Test Drive: 2018 Rolls Royce Phantom
A drive in the Swiss Alps in a car that's the definition of luxury on wheels.
I’ve stalled as long as I can, but the British chap behind the wheel is insisting I drive the new 2018 Rolls Royce Phantom. It’s not that I don’t want to test out this eighth incarnation of the famous English luxury car; it’s just that experiencing the car from the back seat is such a relaxing, comfortable and quiet experience—all I can hear is the soft friction of the tires—that I’m reluctant to give it up. When that rear coach door opens, it’s like a velvet-gloved finger beckoning me in.
The Rolls Royce Phantom, first introduced in 1925 after being developed as a secret project—code-named Eastern Armoured Car—has a sense of history that few other cars possess; I can’t help but think of all the notables who have had this rear seat vantage point before me. The 2018 interior is inspired by modern touches drawn from other arenas: the armrests for the wide seats reference a J-class yacht as a design inspiration; and the wood paneling across the back of the front seats, which secretes a picnic table and drop-down screens, are drawn from the famous 1956 Eames Lounge Chair that’s part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent display. Overhead is the largest, twinkling Starlight headliner ever seen in a Rolls Royce; it’s practically a sky unto itself. The center console includes a drinks cabinet with whiskey glasses and decanter, champagne flutes, and a small refrigerator for cooling beverages. And the rear seat is carefully angled so that both back seat occupants can talk to each other without straining their necks. (A sleeper seating configuration also is an option.) But as modern as the interior is, the new Phantom retains its distinctive Rolls Royce upright front and flowing rear profile. The sharp-eyed, though, will note that the front grille is now incorporated into the surrounding bodywork for the first time.
Eventually, I cave to pressure to take the wheel myself. I’m driving around Lake Lucerne in Switzerland and heading up into the Swiss Alps on a road already famous in Rolls Royce lore as the one driven by Goldfinger in the 1964 James Bond film. The title villain was actually chauffeured by his henchman Odd Job in a Phantom III first made in 1936, and I’m driving the same road—sans Odd Job’s deadly hat. Thanks to a V12 twin turbo engine with 563 horsepower governed by an 8-speed gearbox, the new 2018 Phantom handles the climbing switchbacks with such ease that my only concern is where best to stop to take in the magnificent views. A lot of that smooth ride is due to a sophisticated electronic suspension system that makes continual adjustments in conjunction with a windshield camera called Flagbearer—evocative of the men required by law to carry a red flag to walk ahead of early motor cars—that scouts the road ahead.
The driver’s seat also offers other insights. While the rear seat is angled backward for relaxation, everything up front has a sense of forward motion. A host of safety features, navigation and entertainment options (including WiFi) are available and managed via a 12.3-inch display. But by far the most dramatic item is the dashboard space in front of the passenger seat that has been transformed into a gallery of custom artwork (available as an option) that personalizes an otherwise often ignored space in a car.
I’m back out of the mountains now, driving by the city of Lucerne’s wooden 13th century Spreuer Bridge, famous for its triangular paintings of eerie figures engaged in a danse macabre. I suppress a shiver and steer the car toward my room at the exemplary lakeside Park Hotel Vitznau, a property that feels more like residence than a hotel, just outside of the city. Today’s Phantom is a friendly spirit. $450,000. rolls-roycemotorscarsna.com
The 2018 Rolls Royce Phantom is only the eighth edition of the legendary automobile since its debut in 1925; below, a look at some celebrity-owned incarnations of the previous seven.