Behind the Pantheon – Rolls Royce Phantom VIII

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*Image courtesy of Sprite Photography

When you think of luxury, there is always one name that comes to mind first, Rolls Royce. Rolls Royce has been making the finest and most luxurious automobiles for over 100 years and they have always been considered the ultimate status symbol. When the designers set out to create Phantom VIII, they had one goal in mind… To create the best car in the world.

When Phantom slowly and majestically rolled up to the front of my office, it felt like the world stood still for a moment. Everyone in the area stopped to take in the beauty of this gargantuan machine. At nearly 6 meters long, finished in satin gunmetal grey and with a gold Spirit of Ecstasy perched atop of the iconic pantheon grill, there is nothing subtle about it. Where supercars turn heads with their noise long before they are in sight, Phantom takes you by surprise, creeping up in almost silence but then taking your breath away with its imposing stature. Needless to say, it got everyone in the building talking and asking questions.

My very first experience behind the wheel of Phantom was probably the most daunting one. Parking it. I work in a large office with a busy car park and sometimes parking the trusty Mondeo could be a challenge, so with the added pressure of just about everyone across 5 companies and the Rolls Royce Motor Cars CEO’s personal chauffeur watching me, I could not balls this up. As I slowly and delicately reversed into a space at the very far corner of the car park, all I kept saying to myself was “for God’s sake James, this is worth more than your house, don’t bloody ding it!” Fortunately for me, Phantom may actually be one of the easiest cars I’ve ever had to park. I used to own a long wheelbase Mercedes S Class which was around 500mm shorter than the Rolls and that was always tough to thread through car parks. However, Phantom is fitted with an incredible 4-way 360-degree panoramic camera set up that shows you exactly where all 4 corners of the car are in relation to your surroundings on the central screen with a birds-eye view of everything.

The time has finally come, it was the end of the working day I was ready to start my Easter Bank Holiday weekend in possibly the most ostentatious way, driving home in a brand new Rolls Royce Phantom. Before setting off in an unfamiliar car, I have a set routine of “pre-flight checks” I carry out which usually takes me about 10 minutes. The usual seat, steering wheel, mirrors and maybe the Satellite Navigation, but in Phantom, I felt like I had to fully mentally prepare myself for the experience. I spent around 15 minutes just sat in the driver’s seat soaking up my surroundings and looking at every detail I could and touching everything so I knew where everything was once I was in motion. I also never put the radio on for my first drive in a new car, as I want to hear the engine and all the little noises you pick up whilst changing road surfaces and speeds.

With my right foot on the brake pedal, I pressed the small “Start engine” button located on the dash and the 6.75-litre V12 engine awoke. There is a very distinct sound that big capacity engines make on startup that usually leads to a bit of a cold-start rumble, but this was not the case here. Once the cylinders had all fired up the engine immediately settled to a resting state that you could barely hear from the outside, purring away like a quiet, old cat. With a quick flick of the column-mounted drive selector, it was time to vacate the premises.

On the road Phantom is a pure dream to be in. A car of this size should not be this easy to control, but due to all the development and research that has gone into this incredible car, navigating your way along the sometimes bumpy roads of Cambridgeshire is a walk in the park. Fitted with Rolls Royce’s “Flagbearer” suspension system, an air suspension set up joined to a stereo camera that reads the road ahead and pre-configures the spring and damper rates and anti-roll bars, the car just floats over the road like you are suspended off the ground and gliding along giving you the experience of Rolls Royce’s dubbed “Magic Carpet Ride”. On the main roads, it is truly astonishing. However, I did notice on the slightly more bumpy roads there was an awkward chassis wobble where I felt the car was trying to adjust itself for the road ahead a bit too much and other air suspension setups I have used before just iron out the potholes and bumps.

Power delivery from the powertrain is, like every aspect of the driving experience, effortless. Phantom uses a BMW-derived V12 engine that is unique to the model and has two turbochargers added, giving a power output of 563bhp and enough torque to pull down a Cathedral (664lb-ft, to be more precise) and this is all mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox and is linked to a GPS module that tracks your location ensuring you are always in the right gear as unlike many automatics, there are no paddles or selectable gears, just forward, backward and stop. In this case, the car definitely knows more than you. Performance really is irrelevant in a vehicle of this nature but it certainly isn’t slow, and there is no rev counter here, instead, there is a “Power reserve” gauge that displays how much power you have to use, should you need it.

Considering the majority of Phantom owners will be purchasing them to enjoy the refinement and luxury from the plush rear seats, the driving experience of such a car is surprisingly engaging and dynamic. It’s far from a sporty, but and ease of it all makes it a great drivers car. The introduction of 4-wheel-steering that allows the rear wheels to turn ever so slightly depending on your speed makes the car feel much shorter and more agile that it is and it’s a lot more maneuverable around town as well. It’s not until you’re trying to find a parking space long enough that you remember you’re not in your average 5-series… and that brings me on to another important aspect of car ownership – how it is received by the public.

Whenever I have driven a sports car or flashy supercar on main roads and around town I have always been met an overwhelming amount of negativity. Yes, some people appreciate the cars for their design and engineering accomplishments, and some children and adults alike will look and smile, but more often than not, people would actually go out of their way to say something derogatory and rude. An issue I have addressed before when living with a Ferrari F430 a few years back. In the Rolls Royce there was still the odd comment and one young “lad” in a Vauxhall Corsa decided to go out of his way on a single lane road to pull up next to me and flick me the “V’s”, but all in all, people would smile, wave and take a serious interest in the car. This may have also been to do with the fact that my girlfriend insisted on sitting in the back every time we went out and I’m assuming many members of the public thought she was some kind of celebrity and I was just the casually-dressed chauffeur…

Wherever I parked up, people would start asking questions. Normally the first question was “Is it yours” and once their enquiry was met with the truth that it was in fact not mine, they would start to ask more about what it was like. People were desperate to have a look in the back and gaze up at that utterly magnificent Starlight headlining – some even asked if they could have a sit-in it, just for a second minute. On most sunny weekends, wherever you are, you will probably stumble across one or two loud shouty supercars locked in first gear disturbing the market shoppers, but how often does a near-half a million pound Rolls Royce waft by… We were invited to a friends party on the second night of testing the car and it must have taken me half an hour to get off of the driveway at the end of the night as other guests crowded around to get a look at the immaculate seashell interior and marvel at the self-closing suicide doors. The sheer sense of theatre behind simply getting and out of the car left people stunned and fascinated.

As I stated at the beginning of this article when Rolls Royce Motor Cars set out to build the new Phantom VIII, their goal was simple, to create the best car in the world, and in my honest opinion, I really think they did. Whether you like the styling or not, and if you don’t take into account the monumental price tag, as a piece of design and engineering it is an absolute masterpiece. The level of detail that goes into making every single one is almost unfathomable. It’s the subtle and clever touches like the floating centre caps that are always the right way up regardless of whether or not the car is moving, the craftsmanship in fitting all 1600 hand-threaded fibre optic strands in the headliner and the fact that the car is loaded with over 130kgs of sound deadening including specially engineered “Silent-seal” foam-lined Continental tyres, a twin-skinned and foam-filled alloy bulkhead and double glazed glass. When you’re driving along you genuinely feel your heart rate lower and you just feel more relaxed and more at ease. In conclusion, Phantom VIII is an exemplary and exceptional machine from both the driver’s seat and the back seat.

You can find more details on the more intricate details of the car in my previous static review HERE.

I’d like to thank Rolls Royce Motor Cars for my time spent with Phantom, and also a special thank you goes to Sprite Photography for the wonderful photographs.

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