There are few occasions when one feels a bit in awe of a car. This was one of those times. I guess you can’t blame me when we are talking about a car that is an epitome of elegance, luxury, opulence, and perhaps the true lifestyle of the rich and famous!
I was transported into that life for a few brief hours as I touched down on the French Riviera, to drive the latest car from the Rolls-Royce stable—the updated Phantom Series II. Now when Rolls-Royce does a new car, the world really takes notice. That’s because it’s not the kind of brand that regularly introduces new cars. The Phantom Series II is the updated version of the Rolls-Royce flagship car line. It had first debuted in 2003 as the very first offering from BMW, after it acquired the brand in 1998.
The Phantom has retained its grand stance and majestic styling
Since the launch of the Phantom, the company has regularly introduced other body-styles of the car, which have helped spawn a family of vehicles. Now the Series II carries that forward, with the saloon, coupé, drophead coupé, and extended wheelbase saloon. So I actually had access to the complete range when I arrived in the Côte d’Azur. I decided to pick the car that really matters to our market—the saloon (despite the fact that there are a limited number of cars sold in India). But then I simply couldn’t be in the playground of the playboys and not drive the drophead coupé (which is Rolls-Royce-speak for a convertible).
I managed to get both cars out for a spin on a combination of roads. First we drove straight into the principality of Monaco, and its famous marina—packed with luxury yachts of all shapes and sizes. Formula One’s annual Monaco Grand Prix is held on the city-state’s roads, and it was a thrill to be able to drive on the actual track just days before this year’s race.
Vintage wine in a new bottle: There’s an option for a starlight headliner—an LED-lights pattern in the roof lining—to emulate a starry sky
The Phantom has retained its grand stance, and majestic styling. At first glance you may not notice the changes made, and according to the company, this is intentional. It is the car that is bought by tycoons, royalty and heads of state—and they want it to be timeless.
The most noticeable change is in the face, where the distinct round headlight housing has been replaced by a slim LED strip that is rectangular. In fact, the headlights are now all LED, and include a smart LED bar through the middle, which serves as the daytime running lights. The front grille has been updated slightly too—though the typical Parthenon-inspired styling on it has been kept intact to maintain the old-world and grand feel of the car as it approaches. The car’s front and rear bumpers have been restyled, and I like this as the old bumpers made the car look really heavy and less agile. The chrome which surrounds the window line has also been broadened, and is now more distinct, especially at the rear.
The car also has five cameras (two in the front bumper, two on the underside of the side mirrors and one in the boot-lid at the rear) which help provide a more precise view of the surroundings—when joining traffic, parking or reversing. This is especially helpful given the massive size of these cars.
A slim, rectangular LED strip has replaced the round headlight housing
The car’s cabin has also been refreshed, but you still get pretty much anything you can possibly think of—in terms of technology, gadgetry and comfort. Add to that the fact that Rolls-Royce has a wonderful bespoke tradition which allows buyers to customize the car down to the last detail.
So you could match the exterior paint colour to your favourite scarf, get leather exactly like your living room couch, or personalize the wood, metal, carpeting, and chrome too. In fact, you can also ask for other personal touches like monogrammed seats, embroidered patterns or motifs, and inlay work on the dash or windowsills. It’s all for the asking. The car also has the option of including a starlight headliner—which is an intricate pattern of LED lights sewn into the roof lining—to emulate a starry sky.
Of course, if it were mine I’d like the drophead, which has a foldable roof—and the real sky as an option. But with prices on the Phantom range starting at Rs 4.5 crore, I can only dream of buying a Rolls-Royce.
And before I get lost in dreamland, let me quickly tell you about the mechanical changes too.
New look: The cabin has been refreshed and buyers can customize the car
As I drove away from Monaco, into the hills that wind up the Mediterranean coastline, I started sensing the updates on the drivetrain. The 6.7-litre, 453 bhp V12 engine has been tweaked, and manages to also be 10% more fuel-efficient. But the most significant change is the brand new 8-speed automatic gearbox, which replaces the previous 6-speed. This was the real gem, with fast and effortless gear changes, and very smooth performance despite the bulk of the car. This makes driving pleasurable, and especially so in the drophead and coupé body styles, which feel a bit sportier. The saloon is more stately in comparison, with the legendary ride comfort that Rolls-Royce cars are known for. The car’s gear ratios have also been worked in a way that stability is maintained even when driving very fast—again despite the fact that the car is also long and heavy.
But then this isn’t a sports car now, is it? The buyer is not looking for very dynamic performance,but for comfort and luxury, with the option of speed and strength on hand. Or, rather, at the chauffeur’s disposal.
It takes 60 people 450 hours to hand-build one Rolls-Royce car. And that is what makes it special. The company is looking to expand into new markets like China and India, but promises to remain niche and very exclusive. Rival Bentley is looking to get a bit more volumes-oriented, and is also concentrating on segments like sports coupés and perhaps even SUVs. The Maybach ultra-luxury brand from the Daimler stable was discontinued last year. That means it really is Rolls-Royce that represents the very top end of the automobile market. And I was lucky to experience that lifestyle, albeit for a short while, before leaving the gorgeous setting and the plush cars to return to earth.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is the Editor, Auto, NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at email@example.com