Defining luxury with Rolls-Royce

We join Rolls-Royce at the picturesque Domaine de Primard to rendezvous with the brand’s iconic new Phantom

Rolls-Royce has, since the days of its founders, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, produced vehicles that most would categorise as the very best in vehicular aluxury – a tradition the company cherishes and upholds as much today as when it was founded in 1904. The new generation of Rolls-Royce seeks to be more inclusive and diverse, reflecting a wider brand appeal to a new generation of buyers, who value the meticulous care and attention that goes into every model that sits behind the legendary Pantheon grill and Spirit of Ecstasy.

In recent years, I have been fortunate enough to review stunning examples of this new generation of motorcars, with the Cullinan, Dawn and exceptional Ghost all impressing with their individuality and unique personalities. However, throughout the British marque’s long history and total commitment to perfection, there has been one name that has defined luxury – Phantom.

The Phantom has been the flagship of the Rolls-Royce range since it was reintroduced in its current form some 20 years ago, and the latest iteration is a powerful continuation of the model’s excellence in defined luxury motoring. Its presence on the road is undeniable; its sheer size is designed to optimise cabin space and dominate the road.

At nearly 6m long, and noticeably taller and wider than other vehicles around it, these are not features synonymous with driving agility. For this reason, most would associate a car of this size and value to be exclusively chauffeur-driven and, indeed, 98% of the long wheelbase variants are. But, surprisingly, 78% of the standard wheelbase cars are driven by their owners.

This interesting fact focused our attention on driving Phantom, rather than simply being driven in one at an exclusive event at Domaine de Primard – a stunning, picturesque French chateau that was formally the country home of French actress Catherine Deneuve – as the backdrop to a series of test drives on its latest range.

Approaching the car, the lines are a statement of purpose, but the sheer size is intimidating.

From the moment I open the door I am immediately struck by the build quality in the weight and finish of the doors. Power assisted opening and closing significantly increase the luxury experience – and saves the need for owners to develop biceps like Popeye, as was the case with the earlier generations of cars, such as the Shadow and Cornice.

Once inside, the first thing that greets me is the revolutionary approach to preventing any possible squeak or rattle with the development of a single piece glass dashboard. This piece of bespoke artwork can be customised and coloured to almost infinite and unique variations framing the now familiar Rolls-Royce instrument clusters, reassuringly minimalist in output to show only what you really need to know. Looking across the car, the width of the seats and distance between the two interior door trims are noticeably bigger than in normal luxury cars.

Looking up over the dash, I am hit by the massive bonnet proportions, sightly curved resembling the sea at night in the Maldives, with the curvature of the earth falling away until interrupted by the top of the wings resembling the pillars of Hercules to its left and right extremes and emphasising the width of this beast. Way out in front, as if on the distant horizon, is the familiar Spirit of Ecstasy. This is a big car and feels substantial in every respect, while the touch and feel at each contact point conveys quality of finish and practicality of purpose.

With this awareness, extra attention is required while navigating the Phantom through the small courtyards of the chateau, originally built for a horse and cart – not such an automotive behemoth. However, the steering is beautifully light and the car surprisingly easy to manoeuver, thanks to its sophisticated four-wheel steering geometry designed both to assist low-speed turning and high-speed directional change. The ‘Pillars of Hercules’ protruding from the corners of the bonnet, and the reassuring Spirit of Ecstasy up front were perfect reference points to assist in guiding the Phantom effortlessly through the courtyard.

At this point, as if to further complicate the dynamic, the heavens open; my jaunt through the French countryside is going to be interesting. As I pull silently out of the gates, the acceleration of the V12 6.75ltr twin turbo charged engine is phenomenal, despite the Phantom being rear wheel drive. Its power output is described by Rolls-Royce as “adequate” – which feels somewhat of an understatement given that this 2.6 tonne beast can accelerate from 0 to 60mph in 5.1 seconds. Impressively, this acceleration is achieved in almost perfect silence.

Despite the wet conditions, the sheer weight of the car gives exceptional traction and a feeling of confidence on the wet road. The highly-tuned suspension and GPS-controlled gearbox prepares the car for each turn is augmented by the Flagbearer system, which reads the road ahead through sensors in the headlining and adjusts the ride for optimal comfort and handling. These features come together to deliver a feeling of comfort and safety rarely experienced in such torrential conditions. Anticipated aquaplaning on standing water is nonexistent and, when I stand heavily on the brakes to take the car beyond reasonable stopping parameters, Phantom stands on its nose with just a hint of the rear trying to come around on me before the electronics make a micro-adjustment, and the Phantom pulls up straight and true without a whisper in silent contempt for my leaden footed challenge.

Pushing the car in the rain, I expect to feel the presence of lateral drift and understeer going into the bends, with hints of oversteer coming out of them under power, given the huge front-mounted engine and immense power being delivered to the rear wheels. In fact, the balance of the car is exceptional and, even with the cars overall weight and wheelbase suggesting this should be a lumbering beast and a handful to drive at pace, but with the intelligent four-wheel steering system, wonderfully tuned traction control system, ABS and army of electronics all working in unison in the background, this massive car feels agile and effortless to control, regardless of the weather.

All of this engineering excellence gives the impression that, as you drive it, the Phantom literally shrinks around you, transforming from the behemoth of that first impression to an agile, massively capable saloon with all the refinement that Rolls-Royce’s years of experience in engineering can deliver. This is why owners chose to drive themselves, and why my own perception of Phantom has been changed forever, from the allure of wanting to be driven in this motoring legend, to wanting to drive it myself.

Then again, there is something to be said for being driven home in the back of one of the marque’s fleet of chauffeur-driven Phantoms upon my return to the UK – and to fully understand why this car has become the standard of luxury against which all others are measured.

As I doze under the shooting star headliner, in acres of leather and veneered opulence, I reflect on how this entire experience has changed my perception and understanding of what could, quite possibly, be one of the best all round luxury cars in existence today.

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