x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Refined and exclusive, Rolls-Royce Phantom is ultimately for collectors

Road Test Kevin Hackett tries out the most exuberant drive you could imagine.

The attention to detail in the Coupé is incredible. Jeff Topping / The National
The attention to detail in the Coupé is incredible. Jeff Topping / The National

A Rolls-Royce makes a statement about its owner, you don't need us to tell you that. What kind of statement that is, however, depends on what model you choose, what colour and trim combination you go for and whether you choose to drive it or be driven in it. Whatever that information tells an observer, there's one thing that is obvious to all: you don't do anonymity.

It's something that actually bothers me when I'm piloting the Phantom Coupé around Dubai for a couple of days: what are people thinking when they see me waft past in this blue behemoth? When I recently spent time with the Ghost EWB, it wasn't really an issue because that car, while unavoidably large, shows a little more restraint than any of its Phantom brethren. The Phantom is in a class of its own and it hasn't taken long behind the thin-rimmed wheel of this one to work out it's not really for me.

My glamorous brunette passenger is making no secret of the fact that it's not for her, either. I know what she means when she calls it tasteless and I fully understand when she says she'd rather be seen in a Volkswagen Polo. And yet, while I find myself nodding along with her valid criticisms, there's something gnawing away at me. It's a profound respect for the world-class engineering that has made this car so perfectly serene. Refinement doesn't come more refined than this.

It's so far removed from motoring as we know it that it makes me laugh out loud. The Phantom, no matter its guise (there are three models to choose from, each offering something unique), is the very embodiment of what the Rolls-Royce brand has been synonymous with for decades: a haven from the outside world. Beyond the polished, stainless-steel bonnet and its double-glazed windows is a world of hurt and the Phantom exists to protect you from it. It wafts along in almost total silence, cushioning its occupants with a magic carpet ride. Deep pile carpeting, leather upholstery and polished timber abound, naturally, but it's the utmost attention to detail that never fails to leave the most lasting of impressions.

For instance, when you open either of its two rear-hinged doors, you'll see big chrome knobs. Push either of them and out pops a Teflon-coated umbrella. Not much use in the UAE, granted, but a nice touch. There are also buttons either side of the cabin to electrically open and close said doors. The analogue clock in the centre of the dashboard silently rotates at the push of a button to reveal the infotainment screen. In fact, I could fill this page with a list of the delightful details this car possesses but, instead, let's ponder on what it's like to drive because, out of the Phantom range, this is the one designed with the driver in mind.

Full of passengers and fuel, this thing weighs more than three tonnes, so you'd be forgiven for thinking it has the responses and handling characteristics of an ocean liner. You'd be wrong. For while it's no Lotus Elise, the Phantom Coupé has a 200mm shorter wheelbase than the standard car, stiffer dampers and springs to the rear, as well as a thicker rear anti-roll bar. The tyres are wider, too. At a standstill or at low speeds, the engine is totally inaudible and I find myself wondering if I've been handed another experimental electric car. There is no rev counter, just a Power Reserve meter, and when it's showing 100 per cent, there's no indication whatsoever that anything mechanical is turning.

Stamp on the throttle, though, and the Coupé's 6.75L V12 makes itself heard - just - while endowing it with an impressive turn of speed. It's not lightning-quick, more rapid than truly fast, but sheer speed is not what this car is about. It doesn't need to tear up the outside lane with blaring exhausts to make an impression because its design and physical dimensions do that well enough. To be honest, it's impossible to describe any aspect of this Rolls-Royce without using clichés that are completely worn out. So I'll say it again: this car wafts.

The thing is though, I can't fathom why anyone would buy a Phantom Coupé. If you want a car this size with two doors then the Drophead Coupé fits the bill, and if you want a driver-focused Royce then the Ghost makes more sense. The rear seats are a squeeze for passengers, not so much a problem when there's a folding roof, but for a vehicle of this magnitude there's precious little in the way of spaciousness unless you're perched up front.

It's not for me, the Phantom Coupé. It exists to appeal to those with more money than I could dream of seeing in my impoverished bank account; those with a collection of cars at their disposal. As a cross-continent touring car for two, there's little to touch it, providing you don't mind being stared at wherever you go. It's undoubtedly the most exclusive way to travel but give me something a little more subtle. A Ghost would do nicely.


The Specs

Price Dh1.76million

Engine 6.75L V12

Gearbox Six-speed automatic

Power 453hp @ 5,350rpm

Torque 720Nm @ 3,500rpm

Fuel economy, combined 16.5L/100km