Lucerne, Switzerland – Every car, regardless of where it is designed, built, or sold, can be described as a series of compromises. From economy hatchbacks to midsize sedans, fullsize pickup trucks to hybrid supercars, meeting a very specific set of criteria means intentionally missing all the rest. And so it is with the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Except that the only compromise worth talking about is that the buyer must possess a price-is-no-object desire for perfection.
Before handing over the keys to a brand-new, eighth-generation Phantom, and shortly after rattling off nearly every positive-tinged adjective in the English language, Rolls-Royce communication director Richard Carter tells us that this car represents “the best that humankind can do in terms of luxury automobiles.” A heady claim, but as it turns out, one that is difficult to dispute.
Perhaps the biggest single element that advances this new Phantom past the model it replaces is Rolls-Royce’s new Architecture of Luxury, a ground-up spaceframe platform that doesn’t share its bones with any other product currently under the BMW umbrella. Not only is it 30 percent stiffer than the seventh-gen Phantom, the new architecture is flexible enough that it will form the basis for all future Rolls-Royce products. “Project Cullinan and eventually the next Ghost, Wraith, Dawn will ride on this architecture, as well as future coachbuild projects,” said Philip Koehn, Director of Engineering for Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce goes to great pains to make the Phantom as malleable to the whims of its customers as possible. Besides the obvious paint and interior color choices – of which there are a great many – there’s now a so-called Gallery option that makes up a large portion of the dashboard. It’s a glass-enclosed space designed to house just about anything a Phantom customer could possibly want to put on display. We saw some beautiful ceramic work, jewel-like shell designs, and even a swath of iridescent feathers.
Directly in front of the driver is a digital gauge cluster designed to mimic the look of traditional dials. It’s resolution is high enough that individual pixels can’t be made out from the driver’s seat. We think some classically styled gauges would be more in keeping with the Phantom’s mission statement, but that’s our only gripe inside, and it’s minor. A centrally-mounted LCD displays all the pertinent information a driver could need, and a slightly modified riff on BMW’s iDrive software package is controlled through a leather-clad module that pivots from the center console.
Phantom VII was still selling at a brisk pace by Rolls-Royce standards when it was discontinued last year, so it’s not surprising that Phantom VIII doesn’t rewrite the styling rulebook. There’s a large, upright grille at the front, a long and graceful arcing hood, and an almost wind-swept greenhouse with an extremely tall roof in order to keep the passenger compartment as large as possible. We didn’t test the capability ourselves, but we’re told that the rear door openings were designed to accommodate passengers wearing large hats or turbans.
Entering the Phantom through its reverse-opening rear doors is like settling down into a whole different world. Once the electrically actuated rear door closes, the sounds of the world quickly drift away from memory. The seats recline, massage, warm, cool, and caress the body perfectly. A power footrest rises from the floor. Sitting in between the two rear seats is a console that can house whiskey and glasses or champagne and flutes. Choose wisely.
Serenity is the name of the game played betwixt the Phantom’s four wheels. Rolls-Royce assures us that the Phantom, as the vehicle that sits at the very head of the automaker’s portfolio, is the quietest vehicle in the world. The next closest competitor, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the Phantom’s smaller sibling, the Rolls-Royce Ghost. Several inches of sound deadening material surrounds the passenger compartment, covered in mostly aluminum outside and lathered in leather within. Carpets are the softest lambs’ wool your toes will ever touch, and the ceiling is plastered with tiny hand-placed lights that twinkle in your periphery like the stars of a moonless night sky.
Put simply, this is the absolute ultimate in luxury. See for yourself in the video playlist below.
Even if the Rolls-Royce Phantom is best experienced from the back seat, it’s an experience all its own to drive. Nowhere else in the automotive world is the ersatz term waftability used in a positive sense, but it aptly describes the driving dynamics of the biggest Roller. Koehn, the engineer directly responsible for the Phantom, told us over dinner that Rolls-Royce owners do care about things like steering feel and feedback, but in a rather nontraditional way. A Phantom must glide down the road, effortlessly, imbuing the saloon with what the automaker refers to as a Magic Carpet Ride. John Kay would surely approve.
Four-wheel steering is new to the Phantom for 2018, and it works extremely well. At low speeds, even long-wheelbase Phantoms are shockingly easy to maneuver in tight spaces. At high speeds, Phantom VIII changes direction with, if you’ll pardon the personification, a feeling of grace and dignity. The only drama we felt from behind the wheel came from the nervousness that naturally occurs while piloting a vehicle more expensive than we could possibly afford. Once that dread-of-damage dissipates, all that remains is a feeling of solidity and relaxation.
There are double wishbones up front and a five-link setup out back, but the show-stopping tech at work underneath is the self-leveling air suspension that adjusts millions of times per second to both react and predict changes to the road surface and inputs from the driver. A special set of tires with foam inserts were chosen after testing hundreds of samples. Standard 20-inch or optional 21-inch wheels look appropriate on such a large car, though it’s worth noting that the new Phantom is fractionally smaller than the model it replaces.
There’s an all-new engine nestled under the Phantom VIII’s hood, still displacing the classic six and three-quarter liters. The V12 engine gains two turbochargers for 2018 and spins out 563 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque. If you’re so inclined, the Phantom will waft to 60 miles per hour in a little over five seconds. A glance at the dyno sheet proves the engine is very much under-stressed – torque peaks at 1,700 RPM and stays pegged at that figure basically forever… or at least until the GPS-guided, ZF-supplied, eight-speed automatic transmission decides it’s time to shift. You’ll barely be able to notice when those shifts fire off, so seamless is the powertrain and so silent the car, and you definitely won’t miss the nonexistent paddle shifters on the hand-stitched leather steering wheel.
There is no self-driving technology to be found amongst the Phantom’s deep bag of features. One day, Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös says, a Rolls-Royce may be able to drive itself. But not until such technology is perfectly able to replace a human driver. After all, the Rolls-Royce customer isn’t interested in gimmicks, and probably already owns a car or three with that kind of technology. A Phantom is owned for a different reason and occasion.
Part of the process of reviewing automobiles is making notes before, during, and after driving. We often refer back to these notes when writing our reports. It’s a strange experience for us to return home from a drive, go through our scribblings, and end up with almost nothing negative to say. In the case of the 2018 Phantom, our only nits of which to pick are with the digital gauge cluster and the iDrive system. Both seem a bit incongruous with the rest of the otherwise satisfying experience of the Phantom, but neither is a deal-breaker.
The 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom is the best luxury car you can buy for any amount of money. If you have deep enough pockets – which, if you’re shopping for a Phantom, you certainly have – you can drive away with a vehicle unlike any other on the road. The standard-wheelbase model starts around $ 450,000. Extended-wheelbases Phantoms begin around $ 530,000. Most buyers will add enough options to push their personal Phantom to around the $ 650,000 mark.
Yes, that’s a lot of money. Yes, there are other hand-finished cars that are nearly as luxurious and almost as perfect as the Phantom. But that attitude completely misses the point. The Phantom has no direct competition; the best does not come cheap. And the Phantom, more than any other car, is entirely worth it.