Rolls-Royce’s Phantom menace

Can the tweaked Phantom II improve on its luxurious predecessor? Our motoring editor finds out. 

Damien Reid July 12, 2015

How do you define luxury? It’s an age-old question. For a car, is it the number of gadgets? The amount of chrome-dipped brightwork? Is it the Bluetooth connectivity or even the champagne chiller? The truth is, it’s a bit of all of that, but there’s something else that on initial approach is hard to define.

Why is sitting in the back of the Rolls-Royce Phantom II such a regal experience when in reality it’s a leather-covered rear seat just like those from Bentley, Maybach and many others? But, climbing into the rear of the Phantom II is different from any other car out there. It’s somehow more of an experience.

The fact that you neither step down, nor up into the rear is part of its allure. The car sits high enough so that you just walk into the back as you would into your private library or smoking room. No ducking of heads, bending down or fumbling for grab handles to lever yourself up, and having the back doors hinged from the rear makes it easier to enter and exit as well.

The next thing you may not notice is that the rear seat is positioned slightly higher than the front so you have a clear, uncluttered view of the road ahead over its long bonnet, which directs your eyes to the elegant Spirit of Ecstasy mascot.

The bench seat itself has not conformed to modern trends of being individual buckets with a million electric settings. It’s a simple elegantly curved opera lounge that’s immensely comfortable without the need for a multitude of electric motors and is more social, encouraging conversation with its outer edges facing inwards slightly for easier interaction.

Set back from the rear doors, there’s a button on the C-pillar which allows you to close the doors electrically, and they gently idle into their locked position with the accuracy and weighted feel of a bank vault. The doors are square cut and don’t open over the rear wheel arch, which means the door opening is not as wide as others, but once closed, you sit back behind the door jam and peer out through the tiny port window embedded in the C-pillar at the rear.

If the original Phantom wasn’t long enough already, the new update only adds to the impression of length, space and limousine-like luxury.

There are surprisingly few buttons and contraptions, as the definition of luxury for Rolls-Royce is a feeling of being in something special instead of just a well-appointed car. Using this theory, updating the Phantom must have seemed like a near-impossible task. How do you improve on what many describe as perfection and how do you make the experience better when you’re not relying on a spec sheet full of marketing hyperbole? Truth is, it didn’t really need an update, but as the Phantom has been around since 2003, time was moving on and something had to be done.

External changes comprise a pair of rectangular LED light strips which intersect the main beams and replace the previous oval versions, some new options for the 21-inch wheels, new bumpers and a few tiny mods to the chrome.

Mechanically, the BMW-derived 6.75-litre, twin-turbocharged V12 remains untouched but it now has the support of a new eight-speed automatic transmission, while inside, the satnav has been upgraded to the current 3D technology using an 8.8-inch screen along with the latest generation of connectivity.

It takes 60 pairs of hands, 450 hours to build each car using just two robots along the way.

Despite its size, it still moves swiftly, passing 100kmh in 5.8 seconds, 160kmh in 14.7 seconds and on to 250kmh with similar ease.

Its suspension is as soft and compliant as you could imagine as its 2,670kg squashes speed humps and driveway gutters in its path, offering a magic carpet ride around roadworks and secondary roads.

On the highway you have to remind yourself of its weight and size as the performance can trick you into thinking it’s more of a sports car, but tipping it into a corner brings you back to reality fairly quickly. The air suspension tightens up and the oily-smooth steering through the typically thin, tri-spoked wheel provides enough feel to get the job done with surety. But this is not what the Phantom II excels at.

The specs

  • Engine: 6.75-litre, twin-turbo V12
  • Power: 453bhp @ 5,350rpm
  • Torque: 720Nm @ 3,500rpm
  • 0-100kmh: 5.7 seconds
  • Top speed: 250kmh
  • Price: AED1.9 million

Luxury in the Rolls-Royce Phantom II is not defined by how many TV screens it has or how many hues of mood lighting you can dial in. It’s the fact that it takes 60 pairs of hands, 450 hours to build each car using just two robots along the way. That it requires a minimum of five layers of paint, each hand rubbed and covered in clear coat and hand polished for five hours to give it that grand piano look, and that there are 43 wooden pieces in every interior, using 28 layers of veneer all cut from one log. This complements the nine hides taken from Alpine bulls to cover the 450 leather parts inside every car.

The changes to the second-generation Phantom are subtle and almost superfluous, but enough to bring it into line with its nearest competitors. However, the basic DNA remains untouched because in the same way a suit or tuxedo never goes out of style, neither does a Rolls-Royce.