Phantom: To Drive or Not To Drive?

The hugely majestic Rolls-Royce Phantom edges up towards and then past me, eases to a stop and gracefully reverses back to it’s allotted position. The occupants disembark and give thanks to their temporary companion for his service. This very efficient chap ensures that all is perfect before looking over and giving me ‘the nod’. I begin to approach the Phantom and can’t help but focus on it’s sheer size.

The simple, impressive design holds only a faint resemblance of the marque’s more memorable design history. The overall proportions are there but gone are the famous flowing designs of the Silver Cloud and Silver Wraith. A more contemporary design has taken over and dare I say it, it’s parent company’s influence is apparent. Nevertheless, the Phantom is a very impressive sight and worthy of the badge.

“Good afternoon sir. I’m ready whenever you are”, advises the ‘very efficient’ chap from Rolls-Royce Edinburgh. I can’t help but smile and begin making my way towards him at an enthusiastic pace. “Will you be driving or taking a back seat today?” The nature of the Phantom, where everything is passenger focussed, means the choice is obvious for me. “I’ll take the keys please”. He opens the driver’s door accordingly.

Having settled into the sumptuous driving seat, the closing of the door delivers a solid, delightfully authoritative tone which is followed immediately by silence as the background noise, of the other guest’s chit chat, leather soles on concrete and the rolling tyres of a Wraith returning from it’s latest outing, is completely eradicated. Watching the world going on immediately around me in utter silence is a slightly odd experience. Odd, but very pleasant.

Taking a gentle fingertip hold of the beautiful, thin rimmed, 3-spoked steering wheel, my guide begins to highlight the key controls but I am somewhat distracted by my surroundings.

The exquisitely crafted dash reeks quality craftsmanship, with wonderfully lustrous veneer and fabulously tactile leather. Closer inspection highlights the accuracy of the fit and finish of the dashboard assembly as perfect. It’s re-assuring to see the marque’s famous ‘attention to detail’ is being maintained.

The instruments and controls have the look and feel of quality you’d expect. There are however several plastic parts which is somewhat of a disappointment. Maybe, it’s just a personal gripe, but I don’t see any reason why, in a Rolls-Royce, there is any justification for the inclusion of plastic. However, plastic aside, the cabin is an absolute delight; simple, graceful, classy and elegant.

Another wonderful feature, and the most notable aspect of sitting here, is the lofty position. Even before turning a wheel, I feel as though I will be captaining rather than driving the Phantom. It feels absolutely immense. And wonderfully so. Pushing the ‘Engine Start’ button barely elicits a response. Just to ensure I do not make a fool of myself, my eyes flick to the dials to ensure the engine is alive, ready and willing before engaging my right foot. The Power Reserve dial indicates that we have 100% available so we’re ready to roll.

As I gently ease my right foot forward, we begin to creep forward with zero sense of any activity under the bonnet. We just appear to be floating away on a magic carpet. It’s a somewhat out-of-body experience, in so much as I know things are happening because I can see we are on the move and yet I can hear nothing and feel nothing. There is no road or engine noise and no sense of anything through the seat. It’s absolutely wonderful.

We begin to glide down the long majestic driveway of Pittormie Castle, lined with it’s perfectly trimmed hedges; a setting so befitting of the Phantom. As we near the end of the driveway and approach the stately gates, I bring the Phantom to a smooth stop just close enough to trigger their sensors. Opening towards us, I grow slightly concerned that they might just be a little too close to that precious lady but I needn’t have worried. We slide forward to the road and decide to turn left to begin our adventure.

With my left ring finger I gently nudge the indicator stalk down and find that the silkiness of it’s motion brings an unexpected tactile gratification. The resulting ‘tick-tock’ tone also brings a welcome degree of aural delight, reminding me of my uncle’s grandfather clock that always had a re-assuringly authoritative presence, displaying it’s solidity and quality. Turn the large wheel and the stately Silver Lady wafts around to gracefully lead the way. The right pedal slowly nearing the floor, we gather a touch of speed and begin what I already know will be an all-too-brief journey.

Our pace increases with the speed dial easing around to an indicated 60mph, although it strangely feels more like 40. The Power Reserve dial has somewhat less to do as it now reads 94% availability. There is now a whisper of road noise but it’s of no consequence. Blemishes in the road surface are nullified as the ‘magic carpet ride’ is maintained without interruption. The Phantom feels all- conquering

But then up ahead I can see the first significant deviation approaching in this beautiful county road. My level of concern for the Phantom’s welfare is once again raised as I begin to try to assess it’s ability to deal with the directional adjustment required. I don’t want to be remembered for being the one who took this grandest of vehicles through the roadside hedge and into a field, decimating the some poor farmer’s precious crop. I look across to my ‘efficient’ chap but he seems totally at ease so I continue unrelenting. We enter the corner at what seems to me a little too fast for comfort and I expect to have to turn the wheel further to continue following the tarmac and thereby risk my passengers’ comfort. But the Phantom offers only the slightest hint of body roll and before I know it, the corner has been navigated and we have a straight road ahead once again. I’m seriously surprised and impressed.

I fully appreciate that time and technology have moved on but the laws of physics haven’t. Several years ago, on my wedding day in fact, I was fortunate enough to be at the helm of a Silver Spur II and was in a near identical situation on the wonderfully twisty A61 between Harrogate and Ripon. That was a far less re-assuring experience and I learnt my lesson fast. Subsequent twists and turns were taken at a far more sedate pace! My confidence in the Phantom’s abilities, however, is now cemented.

As we pressed on a little harder, the glorious view out over the long bonnet, with the ever graceful lady leading our way, just reminded me of how big the Phantom is. And it makes no apologies for being so.

This is a car for the confident, those that don’t mind others knowing of their success, those that don’t mind almost everyone you pass looking in with the hope of seeing a celebrity face or two. Whether those looks are in admiration or envy, it doesn’t make much difference. But you need to be able to handle the almost constant attention. Alternatively, hire a chauffeur, (or more likely get someone else to hire one for you), take a seat in the back and pull the curtains shut! This is of course where most owners choose to reside. It’s not that the Phantom shouts about what it represents. It doesn’t have to. The combination of it’s size, authoritative styling and of course the famous mascot is enough. The rest of the world knows you’ve arrived. Unfortunately for today’s optimistic onlookers, my presence is bringing little to gossip about at work tomorrow. I almost feel apologetic for the let down. That’s the standard the Phantom sets for you.

We continue along gathering a significant head of steam. At one point, the feeling of the Phantom’s enormity causes me to glance across to the passing fields, half expecting to see crops being laid flat by the bow wave we must surely be creating, like those of a meg-yatch in the brochure as it’s carves through crystal blue waters in some Mediterranean paradise. With my confidence in the driving ability of this mobile palace now fully assured, we take take an incredibly scenic route in a suitably serene fashion, absorbing the memorising spell the Phantom casts.

You don’t drive the Phantom like any other car. It doesn’t adjust itself to cope with the driving style you choose to adopt depending on the mood that takes you as so many others do. The Phantom sets the tone. It creates an ambience that lets you know how it should be driven, in a fit and becoming manner. It’s power of persuasion is convincing. I find it totally beguiling.

Drive the Phantom with the respect it deserves, keeping the Silver Lady looking stately and regal, and it will reward you with a unique, luxuriously grand driving experience. Taking any other approach equates to letting the side down, akin to sticking two fingers up at the Queen, of being almost anti-British. And that won’t do for the most recognisable British motoring marque there is.

After an all too brief 45 minutes we approach those wonderfully majestic gates protecting the entrance to Pittormie Castle once more and ease to a halt awaiting permission to pass through. They gently sweep open and we once again begin to make progress up the stately driveway towards our resting point. As we whisk up through this beautiful setting in the world’s finest motor car, complete silence falls in the cabin as I fully focus on absorbing the final moments. This is a moment to saviour. Moments like these clarify why this is such a wonderful car. It takes you to a different world. Well actually, I need to re-phrase that slightly. You are fully aware of the world you are in but the Phantom removes you somewhat from it, as if viewing it from a distance We are all trying to get on with our lives but in doing so encounter everyone else trying to do the same. This inevitably creates a lot of irrelevant, irritating, distracting noise that just gets in the way. The Phantom cocoons you from this, the unimportant stuff – other people’s noise, the drivel, and lets you focus on what matters to you. The Phantom creates a little world for you in which to operate. A world in which the finest luxuries of travel are available, together with the latest technologies any high flying executive, celebrity or member of royalty could require. The Phantom was conceived with these people in mind. This then is all the more reason why enjoying it from the front seat comes as such a pleasant surprise. It’s the car renowned for cosseting it’s rear occupants more than any other. But in the Phantom, Rolls-Royce has created a car that can also be truly enjoyed from the front seat. That for me is why the Rolls-Royce Phantom is without doubt, the best car in the world.

Jeff Firmin