There are many attractions to being a billionaire. You could open a private zoo, commission statues depicting yourself as various historical figures striking heroic poses, or—if you want to go full Blofeld—hollow out your private island to hide a moon-melting death ray. Alternatively, you could forget such fripperies and just buy a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
You don’t need to be an actual billionaire to afford one, but you do need to be somewhere toward the top of the 1 percent. Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös says that owners will almost exclusively be ultra-high-net-worth individuals, those with more than $30 million in cash and liquid assets. While the standard Phantom won’t be priced significantly above the outgoing version—figure around $450,000—it will be possible to more than double that through the sort of personalization that Rolls encourages its buyers to indulge in, such as installing commissioned art in the dashboard or color-matching the exterior to the exact shade of the sunset behind your beach house in the Maldives. This is a car for people who don’t care what it costs.
this all-new eighth-generation model (we’re asked to refer to it as Phantom VIII in the style of a monarch or a Star Wars sequel) directly replaces the 2003-era Phantom VII, which was the first Rolls-Royce developed under BMW ownership.
The Phantom VIII is the first car to sit on Rolls-Royce’s new aluminum spaceframe platform, officially known as the Architecture of Luxury, which will underpin all future models including the upcoming Project Cullinan SUV. The exterior design has undergone a less revolutionary transformation when compared to the outgoing model, gaining more curves and a radiator grille that integrates into the front of the car better than the last Phantom’s free-standing chrome Parthenon. But despite some modest reduction in exterior dimensions, the Phantom VIII has lost none of the VII’s ability to shock and awe, especially in some of the snazzy two-tone paint finishes that Rolls-Royce chose for the cars used for the media launch in Switzerland.
Ingress is still made through a rear-hinged “coach door” in Rolls-speak—the unpleasant connotations of the more usual “suicide” reference thus being deftly avoided—and the rear cabin is every bit as special as you’d expect. The carpet pile is ankle deep, the adjustable seats offer a variety of massages, and there’s a refrigerator mounted in the center console complete with a clip-in decanter. Sadly, the latter item proved empty during our ride. The interior feels very traditional, with a predictable abundance of wood and leather and old-fashioned rotary heating controls rather than digital displays: red for hotter, blue for colder. But there’s plenty of well-disguised 21st-century tech, too—apparently one of the key demands from buyers of the old car. Display screens motor down from the backs of the front seats to sit above the traditional wooden picnic tables, while USB and HDMI ports hide beneath a slide-down cover. The infotainment system is a thinly disguised version of BMW’s iDrive system that is operated by a similar turn-and-click controller; touch-sensitive screens would have been a little too vulgar, and they get so smeary.
The rear seat also provides a good view of the dashboard, which incorporates The Gallery: a glass panel spanning the dashboard, behind which owners can have their own personally commissioned artworks placed when the car is built. (The instrument cluster and the infotainment screen are also placed behind the glass.) Rolls-Royce is happy to connect buyers with artists working in everything from traditional oil paints to avant-garde ceramics, and Müller-Ötvös says it’s entirely possible that a well-chosen piece by an up-and-coming talent might ultimately be worth more than the car surrounding it.
Setting off is something of an anticlimax. The Phantom is a superb place to spend time, but locomotion adds little sensation beyond the fact that the view through the windows of gawping mortals starts to scroll. That’s because the Phantom is freakishly quiet, with one of the engineering team’s core objectives being to make it the most silent passenger car in the world. In that, they succeeded; if you have tinnitus, then a gentle cruise in the back of the Phantom won’t create enough background noise to mask it. Rolls-Royce has fitted around 287 pounds of sound insulation material, plus double-glazed windows and tires containing noise-absorbing foam, with the result being a claimed 5-decibel reduction in volume over its already quiet predecessor (the decibel scale is logarithmic, so that modest number reflects a 75 percent reduction in perceived noise.)
Progress is as stately as a Palladian villa in 400 acres of English parkland. The new twin-turbocharged 6.6-liter V-12 is a development of the engine in the lesser Rolls-Royce Ghost, producing the same 563 horsepower but tuned to deliver a meatier 664 lb-ft of torque available from just 1700 rpm. Under gentle throttle applications, it is possible to feel the briefest of pauses as the turbos and engine internals gather momentum, but beyond that it pulls cleanly and almost silently; if any manufacturer is ready for seamless conversion to electrification, it definitely is Rolls-Royce. Unsurprisingly, the Phantom has been tuned to deliver its best under mild use, with its ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox programmed to keep the engine under 2500 rpm whenever it can. Even with this limitation, quarter-throttle acceleration feels respectably brisk, but it takes a hefty shove on the long-travel pedal to prompt a kickdown and get the V-12 producing its creamiest noises from the bow. While Rolls-Royce claims a 5.1-second zero-to-60-mph time for the short-wheelbase model, verifying that in anything other than a kidnapping-evasion scenario would have you sent back to chauffeur school, or rapped over the back of the head with a gold-headed cane.
Ride quality is exceptional, thanks in large part to the Phantom’s lack of any kind of sporting intent. The combination of relatively soft air springs and a 5600-plus-pound curb weight should result in a convincing impression of a 1970s Cadillac. Yet some very smart adaptive dampers working in conjunction with an optical bump-spotting system that works at speeds of up to 60 mph give outstanding body control and keep the cabin serene, even over the roughest surfaces that the Swiss Alps could throw in our way.
There is lots of other clever dynamic technology, but it all functions with the invisible efficiency of a good valet. Active anti-roll bars with electric motors fight lean under cornering, and Rolls-Royce claims these produce as much torque with 12-volt motors as rivals manage with their 48-volt systems. The Phantom can be hustled along at a rapid pace, although at the cost of considerable sliding on the nearly flat seats. The electrically assisted steering is lightly weighted and lacks feel, but accurate front-end responses make it easy to place the car onto a chosen line, and there’s also a new rear-wheel-steering system that improves low-speed maneuverability. There are no dynamic settings or sport modes or any way to manually select gears, although the transmission stalk on the steering column incorporates a Low button intended to maximize engine-braking effect on long, steep downgrades.
Anyone with the funds and inclination to buy a Phantom likely will be equally able to purchase any—or indeed all—of its most obvious competitors, from the Bentley Mulsanne to the Learjet 70. These people aren’t forced to make either/or decisions; possessing both/and is perfectly within their reach. Wanting a Phantom is the sort of itch that we suspect many of them will be keen to scratch, the car being good enough to justify its enormous price. With the immodesty allowed a proud father, Müller-Ötvös reckons that this is the best car in the world, and considering it as an all-rounder, it would be hard to disagree. If anyone offers you the choice of one car for the rest of your life, make it a Phantom. But it’s more than just a snazzy ride: it’s also a spectacular manifesto for the future of the Rolls-Royce brand. It might be possible to build a better luxury car than this, but don’t expect to see one any time soon.