For a car maker who is at the top of their game it can often be difficult to decide on where to go next. Do you go for evolution, honing your current offering so that it is even closer to perfection but always wary of the competition just a step behind? Or do you go for revolution and try something daring and new, unsure of how it will be received by both the press and paying customers?
This is the dilemma that was faced by Rolls Royce when they started work on the latest version of the Phantom. Rolls Royce are in that enviable position of being the best in their market, building the pinnacle of luxury cars and being the target for other luxury brands. Released in 2003, the Phantom was the first car to be released under the watchful gaze of new owners BMW and it has led the resurgence of the luxury marque to a point where sales now exceed their heyday of 1978, with over 3,000 cars being sold across the world in 2011.
With time and technology marching on Rolls Royce felt it was time to update their flagship model. After consulting customers as to what they wanted from a new car it became obvious that evolution would be preferable to revolution, ensuring that the luxury and presence of the Phantom remained intact but updating it with new technology and materials.
After eighteen months of development the new car is finally ready and Rolls Royce are justified in the pride with which they have unveiled the new Phantom Series II. To the untrained eye it looks more or less the same, but the developments are significant enough to warrant that Series II name.
This was my first close-up view of a Rolls Royce Phantom and the first thing that struck me was its size. If you think a Mercedes S-class is an impressive machine than think again as the Phantom defines the meaning of ‘road presence’. As an example of its scale, the Phantom Series II wears 21-inch wheels as standard (now available in three different finishes). On any other saloon car that would be considered excessive and yet on the Phantom such large wheels are in perfect proportion to the rest of the body.
If you’re familiar with the Phantom then you may have noticed that the circular lights flanking the enormous chrome grille have been replaced by slim rectangles housing LED lighting. The entire headlight system is new and, in a first for a standard feature on a production car, it uses LED technology to project a beam of bright and almost pure white light ahead of the Phantom. The technology is so flexible that the shape of the beam can be adjusted to match driving speeds, while curve light functionality improves safety at night.
Inside the luxuriously appointed cabin are more high-tech features. The electronics platform on the Series II has been redesigned, allowing for a host of new features to benefit both the driver and passengers. For the driver there is a new 3D map display integrated into the sat-nav that can display landscape topography and points of interest, as well as offering guided tours and composite route planning.
The new 8.8 inch display is bright and clear, making the new camera system even easier to use. The Phantom is not what you would describe as the most nimble of cars so the introduction of front, rear and top-view cameras makes it easier to manoeuvre in tight spaces. Making parking an even more relaxing affair is the new path prediction technology that overlays the rear camera view, helping to guide the Phantom into place.
Passengers get to join in on this feast of technology thanks to a new Harman surround sound system integrated into the multimedia player. Subwoofers housed within resonance chambers and a nine-channel amplifier make sure that no matter what you are listening to, the best surround sound experience is on hand as you relax on the supple leather of the rear seats.
Wireless technology is now part of the Phantom’s repertoire, allowing passengers to browse the internet using the multimedia screens or by connecting to a wireless hotspot with their own internet devices.
There are significant changes in the engine room too. A new 8-speed automatic gearbox makes progress even more serene thanks to smoother gear changes, driving the rear wheels through a new differential. The 6.75-litre V12 engine has been fitted with the latest direct injection technology, cutting fuel consumption by 10 percent and reducing CO2 emissions from 385 to 347g/km. Should the driver be inclined to test the capabilities of the V12 engine, its 531lb/ft can propel the Phantom to 60mph in just 5.7 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 149mph.
Of course, no Rolls Royce would be complete without an interior constructed from the finest of materials, fitted by craftsmen instead of an army of robots. The leather for the seats is taken from the largest of Bavarian bulls, famed for providing the softest of hides. The leather can be specified in almost any colour, and can be requested with beautifully ornate patterns embroidered into the material.
One challenge on the new car was repositioning the side airbags from the door frames into the body of the seats. That meant repeatedly testing the leather in the seats to understand how it behaved when an airbag exploded from within. While it meant a lot of work for Rolls Royce, the result is better protection for anyone sat in the Phantom in the unfortunate event of side impact.
Lambswool rugs are fitted in the rear, with fibres so plush that you could easily lose small animals in their depths. Finally, there is the wood. If you think the veneer on your new flat-pack furniture is nice you’ve obviously not seen the polished perfection of a Phantom’s interior. Each panel of the interior is individually cut and hand polished until it has a shine that matches the reflections from the chrome switches and buttons fitted throughout the interior. The choice of grain is now even greater than before as Rolls Royce adjust to changing fashions.
With the Phantom Series II it seems certain that Rolls Royce are set to continue in their position as the prime luxury marque. “Take the best that exists and make it better.” That was the driving ambition of Sir Henry Royce when he founded the company with Charles Rolls over a century ago. If they were alive today I’m sure they would both be very proud of the Phantom Series II that bears their names.