Ever since its inception in 1904, Rolls-Royce cars have found themselves at the pinnacle of luxury car making. The legacy and successful history of the brand is second to none and dates back to the early 20th century when it was the choice car of the aristocracy around the world, including India. According to one estimate reported earlier by Indulge, by 1945, the company sold some 800 cars in India, many highly bespoke, and more than a few finished in gold and other fine materials.
After being acquired by German automobile giant BMW AG in 2003, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has gone through what it calls a “renaissance”. Under the new ownership, Rolls-Royce, which operates from its plant near the historic Goodwood circuit in West Sussex, has introduced two lines of cars—the Phantom in 2003 and the Ghost in 2010. The flagship Phantom family of cars comprises the Phantom, the Phantom Extended Wheelbase, the Phantom Drophead Coupé and the Phantom Coupé.
The Phantom Series II, launched earlier this year, epitomizes what Sir Frederick Henry Royce, the co-founder of the Rolls-Royce Company along with Charles Stewart Rolls, often used to tell his employees, “Take the best that exists and make it better.” It is one of the rare occurrences where the superlative precedes the comparative.
Rolls-Royce took the Phantom Series I, which was first launched on 1 January 2003, did some contemporary design changes and bang, the Series II was ready to roll. It was launched at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year.
The extended wheelbase version of the car was in Noida recently for a media test-drive event.
At first sight, the changes from the Series I were so minimal that I started wondering what took the company nine years to tweak these things.
As Hal Serudin, corporate communication manager for Asia Pacific, says, “There were some changes that were necessary to keep up with the contemporary design.” But, at the same time, he says, “many customers came to us saying if you need to, then update the car a bit, but please don’t change it drastically”. Among the things the customers asked Rolls-Royce to add were the top-view camera and an updated GPS navigation system.
On the front, the new car has re-styled bumpers and rectangular light apertures and full LED headlamps. On the rear side, it has a single-step bumper instead of the double-step bumper in the previous version.
Inside the four doors, there are new driver-assistance technologies, a modern user interface with re-designed multi-media controller, a new satellite navigation system that has been fully updated with functions, including 3D maps with landscape topography, guided tours and enhanced points of interest, as well as composite route planning.
Also, there are front, rear and top-view cameras to further augment ease of manoeuvring. When reverse parking, for example, rear path prediction automatically deploys on the screen.
Under the hood, a new 8-speed automatic gearbox has been introduced to complement the V12 direct injection engine, thereby improving fuel consumption by 10% and reducing CO2 emissions from 388 to 347 g/km.
And, of course, when it comes to bespoke features, “it’s like commissioning a painting”, says Serudin.
Over 90% of all Phantom buyers ask for bespoke cars, compared with around 50-60% of all Ghost buyers, Serudin explained.
Phantom buyers can personalize their cars by choosing from a mind-boggling array of 44,000 “personalizeable” elements in a variety of colour and materials such as cashmere, leather and precious woods.
Serudin recalls when one owner asked if he could use wood from his tree for the interiors. And another incident when American businessman Michael Fux ordered a car in unique candy apple colour. Fux also asked them to use carbon fibre instead of wood in the interiors. Serudin showed me a video of how the engineers in Rolls-Royce’s bespoke team at Goodwood developed the red-and-black carbon fibre in Fux’s candy apple. Now, Serudin says, an archive of the candy apple colour is preserved at Goodwood for Fux’s future needs.
As I let the initial euphoria of sitting in a Phantom sink in, I asked our chauffer Mahadev, a veteran of 12 years who has driven all the cars coming out of the BMW stable, how driving a Phantom II was different from driving any other car. He summed it up for me in one word—ultimate. Out of all the cars that he has driven, Mahadev confesses on some prodding, the Phantom II offers the smoothest drive for a vehicle of this size and weight.
After several minutes of letting Mahadev drive I gently tapped him on the shoulder: “Do you mind? If I?”
Reluctantly, he agreed. As I took to the wheels, I could feel the power of the engine. Pressing the accelerator was like pushing the foot through wind and the car accelerated to 80kmph within a matter of seconds. It was quiet and smooth where the road had a slight bend and then it roared over the empty stretches of the Noida Expressway. I had to keep an eye on the speedometer to make sure I was driving at a speed I can control. The brakes are instantly responsive and the car is as quick to decelerate.
Experts say it’s a chauffeur-driven car, but I am sure test-drivers have other ideas. There is not one thing mysterious about the new Phantom. Except when you’ll eventually succumb to its call.
Phantom Drophead Coupé: Rs.6 crore
Phantom Extended Wheelbase: Rs.5.6 crore
Phantom Coupé: Rs.6 crore
Phantom: Rs.5 crore
Ghost Extended Wheelbase: Rs.3.6 crore