The eighth-generation Rolls-Royce Phantom, revealed last night at an invitation-only black tie event in the heart of London’s West End, introduces not only a new way of building luxury cars but also a new way of thinking about building luxury cars.
Up to now, car companies, including Rolls-Royce, have been using platforms shared with, and drivetrains borrowed from, lesser models in order to achieve some viability of scale. But, as Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös explained: “Every one of our customers was asking for something more individual to them, not less.”
If you’re going to make thousands of identical cars, monocoque is the way to go – you can punch them out like cookies and all the components will be interchangeable. But that is not what the top one-hundredth of one percent of car buyers (Roll-Royce’s target market) are looking for.
So, director of design Giles Taylor has created what he calls ‘the architecture of luxury’ – an aluminium spaceframe that’s not only lighter and stiffer than the monocoque bodyshell it replaces but is also scaleable in every dimension, not just from model to model but, if necessary, from car to car, with different drivetrains and control systems.
“This frame will carry every future Rolls-Royce,” he said. “Not just the new Phantom, but also Project Cullinan and eventually the next Ghost, Wraith, Dawn will also ride on this architecture, as well as future coachbuilding projects, such as the recent Sweptail.”
Embraced by luxury
As you settle into the new Phantom, an assistant or valet touches the sensor in the door handle and the door whispers closed of its own accord – or you can make it happen yourself at the press of a button inside the car.
Under the biggest starlight headliner yet seen in a Rolls-Royce, you’re surrounded by high gloss wood veneer on the door panels, centre consoles, dashboard and picnic tables.
The sweep of wood panelling across the back of the front seats was inspired by the Eames Lounge Chair of 1956, a design so perfect it’s part of the New York Museum of Modern Art’s permanent display. Deployed from behind it, at the touch of a button, are the rear picnic tables and theatre monitors.
Phantom customers can chose from different rear seating layouts, ranging from an intimate lounge seat for two, to individual seats with a folding centre armrest, individual seats with a fixed centre console and all-new sleeping seats – but in every case the rear seats are carefully angled towards each other so that their occupants can chat without straining their necks.
Seat heating is standard, of course, but when you switch it on you’ll find that the heated areas also include the front door armrests, front centre console lid, lower C pillar, rear side armrests with all individual seats, and rear centre armrest.
If you choose the fixed rear centre console, inside it you’ll find a drinks cabinet with whisky glasses and decanter, champagne flutes and coolbox.
There is no plastic inside the new Phantom; every switch and control is made of metal, glass or wrapped in leather.
The one-piece, almost perfectly straight dashboard runs unbroken across the the front of the cabin from door to door, much as it did on the first Phantom of 1925, but instead of a hand-finished solid walnut plank, split so that the two halves were perfect mirror images of each other, the new Phantom dashboard is a sheet of toughened glass.
Under it, on the driver’s side, is a chrome-framed 31cm colour TFT display with LED backlighting, showing three big round dials with chrome surrounds, beautiful virtual needles, jewel-like Rolls-Royce chaplets and clear lettering for speed, power reserve, fuel and temperature levels, essential information on cruise control settings, navigation instructions, driver assistance systems and a whole host of other information.
Behind the glass in the middle are a central information screen (which can be retracted inside the centre stack when not in use) and the real – not virtual – analogue clock, a tribute to the time when “the loudest sound you can hear inside a Rolls-Royce Phantom is the ticking of the clock”.
The standard clock has a black face and black leather surround, but each Bespoke Clock has a more intricate design with a lighter, backlit face, crystal effect details and counterweighted hands, finished to match the material selected within the gallery.
That’s because, apart from the instrument panel and the clock, the whole glass dashboard forms ‘The Gallery’ – a display case for bespoke artwork, intricate finishes or just your personal choice of material and colour.
The Art of Movement
Taylor explained: “Many of our customers are patrons of art and indeed have their own private collections; that gave me an idea.
“For more than a century the motor car dashboard has served only to hide the airbags and wiring. I wanted to give it another purpose, space to breathe.
“In the 18th century, miniatures were expensive and fashionable artworks that allowed their owners to carry images of their loved one with them wherever they traveled. I loved that idea of taking your art with you; now our customers can do the same.”
Rolls-Royce has already worked with a number of artists, designers and design collectives to show just what is possible behind the glass, ranging from an oil painting of the South Downs of England in Autumn by Chinese artist Liang Yuanwei, to a gold-plated 3D-printed map of the owner’s DNA by German designer Thorsten Franck, a hand-made stem of the finest porcelain roses by Nymphenberg or an abstract design in silk by young British artist Helen Amy Murray.
You can choose a favoured artist or designer to work with Rolls-Royce to create a truly individual work of art that spans the width of ‘The Gallery’ in your Phantom, or you can choose from a vast collection of silk, wood, metal or leather finishes, which are available off the shelf.
Carved from solid
Thanks to superforming and a new precision body joining process, there are few, if any visible weld lines between the panels; the new Phantom looks as if its whole body was carved out of a block of aluminium.
For the first time, the pantheon grille (about 12mm taller than that of the Phantom VII) is part of the body rather than a separate design element, and made of hand-polished stainless steel rather than nickel silver. It curves into the bonnet line and becomes a polished stainless-steel trim strip along the bonnet line, the A pillar and around the windscreen.
The four rectangular headlights frame the daylight running lights and laser projectors, capable of illuminating objects 600 metres ahead. At the C pillar, the biggest piece of hand-polished stainless steel on any car finishes off the side frame on each side, while the door handles, usually cast in aluminium and satin-finished on premium cars, are instead carved from solid stainless steel and hand-polished to a warm, tactile glow.
And finally, the Phantom rides on the biggest wheels yet specified by Rolls-Royce, 22 inch alloy rims with self-righting centre logos.
Along with the lighter, stiffer chassis comes four-wheel steering and self-leveling air suspension using classic double wishbones in front and a five-link axle at the rear. The suspension makes millions of calculations every second, reacting to body and wheel acceleration, steering movements and the input of a forward stereo camera that reads the road ahead and adjusts the suspension for every bump before the car even gets there.
And to make the side even smoother and more silent, there’s 6mm two-layer glass all round, more than 130kg of sound insulation, double aluminium skinning (filled with dense foam and felt layers) on the floor and bulkheads, and the largest cast-aluminium brackets ever used on a car body.
Even the special 22 inch tyres have a sound-deadening foam layer under the tread, like the inner sole on your expensive sneakers.
The naturally-aspirated 6.75-litre V12 that powers every Rolls-Royce has been re-engineered for the Phantom with two turbochargers, specifically tuned for unhurried, silent and effortlessly muscular power delivery with 900Nm on tap from just 1700rpm and more-than-adequate peak power of 420kW.
It drives the rear wheels through new eight-speed automatic ZF satellite-aided transmission that uses GPS location to ensure that it is always in the right gear for what’s coming up around the bend, depending on how hard you’ve been leaning on the accelerator today.
All of which is backed up by the most complex electronic network ever built by BMW, including an alertness assistant, a four-camera system for all-round visibility including helicopter view, night vision and vision assist, active cruise control, collision warning, pedestrian warning, cross-traffic warning, lane departure and lane change warning, and an 18 x 7cm high-resolution head-up display.
It costs what it costs
The most immediate consequence of all this bespoke luxury is that it is no longer possible to quote a price for a Rolls-Royce until you have finished specifying your unique car – but in any case, if you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it.