A new Rolls-Royce Phantom is big news. The company is arguably the most recognizable luxury brand in motoring, and the Phantom is an embodiment of everything it stands for. The latest, the Phantom VIII, is a significant step on from its predecessor, from the way it looks to the luxurious cabin. We donned our finest suits and headed to Rolls-Royce in Melbourne, Australia to take a closer look at the car.
A grand opening
Arriving at the Rolls-Royce showroom, located in Richmond, is an event in itself. It sits alongside an Aston Martin dealership, with McLaren and Audi showrooms next door, so there's no shortage of high-end automobiles in the area.
Having entered through tall, glass doors, customers walk to a second-floor showcase of Dawns, Ghosts and last-generation Phantoms. At the back of the room, behind an area dedicated to Bespoke services, is a long curtain and display area. Hiding behind that curtain is the new Phantom. This is all about the theater, you see.
The Phantom presence
No Rolls-Royce is small, but the size of the new Phantom still surprises. It's absolutely massive, measuring up at more than 5.7 m (18.7 ft) long and 2 m (6.6 ft) wide. Even though the new Architecture of Luxury chassis is stiffer and lighter than the platform it replaces, the Phantom VIII won't be giving Lotus any sleepless nights, weighing in at 2,560 kg (5,645 lb).
The new grille is the largest ever fitted to a Rolls-Royce, while the new headlamps were clearly inspired by those on the 103EX Concept. With short overhangs and the same near-vertical profile as its predecessors, the new car is definitely a Phantom, but it also looks significantly more modern at close quarters.
At the rear, the upright shape of the old car has been replaced with a smoother, sportier shape, not unlike that of the Sweptail. The new curves are highlighted by the two-tone paint on the pre-production car we saw in Melbourne, one of many options available through the ever-expanding Rolls-Royce Bespoke program.
Leather-lined luxury, more tech than ever
Of course, what's inside a Rolls-Royce is arguably more important that what's outside. All the Rolls-Royce press materials spend a lot of time talking about the new "gallery," the trim piece running along the top of the dashboard. It sits behind a clear glass section and runs along the dashboard in front of the passenger, before curving in an s-bend to make room for the pop-up infotainment screen in the middle of the dash.
At the moment, there are around 10 options for the piece, ranging from the laser-cut metal you see here, to ornate woodwork pieces – and in future, Rolls-Royce says customers will be able to commission bespoke trim sections from their favourite artists in place of the factory selections. It looks stunning in person, and it should be interesting to see how owners make it their own.
Given it debuted in 2003, the outgoing Phantom VII was a bit behind the curve when it came to technology. The new model addresses that with a suite of semi-autonomous safety features, including radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alerts and auto-emergency braking, just to name a few. It also has a new infotainment system, which operates in much the same way as BMW iDrive. No surprise there, given who owns Rolls.
No stone has been left unturned in the quest to make the interior more luxurious than that of the already-sumptuous Phantom VII. The starlight headliner now flickers gently, and the seat heating extends into the armrests (and c-pillars for rear-seat passengers) for a full-body warming experience. These sound like irrelevant details, but they're the reason Phantom is among the most revered nameplates in the motoring world.
(Not) driving the Phantom VIII
Power comes from a twin-turbo V12 in the new Phantom, good for a 5.3-second sprint to 100 km/h (62 mph). Except it isn't a sprint, it's more of a restrained power walk. The company says the engine and eight-speed ZF transmission deliver "calm low-speed progress ... and an unfussed surge of power when one needs to press on," and we have no reason to doubt that.
Although Rolls-Royce says the new Phantom is a bit sportier than the model it replaces, with a double-wishbone front and five-link rear suspension setup, we doubt many owners are likely to try and find the limits of grip. Why hurry when the interior is such a lovely place to spend time?
We didn't get to drive the car – that will have to wait for another day. But there's no doubt, even sitting still, the Phantom VIII is something special.
Rolls-Royce Melbourne is located at 340 Swan St, Richmond. If you're into window shopping, there are few better places to stand and gawk at gorgeous British luxury limos.