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Driving the S$2m Rolls-Royce Phantom
THERE is something eternal about Rolls-Royce, as if its cars are fashioned in heaven and then gently set upon the earth by angels, eventually finding their way into the hands of kings.
Perhaps it seems that way because the Phantom nameplate stretches back 92 years, making it the longest-lived model line in the history of cars.
The previous Phantom lasted 14 years, an epoch in the auto world, and managed to do so largely because its global sales remained remarkably constant through all that time. When you define luxury, I guess you can take your time about redefining it.
But here we are with an all-new model, the eighth to wear the Phantom name, and one designed to take Rolls-Royce into a new era. Its bones, which Rolls calls the "Architecture of Luxury" in somewhat overwrought fashion, will be used as the basis for all future Rolls-Royce models.
Still, Rolls-Royce owners care little for what lies beneath the gleaming surface of their cars, no more than you or I are bothered about what enables a television to make moving pictures.
What matters is the Phantom's raison d'être, which is to move the body in a way that soothes and restores the spirit.
In that sense, the new Phantom picks up where the seventh one left off.
As before, it's offered in two lengths, with the Extended Wheelbase model adding 22cm to the car's mid-section.
Surprisingly, the Phantom is slightly shorter than before, with the long wheelbase model now sneaking under the 6-metre mark, but the car's designers seem to have done more with less size.
The standard car doesn't exactly oblige you to sit with your knees beside your ears, but the Extended Wheelbase model is positively palatial in the back. It has space for a number of seating options, including individual rear chairs, and a newly-introduced "Sleeping Seat."
Rolls-Royces are infinitely customisable of course, so it wouldn't surprise me if its engineers found a way to install a waterbed back there if you requested one.
What has truly progressed is the manner in which the Phantom conveys its occupants, with technology having been brought to bear in order to somehow mix vault-like solidity with a cloud-like delicacy.
To banish noise from the cabin, no less than 130kg of sound insulation has been applied to the body, while the double-glazed, 6mm thick windows deny the passage of both heat and sound.
Even the tyres each have 2kg of sound-deadening foam inside them, because noise is better prevented than blocked. I've heard laptops that are louder than this car, and even when you're at highway speeds, any sound you detect tends to emanate from other road users. The Rolls-Royce itself makes almost no noise at all.
The previous Phantom was an unruffled car to sit in, but technical wizardry takes this one to a new level of smoothness. The air suspension's control system is significantly faster, and it borrows a clever trick from BMW, which owns the Rolls-Royce car brand - a camera scans the road ahead for bumps, thus allowing the suspension to prepare itself for them, instead of merely reacting to being jostled.
They've even made it better to drive, in case the owner decides to take the wheel on a lark. There's the same delicate feel to the controls as in the previous Phantom, but with far more agility, owing to the fact that all four wheels do the steering now.
It resists body roll heroically, is easy to place accurately on narrow roads, and the newly turbocharged engine has an air of stoical effortlessness about it, making it feel like the Rolls-Royce is propelled by tireless hands from the spirit world.
Extend the enormous V12, which is the only time you can actually hear it, and the Phantom picks up speed in a way that feels inexhaustible.
It all culminates in a car that pairs exhilaration from the driver's seat with comfort in the back that penetrates into the soul. It is a refuge from the ordinary world.
Mind you, the Phantom isn't a car for your average lollygagger, since the price tag starts at S$1,778,888 for the standard version, rising to S$2,088,888 for the Extended Wheelbase. That doesn't even include the Certificate Of Entitlement, or the items from an endless options list.
Could any mere motor car ever be worth two million? "There is not a single soul on the face of this earth that needs a Rolls-Royce. Nobody!" admits Richard Carter, the brand's director of communications.
"But if I'm wealthy and powerful, if I want to project my success, if I'm somebody who enjoys and really revels in hand craftsmanship and things that are exacting, wonderful and proper, then I come to Rolls-Royce at some point in my life," he adds.
The upshot of that is that the new Phantom has a ready audience, in the form of people for whom nothing less will do.
If nothing else, it exists to remind us how luxury is defined. We are sometimes led to think that expensive things are exquisite, but the new Phantom shows us that the opposite holds true. It is expensive because it is exquisite.
- Engine 6.75-litre, 48 valve, V12 turbocharged
- Power 571hp at 5,000rpm
- Torque 900Nm at 1,700rpm
- Gearbox 8-speed automatic
- Top Speed 250km/h (limited)
- 0-100km/h 5.3 seconds
- Fuel efficiency 13.9L/100km
- CO2 318g/km
- Price from S$1,778,888, exclusive of COE
- Agent Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Singapore
- Available 2018