Times are tough, so it's hard to imagine someone actually plunking down US$403,000 (NZ$492,000) for a new Rolls-Royce. Right?
Wrong. I left a brand-new Rolls-Royce Phantom in a Manhattan garage for just one night and the next morning found a note on the windshield that read: "If your RR is for sale, please call."
The wannabe buyer must have had an eagle eye. This was the latest Phantom, the Series II, which recently received a raft of subtle revisions to its exterior and mechanicals. It starts at US$403,570 (NZ$492,800). My car also had US$66,000 (NZ$80,600) in options. That's the Royce way.
The adjustments are hardly obvious, yet they make the Phantom a smidgen more modern and therefore more enticing to those affluent enough to afford a Rolls-Royce — and spot in a Manhattan garage.
BMW, which owns the brand, has been producing the Phantom since 2003. In terms of weight and girth and overall charisma, the Phantom is the Goliath of the industry. Consider it the anti-Lotus.
It puts me in the mind of cruise ships and the way they somehow stay afloat. Take something that big and heavy, stuff it with furniture and cutlery and groaning buffet tables, and it still manages to bob atop the ocean. The physics elude me.
The Phantom is the ocean liner of the road. It's so big that calling it a sedan seems backhanded (the Brits prefer "saloon."). It's 5.7 metres long, a touch under 2m wide and easily over 2700 kilograms when filled with options, fuel and humans, by all rights the thing should wallow and waddle. Yet, no.
Feather along in traffic, and there's never any hesitation, no rocking or lurching or unseemly shifting of weight. If you need to make a quick getaway or hit the highway, the 531-pound-feet-of-torque, 6.75-litre, V-12 engine is certainly game.
Whoosh. One hundred kilometres per hour in less than six seconds, and your back-seat passengers won't spill a drop of Krug.
The upraised badge on the hood (the less-than-modestly named "Spirit of Ecstacy"), makes an appealing target sight. Aim it where you're going and trigger the gas.
Of course, gun the Phantom and gas mileage suffers. You'll do poorer than the already-feeble EPA estimate of 11 city and 14 highway. Most owners probably own an oil refinery anyhow.
The features that differentiates the Series II includes a new set of headlights that gives the front end a crisper look. These rectangular LEDs replace the rounded orbs of old.
A new eight-speed ZF automatic transmission makes gear transitions smoother, and the navigation and infotainment systems are upgraded to BMW's latest iDrive, also found on the BMW 7 Series. Luxury in electronics is having them actually work.
The Phantom's interior has more cow hide than you'll find at some Texas ranches. My test car also included such road-going necessities as a wood-lined cigar case secreted in the glove compartment; Rolls-Royce-embossed crystal glasses in the doors; thick-pile carpet which would be at home in Windsor Castle; and a rear-seat cooler that fits petite champagne bottles.
Still, it's hard to fathom how a non-Italian, non-exotic car can cost so much. Eye those aforementioned accoutrements and start thinking how much they'd actually cost if you bought them a la carte (a mini dorm fridge, some carpet remnants, glasses), and stuffed them in a minivan. After all, the Royce's refrigerator runs US$4100, the glove-box humidor US$4050.
Yes, the car is handcrafted, and made in Britain even. (Goodwood, in West Sussex, is not the historical home of the brand, but it sounds awfully authentic, doesn't it?) Figure that paying all those workers in pounds isn't cheap either.
That's not the reason you opt for a Rolls-Royce though. It's the synthesis of German engineering and old-world craftsmanship. Everything you touch is actually real and feels good on the skin.
And you buy it for this. Midday in Midtown Manhattan, one of the noisiest places in the world. Windows up in the Phantom, you can't hear a darn thing. No blasting of horns or jabbering of pedestrians on cell-phones. You can't smell the questionable meat being cooked by sidewalk vendors, either. Methinks that alone is worth many pounds of sterling silver.
The Phantom also comes as both a coupe and a convertible; which makes little sense except to the most egotistically minded. That you, the driver, need that much mass to move yourself is akin to taking a Learjet to Boston and back. Yeah, that kind of rich.
For a car which is all about the luxuries in the back seat, my passengers had a few complaints. The rear side windows are rather small, actually, they couldn't see out as well as they would have liked. There is no panoramic moon roof for looking up at the Chrysler building. For some, it felt a bit too private back there.
But then again, to paraphrase F Scott Fitzgerald: the Uber-rich aren't like you and me.
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