IT MUST be tough being part of the Royal Family. Certainly, you get to live in some pretty smart places, mortgage-free, and you never have to worry about where your next meal might be coming from or who’s going to cook it.
When you go out you don’t need the exact fare for the bus and if you use the car, you will always get a parking space. But it’s not all good. While you will travel in some pretty nifty machinery, often you’ll be sitting in the back seat.
And if your back-seat journey is in the Rolls-Royce flagship, the Phantom, then you’ll be missing out on the great experience to be had behind the wheel of this £300,000 beauty.
Many owners of this automotive delight will spend more of their time in the rear than in the front in the knowledge that their driver is having a great time and being paid for the privilege. After a couple of days of living like royalty, from a motoring viewpoint at least, I know where I’d rather be… and that’s definitely in command of this stately galleon of the road.
At the Murray Motor Company’s base at Sighthill in Edinburgh, flanked by gleaming Rolls-Royces and Aston Martins, sales manager Brian Dickson handed me the keys to the Phantom. Almost disappearing into the thick lambswool rugs and hand-stitched sumptuous Alpine leather seats, he ran through just some of the features of the giant machine and its idiosyncrasies, such as the fingertip-deep channels used to pull the door shut instead of grab handles, as well as the organ-stop plungers for the dashboard vents. Another trademark Rolls-Royce design is the power reserve gauge which displays the enormous power potential under the driver’s right foot – quirky and very much part of the RR tradition.
In the rear, the soft-close coach doors open front to back for ease of departure and, in case of rain, Teflon-coated umbrellas are tucked into a compartment in the structure of the doors themselves.
Rear passengers are elevated by 18mm, which allows them to take in the view down the long sweep of the bonnet to the Spirit of Ecstasy flying lady on top of the classic RR grille.
The rear half of the cabin is an oasis of luxurious calm. Electric window blinds on the side and rear double-glazed windows keep out prying eyes, and a mirrored cocktail cabinet with crystal decanter and champagne flutes is built in alongside a small fridge to keep the fizz perfectly chilled. Two TV monitors are incorporated in the folding wood veneered tables, and the Harman sound system creates a cinematic experience through a combination of speakers including subwoofers in resonance chambers in the space created by the car’s double floor.
But enough of such luxuries. I wanted to get this monster on the road and experience the Rolls-Royce “waftability” – the magnificent ride quality. This is a huge car – almost six metres long and two metres wide and more than a third as heavy again as the new Range Rover – but it feels light, nimble and effortless and can be piloted with pinpoint accuracy, although until I got used to its dimensions, I was terrified of kerbing the enormous 21-inch wheels, the largest fitted as standard to any production car.
Power comes from a beautiful and almost silent V12 engine, and gear changes in the new eight-speed automatic box are almost undetectable.
On the open road it is delightful and elegant. On a couple of trips along the M9 I did indeed waft along at a stately pace and attracted a great deal of interest from other road users including several taking pictures on mobile phones.
I just loved all the little quality touches. The flying lady at the front can be programmed to drop automatically into the grille when the car is parked and secured, and the interlocked double-R Rolls-Royce monogram in each of the hubcaps remains upright at all times. It takes 60 pairs of hands and more than 450 hours to create each Rolls-Royce… and only two robots in the paint shop to provide a seamless quality of finish.
Some traditionalists have shuddered at this latest version’s looks, and with only 19 miles to the gallon on the open road and the highest level of CO2, making the first year’s road tax more than £1,000, the green lobby will shake their heads in disbelief. It’s worth noting, though, that 80 per cent of all Rolls-Royces ever built are still on the road, so it could be argued that they are actually very environmentally friendly.
The Edinburgh showroom looks after a wide range of customers around Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland, and the only thing that links them is a thick wallet – and a desire for the ultimate in automotive engineering. If I was spending this sort of money I wouldn’t travel in the back and let someone else have all the fun.
CAR Rolls-Royce Phantom
PRICE starting at £290,000
PERFORMANCE Max speed 149 mph (governed). 0-60 mph 5.7secs
MPG (combined) 19mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 347g/km