November 3, 2006

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2006 Rolls-Royce Phantom


2006 Rolls-Royce Phantom

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The thing about luxury goods is that once you’ve tried the best you can never go back. Well, in our case you have to go back because there’s no one in these halls that can afford a Rolls Royce Phantom. After my time with the Phantom I hopped back into a six-figure car that shall remain nameless and thought ‘what a piece of junk’. The car in question isn’t actually a piece of junk but is, instead, one of the smoothest and most solidly constructed cars on the market. To anyone, but a Rolls-Royce owner perhaps, it is a covetable and prestigious car. A true work of automotive art – but not compared to the Phantom.

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Driving the Phantom was pretty much as I expected except for its unearthly power-delivery. The massive 6.75-litre V12 doesn’t rely on turbos, like its only real competitors the Bentley Arnage and Mercedes-owned Maybach, to make its wrenching 531 lb.-ft. of torque. Nope, here you find the time tested maxim of ‘no replacement for displacement’ hard at work. Rolls-Royce calls this mill’s massive urge ‘waftability’ and I thought I knew what they meant before I drove the car, however I didn’t really ‘know’ – that whole a priori vs. a posteriori thing I guess.

When starting from a stop the Phantom sails away as if guided by a gust of wind. The revs barely rise, there is zero vibration, no sound and no strain – the car just moves off almost as if it’s electric. If you really want to spank some punk, and isn’t everyone a punk when you are in a Roller, you can manually select ‘low’ or first gear with a steering-wheel mounted switch. Alternately you can flatten the gas and it will kick into first on its own. Undignified as it may be, the Phantom will squeal its massive run-flat tires, but the centre caps always stay level.

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More impressive, however, is how the three-ton car rides its Herculean torque swell like a galleon on the open sea. Feed in the power (there’s even a power-reserve dial on the instrument cluster) and the Phantom surges forward stranding the gawking proletariat in its wake. You cruise at whatever speed you wish in the Phantom without strain or noise. We ramped it up close to its electronic limit of 210 km/h. Outside of North America it’s run to 250 km/h before the limiter steps in. Kinda makes you wonder just how fast this vault can go?

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Given the Phantom’s massive height and meaty sidewalls, you might not be surprised that this Rolls had the best ride comfort of any car I’ve ever driven. The regal motor car doesn’t bob or wallow and, though it isn’t designed for gymkhanas, the Phantom corners sure-footedly and glides through dense traffic with ease. You don’t steer the Phantom so much as let the massive, thin-rimmed wheel’s nubbed finger groves tickle your fingers as you guide it through openings in the flow.

With three paragraphs devoted to the performance of the perfectly smooth twelve-cylinder power plant, I’ve scarcely left enough space to tell you about the rest of the car. The Phantom is almost entirely built of aluminum – the front fenders are composite (how else could they mould their incredible shape) and the boot lid is steel. Hey, it says boot for the trunk release so I’m getting with the game here. Even hewn from aluminum the Phantom is the most robust automobile I’ve ever driven and this is unusual given that aluminum cars are always rigid but often feel hollow. The size and heft of its structure is especially evident when you see it amidst other vehicles and trucks. Also when you are ensconced in its parlour-like interior with just the dull, distant thump of the tires to remind you that you are actually moving.

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If the front seats are like club chairs, the rear bench is like a drawing-room sofa – firm, enveloping and supremely comfortable. In fact this might be the only car in the world where the back seat is even more comfortable than the front. Back there you’ll be able to slip off your shoes and dive your feet into the two-inch-deep lamb’s wool carpeting, you can primp yourself on one of the two fold-down illuminated ‘vanity’ mirrors, you can play cards or eat cocktail weenies off the gloriously lacquered fold out tray tables.

Our car’s dashboard was in a gorgeous black piano lacquer but you can have pretty much whatever you want. Strangely, only 20% or North American buyers take full advantage of the fact that Rolls-Royce will build your Phantom any way you want as long as it meets government regulations. This contrasts with 80% of buyers in other markets who elect to wait for bespoke vehicles. This can only be the difference between new and old money.

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Even so, the ‘standard’ Phantom slaughters 17 cows to sheath its interior in supple leather – presumably one thing you could demand is a vegan option with cloth seats. Heck, why not cover them in the same material as the headliner, which is wool and cashmere. Without any special requests the Phantom takes about 260 hours to build, largely by hand, which is about nine times the industry average.

Rolls-Royce sells an exclusive 750 cars a year but there are plans to raise that number to 1000 although probably not above that. One thousand cars per year seems to be a significant number for the brand as they’ve averaged just under that annual output for the last 102 years. A convertible version of the Phantom is on the way and, although not officially confirmed, the 101EX two-door hardtop will probably hit the market around 2009. That’s great news…three years to save up.

At a glance: 2006 Rolls-Royce Phantom

Base price $474,000

Engine 6.7-litre V12

Horsepower 453

Torque 531 lb-ft

Fuel consumption City: 18.8 L/100 km (15 mpg Imp.)

Hwy: 11.6 L/100 km (24 mpg Imp.)

Competition Maybach 57/62, Bentley Arnage


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