Phantom VIII: Rolls-Royce evolves its flagship
New Rolls-Royce Phantoms don't come around very often. The badge has been around for more than nine decades, but it's graced just seven generations of Rolls-Royce flagship up until now. Meet the eighth generation Phantom, launched today at an event in London.
The new Phantom might look remarkably similar to its predecessor, but it really is a new car underneath the square-jawed skin. It debuts a fresh platform for Rolls-Royce, the same platform that will eventually underpin the Project Cullinan all-terrain, high-sided vehicle. All car manufacturers say they've focused on making their latest cars refined, but that isn't an easy thing to do when your current model is already one of the smoothest cars on the road.
Still, the team at Goodwood seems to have managed just fine. Rolls-Royce says the fresh Architecture of Luxury is around 30 percent more rigid than the one before it, despite its being lighter and easier to produce at the factory. That should help with the ride, although the standard air suspension plays an equally important role. It actually uses a camera in the windscreen to read the road ahead, adjusting the stiffness of the dampers based on what the wheels, body, steering wheel and camera are saying.
No chauffeur is likely to test it out while they're on the job, but the new double-wishbone front and five-link rear setup should make for a Phantom that handles, too. In typical Rolls fashion, this new road-reading suspension isn't called active air suspension or proactive damping control, it's called Flagbearer. The name is a nod to the people who carried a red flag in front of cars during the early days of motoring.
Refinement and quietness is central to the appeal with any big luxury car, so it shouldn't be surprising to hear the cabin of the VIII has been given some serious attention. Rolls-Royce claims the new car is around 10 percent quieter than the model it replaces at 100 km/h (62 mph), thanks to 130 kg (287 lb) of sound deadening squeezed into the body and chassis. Double-layered alloy has been used in the floor and bulkhead, while there are larger cast-aluminum joints in the chassis. Even the tires are lined with a special noise-killing foam.
It exists in a totally different part of the motoring world to most car manufacturers, but even Rolls has been forced to slap a pair of turbochargers onto its engine for 2017. Don't call it downsizing though, because the twin-turbo V12 in the Phantom VIII still displaces 6.75 liters. Peak power is pegged at 420 kW (563 hp) and there's a monstrous 900 Nm of torque on tap from 1700 rpm. The sprint to 100 km/h takes 5.3 seconds and top speed is limited to 250 km/h (155 mph) – not that owners are likely to care.
The engine is hooked up to an eight-speed transmission from ZF. The gearbox actually uses GPS to read the road ahead, meaning it can automatically downshift before a hill or twisty road – not that you'd necessarily need to with 900 Nm of torque on tap. Rolls-Royce says the powertrain delivers "calm low-speed progress ... and an unfussed surge of power when one needs to press on," and we're inclined to believe it.
Perhaps the most glaring issue with the Phantom VII was its electronics. It debuted in 2003 and, as you might expect from a car that old, doesn't have any of the semi-autonomous safety features now standard in compact hatches. That changes with the VIII. A totally new electronic architecture means it has adaptive cruise control, forward collision warnings, rear-cross traffic alerts and lane-keeping assist, just to name a few of the new systems. The new headlamps are smarter than before, too, capable of casting their beam 600 meters (1,969 ft) down the road.
Styling is always a contentious issue, but we're going to bring it up anyway. Rolls-Royce has dedicated thousands (literally) of words to describing how the Phantom VIII looks, but we can try and be a bit more succinct: it looks like a more modern, slightly curvier Phantom VII. The headlamps and grille have clearly been inspired by the 103EX concept from last year, while the rear deck slopes more dramatically than before and, well, that's about it to the casual observer. We think it's pretty handsome overall, but feel free to disagree with us in the comments.
It's a similar story inside, where all the new technology and changes are hidden away behind a thick veneer of wood and waxy leather. The driver is faced with a new 12.3-inch digital instrument binnacle, and there's a fresh infotainment system hidden away behind a sliding panel atop the center console. Although it's essentially BMW iDrive under the skin, expect it to look different enough for owners to feel special when they're using it. And of course, the dashboard clock is analogue.
All the materials look suitably expensive, and RR Bespoke will be on hand to fulfil even the wildest fantasies owners might have for the interior of their cars, provided they're willing to reach into their (deep) pockets. What can't be customized is the typical Rolls-Royce attention to detail. The rear seats are angled to make conversation between passengers more comfortable, and the fixed rear central console is home to a new drinks cabinet.
Oh, and when you turn the heated rear seats on, the armrests, c-pillar, and door trims also get warm. Perfect for those cold mornings where Jeeves forgets to warm the car before you head to the polo club, presumably. It sounds like overkill, but there is something to be said for the unbelievable lengths to which the design team at Rolls stretches when it comes time to design a new car. The badge is still among the most coveted in the world for good reason.
"Phantom is the epitome of effortless style, an historical nameplate that occupies a rarefied space in the luxury constellation and conjures a rare magic all of its own," says Giles Taylor, Director of Design, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. "New Phantom raises a glass to an illustrious design legacy whilst forging a modern and revitalized presence for the next era of Rolls-Royce design."