What makes Rolls-Royce Phantom worth $643,000?

Robert Duffer
Chicago Tribune
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The Rolls-Royce Phantom is a car. It has four wheels, four doors, a steering wheel, an engine. But that’s where the similarity to any other vehicle on the road ends.

For $643,000 — my God, $643,000 — it’s not so much a car as a sense of self-being. It is all about having what you want and how you want it, about being different even from other Rolls owners. For instance, Rolls-Royce will chop down the beloved tree in your estate and turn it into the dash and trim in your customized saloon. For a price.

It starts at a comparatively modest $450,000 for the standard wheelbase, but our tester had the $530,000 extended wheelbase. Then there are options, such as power picnic tables and control screens mounted in the front seat backs, umbrellas discreetly stowed in the door frame, a power-folding footrest extending from the floor and quick-close dark curtains to envelope the rear in privacy. To be seen or not to be seen, that is the luxury.

Since 1925, the Phantom has been the pinnacle of auto luxury. The eighth-generation version will be the architectural basis of all future Rolls-Royce models.

Personalization is at the heart of the Phantom, the mother of all flagships, and Phantom is at the heart of Rolls-Royce, the bespoke British benchmark for automotive luxury. Phantom is the best of the best. Owners join an exclusive club of eccentrics, ranging from Fred Astaire to Queen Elizabeth, and from John Lennon to Kim Kardashian. Owners buy into a rare class shrouded in mystique. Contrary to popular mythology, Rolls-Royce does not raise its own cows. It will, however, purchase cows raised at higher elevations, where mosquitoes can’t bite imperfections into the hides — it takes 8-10 to line a Phantom.

Since 1925, Phantom has been the pinnacle of automotive luxury. It is the longest-running nameplate, excluding a decade for war and more recently, another decade in the ’90s when Rolls-Royce was at its bleakest before being rescued by BMW.

The eighth-generation Phantom joins the Ghost, Wraith and Dawn, as well as the forthcoming Cullinan SUV, in the revitalized brand lineup.

There were only 3,300 Rolls-Royces sold globally in 2017, according to spokesman Gerry Spahn. And the seventh-generation Phantom, produced from 2003-17, sold a bit more than 5,000, making it the best-selling Phantom ever.

Herein lies why the Phantom is so important to the brand. Not only will it be more exclusive, estimated to account for 10 percent of Rolls-Royce total sales in 2019, it will be the architectural basis of future Rolls-Royce models.

The platform has been built in Goodwood, England, unlike in past years when Phantom and other models were based on a BMW 7-Series platform.

It’s more costly, but it’s also more uniquely Rolls-Royce. The lightweight aluminum space frame is called the architecture of luxury, and it is 30 percent more rigid than the previous Phantom.

What all this means is the Phantom doesn’t ride, it floats. The ride is so deadened and soft that even ubiquitous potholes went unnoticed. All the weight saved from using aluminum was regained with more soundproofing materials, so the Phantom still checks in at a stately 5,948 pounds, more than most full-size SUVs. Even the foam-insulated Continental run-flat tires were chosen exclusively for their sound-deadening quality.

The weight is also unnoticeable behind the wheel, thanks to a new, still massive 6.75-liter twin turbo V-12 engine mated to an eight-speed transmission that cranks out 563 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque.

The twin-turbo keeps lag to a minimum and all that torque is available at just 1,700 rpm. This land shark hits 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, with a top speed of 155 mph to escape the paparazzi.

The extended wheelbase Phantom is all about the back seat passenger. In addition to massaging and reclining rear seats, the controller in the center console operates screens that fold out from the front seat backs onto wooden trays. So the mapping function can be on one screen while the other screen can be used to access the internet and order up some Dijon mustard. The rear cabin brings new and more accurate definition to the idea of a mobile office.

The proving ground of any purchase is value, regardless of price. Part by part, piece by piece, the Phantom offers things other automakers have, but none put together with such attention to detail and personalization.

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