FRANSCHHOEK, Western Cape – There are certain spheres of the automotive industry that are so far removed from the general players they can almost be viewed as separate trades. Think of hypercars from the likes of Koenigsegg, Pagani and Bugatti. These are more than merely dream cars; in terms of monetary value and performance, they're simply in a league of their own.
But what if you crave the ultimate the industry offers in terms of luxury rather than outright performance? Here there are just a few players, and none of them quite stands out as much as the impressive, gargantuan Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Cars such as these don’t pass through our hands often, for obvious reasons. Indeed, this very Phantom has been temporarily imported into South Africa from the United Kingdom as part of Rolls-Royce’s roadshow and is currently one of just two such cars on the African continent.
As I walk up to the vehicle, I'm immediately struck by its presence. It's unlike any other saloon on the market, firstly thanks to its imposing size (forget about parking anywhere you would park a normal sedan) and secondly because of its exterior design. I’ve recently walked through a small collection of 1950s and 1960s Rolls-Royces, and the Phantom perfectly echoes those gigantic sedans from the middle of the 20th century. Interestingly, its roofline isn't much lower than those of some SUVs, while its multi-slat grille sits purposely upright.
Behind the wheel (on the couch?)
Yes, the rear quarters probably offer the best seats in the house, so to speak, but there's still plenty of appeal in sliding in behind the steering wheel. The seats are soft and absorbent and once I close the door (by merely pressing a button) I’m insulated from any external noise, including the idle of the engine. Even though it displaces 6,75 litres, you need to focus hard to hear the turbopetrol V12 from inside the Phantom.
Stretched horizontally in front of me to the left is what's known as the “gallery”. Below the facia from the passenger’s A-pillar all the way to the right, the gallery offers an area that can be fully customised. Here, you can either exhibit your own choice of artwork (even 3D work) or have a piece made specifically for you and your car.
On our short drive to Franschhoek, the Phantom simply wafted over relatively poorly surfaced roads, absorbing all imperfections. It's difficult to describe, but it seems as though the Phantom’s suspension takes advantage of the car’s weight, filtering out bumps and body movements with aplomb. You can’t help but be instantly impressed. To describe it as an extreme level of comfort and luxury would be a massive understatement.
With 420 kW on tap at 5 000 r/min and 900 N.m available at a decidedly relaxed 1 700 r/min, I managed to thrust the throttle pedal to the floor a few times when traffic and road conditions allowed. Again, engine and exhaust notes are kept to an absolute minimum (the latter seemingly non-existent), while that stretched bonnet hosting the beautiful Spirit of Ecstasy lifts north as a wave of torque pushes the behemoth down the road. Despite tipping the scales at more than 2,5 tonnes, acceleration is impressive.
BMW should be congratulated for its handling of this company and for appreciating the unique products it makes. I didn't notice any BMW switchgear in the Phantom's cabin; it feels as bespoke as it is.
The sumptuous, spell-binding experience from behind the wheel makes the Phantom unlike any other car I’ve driven. In the same way I find myself yearning to sample a given hypercar over and over again to tease out its intricacies, the Phantom makes me want to indulge at the other end of the spectrum, enjoying the top echelon of luxury and refinement while watching the landscape fly past in silence. This is a truly special automobile.
FAST FACTSModel: Rolls-Royce Phantom
Engine: 6,75-litre, V12 turbopetrol
Power: 420 kW at 5 000 r/min
Torque: 900 N.m at 1 7 00 r/min
0-100 km/h: 5,3 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 13,9 L/100 km
CO2: 318 g/km
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Maintenance Plan: 4-year/unlimited km
See Full Rolls-Royce Phantom price and specs here