Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom

What’s New for 2018?

In the past, I have described other cars as having locomotive-like thrust, but I now know I had used the term inappropriately. This car builds steam in such a linear and unending fashion, it feels like it could ultimately press on and out of the atmosphere.

The Phantom VIII is only the eighth generation since 1925 and the first significant update since 2003 – and here are the changes:

  • Coach line (stripe) ends 2/3 way down the flank of the car, reinforcing a power-forward style, led by a taller and wider grille
  • Lighter weight, aluminum structure
  • More sound-suppression material
  • New headlight design
  • 7L V12 is now twin-turbocharged
  • Broader “standard” colour palette is available, though of course, there are fully bespoke options
  • Continuous piece of glass across the dash is the largest such application in any car, and creates what Rolls-Royce calls “the gallery”


“Would you rather drive or be driven?”

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I chose to relinquish control and opted instead to be chauffeured around.

As a driving enthusiast, this response was not one to be taken lightly, especially considering I had just been offered a machine propelled by a 6.7-litre V12 engine delivering 563 well-mannered horsepower and an absolutely liquid 664 lb-ft of torque. Those are numbers that should set any gearhead’s heart skipping.

But such talk of technical details is uncouth for this particular car; akin to impolitely inquiring how much money someone earns.

You see, this is no people’s car. This isn’t the sort of thing a commoner should even touch. This is a Rolls-Royce Phantom motor car. And as a long-wheelbase edition, it is likely a buyer will choose the back of the car over the front for most journeys. So far be it from me to question the choices of the ultra-rich and powerful.

Walking up to the Phantom from more than 20 paces, the car’s sheer magnitude – nearly 6,000 mm or 20 feet in length – commands attention early on. It is a truly imposing car: a monolith of enduring strength and weightiness, like the sensation of approaching the Rocky Mountains from a hundred kilometres away, and having them grow before your eyes in slow motion. It’s a splendid sight to behold (the car), and even more so when finished in a dark emerald metallic hue.

My driving partner (and fellow automotive reviewer) for the occasion speaks with an English accent and has silver hair, both of which I surmised should have made him a suitable driver for the stately beast. Alas, upon my arrival at the car’s flank, Jeeves (as I wished to call him) immediately clambered into the driver’s seat instead of opening the rear coach door for me. Finding good help these days is so challenging.

By the way, calling the rear-hinged portal a “suicide door” would be unsuitably vulgar, so you know.

Dimensionally, and due to the smooth, fluid heft of it, swinging open the rear door on a Phantom reminded me of opening a massive castle gate. To try to lift it by oneself (either the castle gate or the Phantom’s door) would be impossible, but thanks to perfectly balanced hinges, the task is manageable.

The opening to the rear quarters is enormous, enabling a most dignified ingress, where I plopped my posterior into the seat with as much formality as I could muster wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Then it occurred to me as I stretched my body in a most undignified way, nearly falling back out of the Roller: it’s an impossibly long reach to close the door. Curse that lazy driver!

That’s when the Product Communications Manager for Rolls-Royce kindly pointed out the button near my right ear that would electrically close the door for me, making me question the usefulness of Jeeves even further. Playing into Jeeves’ laziness, the front doors also featured the electric close function.

The extended wheelbase version presented to me offered up 220 mm more rear-seat legroom than the already generous regular wheelbase Phantom. I pushed another button and a small footrest rose up beneath the plushest, thickest, black wool carpet I’ve ever seen. When I thought nobody was looking, I ran my fingers through the decadence and imagined a world where more tactile treats like this existed. (sigh)

With the seat massagers switched on, I spent the next few minutes casually exploring my mobile kingdom. Behind my left elbow is where I’d put my champagne if I had any. The crystal glasses supplied by Rolls-Royce to buyers were wisely removed because drivers like Jeeves probably shouldn’t be trusted. Another button closed a set of black drapes to my right. Then another to my left, and finally a third set behind me; and I found myself sitting quietly in the dark. Enjoying the solitude for a moment, I realized I must have also created the world’s biggest blind spots for Jeeves.

As one would imagine, once underway, the new Phantom is smooth and impossibly quiet. In fact, having reduced the mass of this eighth-generation car by some 200-odd pounds thanks to the new aluminum architecture, the engineers promptly added that mass back in with sound-deadening. It is therefore reasonable that Rolls-Royce proclaims the Phantom VIII to be the quietest car in the world. Were it not for Jeeves’ incessant yammering, I’d have enjoyed a luxurious nap during my ride.

A BMW iDrive-like controller between the rear seats enabled the operation of left- and right-side screens allowing me to manage information and entertainment from my throne, keeping an eye on the navigation on one screen, and helping me be a backseat driver, even whilst riding.

It shows strength of character to be charitable, so I offered to let Jeeves ride in the back for the return trip, while I piloted the Phantom myself. The view through the windscreen is commanding, and looking down that long hood and seeing the Spirit of Ecstasy majestically leading our charge was thrilling, given the historical significance of the marque. Passersby gawked, clearly wondering what celebrity or dot-com billionaire was visiting the neighbourhood.

The Phantom VIII’s V12 is now complemented with a pair of turbochargers – an engine with similar power to lesser Rollers (like the Ghost and Wraith), but tuned for more torque. Tipping the scales at well over 2,500 kg, the big Rolls should not have impressed me with its acceleration as much as it did. In the past, I have described other cars as having locomotive-like thrust, but I now know I had used the term inappropriately. This car builds steam in such a linear and unending fashion, it feels like it could ultimately press on and out of the atmosphere.

Braking and handling were equally spell-binding considering I was hustling a vehicle that featured more square-footage than most Toronto condominiums. Of course, unless evading a life-or-death situation, such spirited driving antics as those are unbecoming of a Rolls-Royce or its driver. Indeed, I unwittingly found myself trying to drive as swiftly, but also as smoothly as possible, using only two fingers and a thumb on each hand to turn the thin-rimmed, but wide-diameter steering wheel.

The materials and design throughout are as exquisite as expected, and whereas someone interested in a Wraith could rightly walk into their local dealership and drive away with a new car, Phantoms are intended to be ordered for purchase and dealers are asked not to keep them in stock. This way, the infinite customization process can help a buyer create a truly bespoke livery inside and out. Rolls-Royce will make any possible colour or material available, as long as it’s legal (so for those with designs on baby seal dashboards and rhino ivory switchgear, your particular lack of good taste isn’t welcome).

While the gauges are wholly contemporary digital affairs (with a “Power Reserve %” dial replacing a traditional tachometer), they are not customizable. What’s more, they reside behind a pane of glass that spans the entire width of the dashboard, presenting what Rolls-Royce calls “The Gallery” on the passenger side. This is an opportunity for the buyer to commission a specific artist to create an individualized piece of art for display on the dash, or if one prefers, to allow the Rolls-Royce design team to help customize something for a buyer. My car featured a pleasing layered-wood affair called “Metropolitan”.

Ultimately, the Phantom is matched in terms of comfort, and even surpassed in terms of technology and performance by a well-optioned distant corporate cousin, the BMW 760Li. Thanks to options like the Commissioned Collection Umbrella that nests inside the rear doors, and the Ghost Bespoke Clock, the base price of my Phantom VIII Extended Wheelbase ballooned from its $530,000 base price to over $643,000. Those are American greenbacks, which at the current rate, translates into more than $800,000 Canadian (plus taxes).

Is this Phantom worth as much as four 760Lis? Technically, no, but the sense of grandeur and occasion, plus the brand’s association with the world’s elite are factors afforded by the Phantom, I have not experienced in any other machine. For those with the means, that’s all that matters.

And whether those buyers choose to drive themselves, or ride in the back, the Phantom is simply magnificent. They would do well to choose their driver carefully.

Pricing: 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom

Phantom VIII Extended Wheelbase: US$530,000