Rolls-Royce is quietly confident about its new Phantom
The Phantom VIII might seem to bear a strong resemblance to the model it replaces. In fact, almost everything has changed.
Retailing at more than $1 million, you would want the just-launched eighth edition of the venerable Rolls-Royce Phantom to add something tangible to your life.
But it could be what it takes away – noise – that counts most with fussy owners-to-be.
The sound of a conventional car door being slammed shut is something we are conditioned to hearing. Yet it’s the absence of movement and sound that’s most noticeable as the big rear-hinged back doors of the eighth-generation Phantom gently pull themselves closed with nothing more than a whispered whir.
Once ensconced inside, passengers are surrounded by sound-deadening material – an extra 130 kilograms of it over the previous Phantom will not only keep the world at bay, but also any sound from the massively powerful twin-turbocharged 6.75-litre V12 engine. Even the 22-inch Continental tyres are lined with special sound-deadener to further stifle tyre roar. So finicky were Rolls-Royces engineers that they made the tyre manufacturer produce 90 different prototypes before arriving at the quiestest-possible compound.
On a sweeping first glance, the Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII might seem to bear a strong resemblance to the model it replaces. In fact, almost everything has changed – new platform, new engine, new interior, new design. It’s a mark of the skills of Rolls-Royce’s craftsmen that the differences on the surface are subtle at best. It still looks like a Phantom, still looks like the world’s most expensive and exclusive luxury limousine. Which it still is.
Take, for example, the Pantheon grille – it’s the largest ever fitted to a Rolls-Royce, yet it is more integrated into the frontal design than ever before. It’s flanked by new laser headlights that can send a beam of light shooting up to 600 metres down the road.
Side-on, there’s the trademark short wheel overhangs that help accommodate one of the most commanding cabins in the business. Lightly applied but significant bodywork revisions help draw the eye towards the rear of the car, creating the impression of motion. At the rear, a more pert-looking tail end conceals an enlarged boot that is flanked by two surprisingly small, more modern-looking tail light units.
We’re among the first in Australia to see Rolls-Royce’s new king at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Melbourne, where Brand Manager Kristian Dewsnap describes the car we’re looking at – the first to reach Australian shores – as “unmistakeably Phantom”.
“It absolute looks like a Phantom, it’s the eighth generation, it’s all the presence and stature and cues that you would look for in a Phantom but it’s significantly more modern,” he says.
A brand-new, bespoke platform underpins the latest Phantom. Built specifically to accommodate all future Rolls-Royce models, it is 30 per cent more rigid and 10 per cent lighter than the outgoing model’s framework. It was the weight saved on the chassis that allowed engineers to add so much extra sound deadening without significantly adding to the kerb weight.
The new 6.75 -litre twin turbo V12 beneath the long bonnet makes 420kW and 900Nm – with all its torque available from as low as 1900rpm to continue the brand’s mantras of “ample power” and “quiet refinement”.
As impressive as the powerplant undoubtedly is, it’s no work of art – that title belongs to The Gallery, an innovation that shapes as Phantom VIII’s signature party trick.
Instead of a swathe of timber veneer completing the sweep from the driver’s dashboard to the passenger door, Rolls-Royce has instead created a mobile art installation of sorts. From launch, owners will be able to choose from materials including silks, carbon-fibre wrapped in leather, wood and stainless steel to create their own ‘Gallery’. On the model we inspected, a stainless steel grille was framed by toughened glass complete with an intriguing S-bend in the centre of the dashboard, as well as a bespoke clock. The central Retina Display screen folds out into the space created in a stunning piece of automotive theatre.
“The Gallery for me is the signature piece and I absolutely love it,” Dewsnap says. “Further down the track you’re actually going to be able to have your own artist commission your own piece, that’s a bit later on. You’ll be able to have your own art piece built in, it’s a new level of personalisation.
“(Our customers) are looking for something that’s very unique. The Gallery is a prime example of that. It’s incredible craftsmanship, it’s unlike anything else on the road, it’s a beautiful statement piece, and I think that’s what people are looking for, something that reflects them.”
Elsewhere, traditional competes with contemporary. For the first time, the driver’s instruments are all rendered entirely in digital display, albeit ringed in chrome and with the digitised look and feel of the analogue gauges of old. Beautifully formed over-door straps in leather and polished chrome are a throwback to another era, as are the tactile aluminium piano stops.
Offsetting that is “the most high-tech of Rolls-Royces we’ve had” complete with state-of-the-art in-car entertainment, one of the few items purloined from the parts catalogue of parent company BMW. “It wouldn’t make any sense for us to commission our own entertainment systems,” Dewsnap says. “Especially when we’re such a small company and BMW is universally regarded as being great at infotainment systems.
“But the platform, the engine, the fit and finish, all these things are all Rolls-Royce.”
Crucially, the back seat is all about the journey with tray tables that electronically fold down for the first time. They each incorporate large digital screens that can take control of the 600-watt standard sound system (1300w optional) and also control optionally massaging seats and tilting footrests.
And, of course, there’s those all-but silent doors, which close at the touch of a button from the inside; and now for the first time can also be shut via a button on the outside of the car – for the chauffeur, of course.
Rolls-Royce will not comment on how many orders it is holding for the Phantom VIII but says interest has been strong in the world’s ultimate luxury item.
Anyone ordering a Phantom today can expect a 9-12-month wait for delivery, and prices start north of $1,000,000.