For decades prior to the current-generation Phantom, Rolls-Royces were often perceived as being nothing more than beautiful old-school luxury barges with all the technological innovation and dynamic excitement of the Queen Mary. So to say there was some skepticism surrounding the introduction of the Rolls-Royce Phantom would be like saying reality TV occasionally resorts to fabrication when ratings are at stake.
When parent company BMW first announced in the late 1990s that it would be delivering a completely new Rolls-Royce to paying customers on January 1, 2003, most analysts wrote it off as the kind of posturing that typically accompanies a corporate takeover. After all, BMW didn't even own the Rolls-Royce brand yet. It would be four-and-a-half years before the German automaker acquired the rights to sell the storied brand, but the target was indeed met, and the first all-new Rolls-Royce in nearly 40 years left the all-new Rolls-Royce plant at Goodwood in West Sussex, England.
Unlike so many of its predecessors, this beautifully crafted and elegant ultraluxury sedan lives up to the lofty expectations of a vehicle adorned with the hood-mounted Spirit of Ecstasy. While a case could be made for one of its few rivals, no other automobile boasts the unique style, grandiose dimensions and sterling reputation of the Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Current Rolls-Royce Phantom
Despite the ties to BMW, the Phantom is indeed a true Rolls-Royce. At more than 19 feet long, a regular-wheelbase Phantom surpasses a 7 Series by more than 2 feet in total length, and it can completely swallow a Mini between its front and rear axles. Producing a vehicle of such size that doesn't also flex and bend over every road imperfection calls for a unique structure. In the Phantom's case, that structure is an aluminum space frame that is both lighter and stiffer than conventional steel.
While the ultraluxury competition may offer more high-tech gizmos and a greater sense of the contemporary, the Rolls-Royce Phantom features an undeniable old-world charm and much-larger-than-life presence. From its majestic hood ornament to its nearly 20-foot expanse, the Phantom commands attention like few other automobiles. And if that isn't sufficient, an extended-wheelbase (EWB) model is available with about 10 additional inches of overall length and rear-seat legroom.
The Phantom is powered by a 6.7-liter V12 with 453 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. In spite of a curb weight approaching 3 tons, going from zero to 60 mph takes just 5.7 seconds. Behind the 20-inch wheels are superbly powerful brakes, an air suspension and automatically adjustable dampers.
The inside of the Rolls-Royce Phantom is even nicer than might be imagined, with more leather hides and matching pieces of wood than you'll find on a herd of cattle lost in Sequoia National Forest. Numerous customization options provide ample opportunity to tailor this luxurious environment to one's exact, bespoke specifications.
For those who actually drive their Phantoms, the instrument panel is arranged cleanly, with classic gauges and simple audio and climate controls. More complex functions are managed by an iDrive-like interface with a mouse-style controller hiding inside the center console. The rear seat provides lots of stretching-out room, of course, and the prominent C-pillars conceal the Phantom's VIPs while the rear-hinged coach doors provide them with proper ingress and egress.
Once underway, the large but spindly three-spoke steering wheel feels light in your hands, yet offers good feedback, allowing the big sedan to change direction with ease so long as you're traveling at a relaxed pace. Power from the V12 is prodigious, and the engine makes very little noise even under full throttle. The ride is superb, soaking up huge potholes and minor road imperfections with equal aplomb. There is some wind noise around the A-pillars at speed, but it's minimal and likely evident only because there's practically no other noise to be heard.
Past Rolls-Royce Phantom Models
The Phantom was an all-new model for Rolls-Royce in 2004. While some found it a bit garish, lacking high-tech features and easy-to-use secondary controls, we praised it for its decadent passenger accommodations, unmistakable styling and exemplary drivability for its size. A standard power sunroof and power "boot" lid were added in 2005, and the following year, the Phantom added Bluetooth connectivity and exterior video cameras that displayed their images through the main LCD screen to aid in parking. The long-wheelbase EWB model debuted for the 2007 model year.