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It’s been 14 years since Rolls updated its flagship chariot, and the result is worth the wait. The Phantom VIII is the luxury marque's largest and grandest car ever, born from the same line as those used by Elvis and Queen Elizabeth II, plus myriad tycoons and oligarchs the world over.
Unveiled to the public in London today, the 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom is will cost €375,000 (A$550,380) and is only the second modern version of the flagship state car that Rolls first introduced in 1925.
BMW, which now owns the famously British brand, unveiled the first truly modern Phantom in 2003 and used it until 2011; the Phantom VIII is the first time since then that the car has been updated completely. In the years before 2003, Rolls was producing the Phantom VI on an incredible run from 1968 through to 1990.
The car’s longevity is a testament to its design, which has withstood the test of time with grace and aplomb.
That success is, in turn, a challenge to the Rolls-Royce designers who labored to birth the new one in Goodwood, England. The half-million-dollar Phantom is Rolls’s biggest money-making series around the world. And iIn this rare air, there is no margin for error.
From my first experiences with the car, it looks like the team can rest easy. Everything about the Phantom VIII is smooth, especially how it looks.
Giles Taylor, the director of design for Rolls-Royce, deserves much credit here for accomplishing what many have not – creating a new iteration of an old car so that it feels fresh but familiar. His Phantom VIII manages to look both modern and majestic.
During a private preview in New York, Taylor said he wanted the car to look as though it’s surging forward as a boat would emerging from the water.
It does: The new super-clean stainless steel grille is recessed and pushed up higher than previous generations so that the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament virtually catapults forward.
The front end of the car is shorter and the back is longer than previously, as well. All the styling lines in the rear circle forward and lead the eye back through to the front wheel. The rear glass is raked more aggressively than on Phantom VII, which adds to the general idea of forward thrust.
Elsewhere, wide C-pillars along the sides allow for passenger privacy; massive single-pieces of hand-polished stainless steel frame and soften each side.
(On the Extended Wheelbase Phantom, a single polished stainless steel strip along the sill marks it as special.) You’ll be hard-pressed to find any visible join lines between body panels at any point in the car. I certainly couldn’t.
The intricate details of every component inside the car are too numerous and mind-numbing to list here, but suffice to say they adorn the car like jewels.
The rear light cluster has tiny Double-RR badges etched in; the high-gloss picnic tables and chrome dials make the rear feel like a theater (yes, there are movie screens); the center of the wheels always point right-side up even as the car drives. Taylor even made the wood paneling across the back of the front seats to evoke the famous Eames Lounge Chair.
It’s worth noting that this is only the second Phantom produced by Rolls-Royce under its BMW overlords. The driving system and entertainment controls are very similar to those in some of the brand’s other vehicles.
But even at this early stage, it’s easy to see that none is so befitting royalty as the new Phantom VIII. Phantom VI was famously used as the coach for the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. Phantom VIII is a worthy, modern successor.
The detail along the dashboard is meant to evoke an art gallery, able to show off the owner's private collection of valuables.
Talk to anyone at Rolls associated with Phantom VIII, and you’ll hear the same key items about the car mentioned with glowing pride. Primary among them is the silence of its ride.
According to Rolls, it is 10 percent quieter at 95km/h than the previous Phantom. This comes thanks to sound-absorbing materials layered inside the headliner, trunk, and doors; massive cast aluminum joints in the body of the car, which cut noise; double skin alloy laid on areas within the floor and bulkhead of the frame of the car; and special “silent-seal” tires that have foam inside to minimize road noise.
It’s also due to a new—as opposed to simply updated or reconfigured—engine. Rolls gave Phantom VIII a 6.75-liter, V12 engine turbocharged to 563bhp. (This is a change from the previous naturally aspirated, 453hp V12 engine used in Phantom VII.) The turbo enables low-end power at lower revs, which works wonders to ensure silence at speed.
The car tops out at 250km/h, and it’ll hit 95km/h in 5.3 seconds. This, significantly, is far faster than, say, those smaller racecar-light Lancias that dominated the rally-cross track for decades.
The effect is unearthly once you close the doors – everything outside the car goes immediately mute. Reclining last month in the back of the Phantom VIII was like lounging in a cocoon. I’ve been in sound studios that felt louder; you could easily record a Rick Ross album in there.
At any rate, I’d like to hear the difference on the road. Rolls-Royce, alas, hasn’t yet permitted press drives, but initial results of this much-ballyhooed chamber are positive, very positive.
The inside story
Another point of immense – and justified – pride from the Rolls-Royce contingent is the “gallery” installed in the dashboard.
Let me explain. Rolls says that many of its buyers are collectors of fine mechanical watches, figurines, jewelry, and other trinkets worth far more than their size might suggest.
(After visiting the factory in Goodwood one year, I know this to be true – the bespoke cars I saw being built there include storage for some of the most eccentric things, such as cabinets for duck collections.)
So it follows that perhaps these individuals would like to be able to appreciate some of their collections outside the home. Even on the road, as it were.
Enter the Phantom VIII, with a glass case installed in the dashboard if the buyer so wishes. Anyone who buys one can install whatever he or she wants inside along the dash, behind the glass. It’s like a viewing gallery.
“Every one of our customers – each a connoisseur of luxury in the extreme – [was] asking for something more individual to them, not less,” explained Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the brand’s chief.
The gallery does come with one permanent installation: an analogue clock that will be “the loudest sound you can hear in a Rolls-Royce,” one presser bragged. Giles Taylor, the director of design for Rolls-Royce, told me the glass is treated so that it is not a safety hazard in the event of a crash. One would hope.
And storage in general is ample. “Trunk space was something which was criticized in the Phantom VII,” said Müller-Ötvös. “We said OK, understood. We do it,” and it is now “massively more spacious” in the new model.
Smooth as a cloud, but really
Here are the reasons why the Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII will likely be the smoothest car you’ll ever operate.
1. A Rolls ZF 8-speed gearbox aided by satellite makes impeccable shifts at any speed.
2. A 100-percent original and new chassis designed and engineered to sustain the exact weight (5,862 pounds for the short wheelbase; 5,948 pounds for the longer version) and motion of the Phantom VIII, which improves propulsion, traction, and, by 30 percent, the car's overall rigidity.
3. Four-wheel steering similar to that of a new Lamborghini, which increases agility and stability around corners.
4. A complex camera system that automatically adjusts the suspension for the road ahead.
It’s notable that the all-aluminum frame will underpin every future Rolls-Royce beginning with Phantom VIII, so no new Rolls-Royce will ever again use the same monocoque construction that is typical across the industry.
It’s also notable that the camera system is one of many that include panoramic- and helicopter-view cameras; a Night Vision camera; a 7-inch-wide heads-up display; and myriad collision/lane departure/cross traffic warning systems. This is by far the most technologically advanced Rolls-Royce on the market, even surpassing the sporty Wraith coupe.
But I digress.
The main point here is that everything about this car is smooth – even the doors, which shut by the light touch of a sensor so that they “whisper closed” of their own accord. Because slamming a door is so continental, isn’t it?
Up next: Rolls-Royce to go electric
“Rolls-Royce will start to go electric in the next decade,” Müller-Ötvös said in an interview at the launch – held just days after the U.K. moved to ban combustion vehicles by 2040.
“You need to have then an effortless charging situation,” he explained, as its wealthy clientele isn’t in the mood to spend more than “a couple of minutes” topping up batteries.