Review: The Rolls Royce Phantom

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

review the rolls royce phantom

While TTAC gets scorn for lofty criticisms of mainstream vehicles, should we demand perfection in a $405,000 (as-tested) vehicle? Because the Phantom is inches away from yesteryear’s glory: the highest regarded, finest engineered luxury vehicle before anyone cared about luxury vehicle upstarts like Mercedes-Benz or Lexus.

That’s not to say the Phantom isn’t drop dead gorgeous. The suicide doors are dumbfoundingly awesome. That Hooper Coachwork inspired design is impossible to miss: clock the long hood and short deck. And an elegant swageline, strong and stoic at the front, gently falling earthward before the taillights. Which are suitably small, drawing your eyes to the beauty of finished metal instead of the overwrought lighting details of lesser vehicles.

And if you don’t roll a MegaCab Ram truck, you’re in a lesser vehicle. The majority of its linebacker-sized frontal area contains that wonderful Roller grille, making the Phantom damn near impossible to fault from the front. But the “headlights that look like foglights” need the boot: a counterintuitive move that–like four spoke wheels–is an Industrial Design deadly sin. When nighttime bystanders look at your ride funny in the valet lot, something needs to be fixed.

Nitpicking no doubt, especially in “light” (sorry) of what’s inside. The dash is old-school charming, vents are made of an actual metal substance and the wood-encased analog clock rotates to show a sat-nav screen in a distinctly James Bond manner. The floor mats are made from absolutely randy-feeling wool, but the carpet could use a dose of Rogaine for a thicker pile. That rug looks fine in the exquisitely finished trunk: kudos to the leather trimmed boots around the dog leg hinges and a pull-down button graphic portraying an actual Rolls-Royce, not a generic silhouette.

While the latest BMW-sourced, leather wrapped, i-Drive wheel hides behind a wood door, it’s black plastic container is worthy of a Dodge Caliber. Dude, didn’t I pay enough for leather, suede, aluminum or plumbing fixture-grade brass at this touch point?

And yes, you’ll use that somewhat-easy i-Drive system far more often than a BMW, because this is such a relaxing vehicle.

Seating for five is comfortable, with excellent visibility up front and bespoke privacy from the massive C-pillar. That’s dandy, just avoid the action-packed, extra-plush rear quarters in a Maybach, LS460L or even the Hyundai Equus: replacing British Charm (terrible food) with a lap dance (and a free buffet) is most appealing at this Caligula-ish price point. No matter, the Lexicon audio is respectable up front, absolutely amazing in the rear. And the rear power suicide doors (with integral umbrellas) are much like the retractable lady statue on the hood: a thing of beauty.

But the seating inferiority complex continues, as air conditioned seats are a welcome addition to every luxury vehicle in the current millennia. Rolls’ engineers made the finest HVAC out there, but do us a solid and introduce cool air via that legendary tuck-and-roll upholstery, please. Or perhaps I shouldn’t be a broke-ass car scribe, getting someone else do my errands. In a different car.

So let’s drive this gorgeous beast. The direct-injected, BMW-sourced V12 is a smashing success: lifting the Phantom’s nose from a standstill, accelerating to 60mph in 5.7 seconds like a crescendo from a philharmonic orchestra. It’s no bi-turbo Benz at speed, punching the air with a coffin nose hood in a distinctly freight train-like manner. Steering feel is acceptable by Toyota Camry standards, delightfully accurate for livery drivers of the Panther persuasion.

Braking is outstanding, though the pitch, roll, massive understeer and tall seating position encourage sane levels of steering transitions. Which explains the reverse tachometer (Power Reserve meter) and bearing-infused Rolls-Royce hubcaps to a tee: show some respect, lest the owner knock you down to a mere hack, hooning a yellow cab.

Ride quality is this Roller’s raison d’etre, and it shant disappoint. Until it does. With hard walled, run-flat tires stretched to a rubber band sidewall on a 21-inch wheel, the Phantom cannot provide the ride expected from its NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) material packed body, near silent powertrain and pin drop quiet highway ride. Cross an enormous bump and the Phantom glides like a cloud, but hit a sharp pavement joint or frost heaves and the Phantom “thuds” more than a gymnasium floor during basketball season. The Phantom is dying for a traditional wheel/tire option, perhaps with thick whitewalls to compensate for the extra sidewall: because Rolls-Royces aren’t purchased for handling prowess and sporty rims.

So the Phantom is a somewhat-flawed vehicle, but is it best in class? Yes. Nobody comes even close to its appeal. Once Rolls-Royce sweats the little stuff present in cheaper, more advanced alternatives and refines every last detail, the Phantom will be God among men.

Readers who follow TTAC on Facebook had the opportunity to ask questions about the Phantom. If you would like to ask questions of reviews in progress, check out our Facebook page. Fans, here are your answers:

Paul S: sounds like Rolls’ styling isn’t for you, but the Phantom is brand management so honest it makes me cry. Rob F: like a fancy restaurant used to impress a first date, like comparing a Panther Chassis’ ride to a Toyota Avalon, the “sheer crapulence of it all” (as you so eloquently put it) is why this car rules. Richard L: Donuts woulda been scary, had I found a parking lot big enough to try. Antoine P: buy a Maybach, RENNTECH it and enjoy the best in turbocharged luxury hoonability. Jonathan H: it’s odd for a man to wear a miniskirt, but the paparazzi won’t see your junk if you soberly exit the Roller.

Ingvar H: the cheapest one on (wholesale) Manheim Auctions is 120 large, I doubt a running Phantom goes for less than six-figures. Jim J: people seeking less conspicuous consumption aren’t in this rarified air. Brian J: Rolls-Royce “Bespoke” program can add that stuff–for a price–except for maybe the air conditioned seats mentioned above. Ronald B: a fellow Roller on the highway waved at me all gentleman-like, but stereotypical Phantom owners exist: someone who was obviously high on something said I should be “blazin’ up in that b****.”

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2 of 84 comments
  • Tklockau Tklockau on Oct 01, 2010

    While I wouldn't call these ugly, they seem much more massive and blocky than they used to. My favorite Rolls is a '78-'80 Silver Shadow II, probably because I grew up in the 80's. Sajeev, have you ever driven a Silver Shadow, Spirit or Seraph? If so, how do they compare to this car?

  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Oct 12, 2010

    Never driven the older models, but they will fare just as good/bad (depending on your performance metrics) as a 1980s Lincoln Town Car compared to the current model. Technology is a good thing, even in Land Yachts.

    Now, about the Seraph: I suspect it's lower center of gravity and similar levels of modern technology make it a more fun car to...uh...take a fast corner with. But I'd still rather have a Phantom.

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