus extras) shoot-out teach us– aside from the fact that the new Phantom is set to kick the Maybach's not inconsiderable butt? The Phantom's distinctly British personality undercuts the argument that global car making inevitably stifles national expertise and cultural expression. Even when national brands work together, it's their differences make that them stronger. It also proves that BMW can take the Roller out of Britain, but they can't take the British out of the Roller. Thank Gott.
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