It is with measured precision and careful consideration that you call an automobile the very best car in the world. It becomes more special when you know that a new one comes along once every 15 or 16 years. The Rolls-Royce Phantom is that car, and it now has a brand new generation - the eight to be specific. The Phantom is a car that goes all the way back to 1925 when the name first came to life as a replacement for the Silver Ghost model line. Since then we have seen some stunning examples of the Phantom, including absolute gems like the Rajkot royal family's 1934 Phantom II dubbed the 'Star of India.' Rolls-Royce went through a change of ownership when it became a part of the BMW Group at the turn of the century, and the first new Phantom released in 2003 was watched closely to see if it upheld the legacy this name carries. It did that and then some - and established itself very quickly as a benchmark for the ultimate sophistication, ride quality and luxury. That it also sported a V12 engine - as all Rolls-Royces seemingly do - only added to its allure and credentials. The car got an extended wheelbase version in 2005, the Drophead Coupé (or convertible) in 2007, and the hardtop Coupé followed that a year later. The entire range received a major facelift in 2012 when we got the Series II Phantom.
And now a whole 5 years after that comes the new Phantom VIII. The new car has a lot to live up to, and yet has to be more of the same - simply the best. So is it? Read on to find out. The new generation Phantom is actually 77 mm shorter than the previous car, and yet looking at it you'd think it's just as big. The car is taller by 8mm and wider by 29 mm though. But most crucial is that this is the first product on Rolls-Royce's new 'Architecture of Luxury' - or aluminium spaceframe platform. This will spawn all future Rollers - and yes I am talking about that upcoming SUV (Project Cullinan) too here. But it is flexible enough to also allow for the next Ghost family, and possibly even a smaller car to use the same architecture.
Styling has taken a more evolutionary turn on the new Phantom and you will be forgiven for thinking it's a facelift at first glance. But look a second time and you see almost immediately that the imposing face is actually very different - while maintaining the same facade. The big standout feature - the pantheon grille is still as upright and large. But it is now blended into the rest of the face and does not stand out like a separate freestanding fitment. The top of the grille is flush with the hood and yet it is distinct enough for you not to confuse it with the Ghost or Wraith's. The LED headlamps are larger with a seamless daytime running light signature, and there is a distinct crease in the metal below the lights. There is a beautiful new feature - chrome surrounds on the windscreen that travel down all the way along the hood on both sides. It looks particularly striking on a two tone coloured car. It's a unique design feature and I was told by Giles Taylor, the head of design at Rolls-Royce that it is inspired by the reins on a horse. It really takes up the grandness of the whole design. The characteristic coach doors enhance the old world charm, and now they have a new feature. On the last car you had a button on the inside to automatically swing the heavy rear door shut - especially helpful on the longer wheelbase car with a massive door. Now you also have that on the front doors, and the door handles outside too have a button that lets you automatically shut all four doors. The rear is elegant and is finished in simple yet detailed LED taillights and a chrome-tipped dual exhaust.
The test drive of this new car has brought me to picturesquely perfect Vitznau in Switzerland on the shores of Lake Lucerne. Rolls-Royce says I didn't just come here for the gorgeous vistas. It is the Swiss tradition of fine craftsmanship, attention to detail, and sense of privacy; as also the fact that many of its customers vacation here that we are meant to experience. It is my 6th Rolls-Royce road test, and that tells you how clever Rolls-Royce has been about expanding and updating its niche portfolio, despite remaining a company that makes few models and remains exclusive. My test car was finished in two paint finishes - Tuscan Sun and English White. The fleet of new Phantoms - the first anywhere in the world outside the Goodwood plant in England - were each finished in a different paint and interior trim. Of course for a car that starts at just under half a million dollars I don't have to remind you the level of customisation you can go for.
The cabin in my car is finished in tan, arctic white and black, along with Paldao veneer. The white RR monograms in the headrests, elevating footrests, massage function on all four seats, rear privacy glass, veneered rear picnic tables and steering spokes - all make you feel rather special. The signature starlight headliner in the car is also something that is uniquely Rolls-Royce and now uses over 1500 LEDs. New to the VIII, software allows the LEDs to be controlled individually so you can have different section light up. So if you switch on your reading light on the right rear seat only the starlight headliner section above you will come on to enhance the light you get. Neat! Rolls-Royce says in the future you would also be able to customise patterns in the headliner - like the constellation you were born under perhaps? I can totally see Chinese customers and maybe even Indian ones liking that idea!
The new car gets what RR calls a 'gallery' - a glass encased space that stretches across the dash from the steering to the passenger side door. This space can be used to display everything from art work to your personal colour or finish preference, family crest or anything else. The possibilities are endless and my car has an arctic white design theme within the gallery. The bespoke CC clock is also enclosed within the gallery if you so wish. The whole idea is for the car to be sculpted in your image, and not for your image - as the company says. I was not so taken with the idea when I first heard about it to be honest. But seeing the many examples on display at the event hotel - and the limitless possibilities of the materials, finishes and designs you can choose - has won me over! I was sceptical about the safety aspect of having a glass enclosed panel on the dash, but have been assured that it meets all crash and safety related requirements and is not intrusive in any way.
The plush carpeting, champagne cooler, luxurious reclining seats, large touch screens and every creature comfort I could imagine are all tempting me to stay in the back seat. But after the first 20 minutes of being chauffeured I am now greedily jumping into the front seat. After all I do want to check out the new updated 6.75 litre V12 beast under the hood. It makes 563 horses and a massive 900 Nm of torque. It does 0-100 kmph in 5.3 seconds and has a governed top speed of 250 kmph. The transmission is still an 8-Speed ZF gearbox that has also been tuned to offer maximum performance in the 2500 rpm and under band. The reason? Rolls-Royce says data from the last Phantom customers shows they use the car mostly in that range. So the VIII now offers 50 per cent more power in that band as compared to the previous car. The suspension is sublime and the active dampers help keep the 'magic-carpet ride' intact.
Active anti-roll bars with electric motors contend with lean when you are taking a tight corner. Given the size and weight of this car, the electric motors do make the difference. The car takes tight hairpins and sharp corners with ease. Yes despite its size - and even more ably than the Phantom VII did. The rather large steering on the Phantom is a bit too light for my liking, but it is extremely precise. A feature I marvelled at when I drove the Series II Phantom VII in 2012 is there still on this one. So the gearbox still uses GPS to foresee where you are driving - and hence stays in the optimal gear to provide smooth driving no matter the twists, turns or undulations on the road ahead. The car's brakes are superb and in case you are wondering - there is no 'sport mode' or even paddle shifting on this one. The idea is not to focus on the dynamic - even though this car can go if needed - but rather emphasize the stately and elegant refinement buyers would desire. So the car moves from a standstill ever so quietly with no jerks whatsoever - and believe me I tried! It also comes to a halt similarly.
And the cabin is oh so quiet, it's almost eerie! Even the engine is seldom heard unless you really try and floor it. The new Phantom uses over 100 kgs of sound damping material - and even the tyres have a special foam layer on the inside wall to reduce road noise. A nice side story from the engineering team here about the tyres and how they got them just right. It seems when the first set came in from supplier Continental, the team felt those tyres weren't spot on. So the supplier volunteered to send in some more iterations. They made 180 new sets! And all 180 different sets of tyres came in for testing on the car during its development. They went through each of those sets and then finally settled on the one I have on the production car with me. It is a great story, but it also gives you a sense of meticulous level of details they got into to develop a car like this. It is amazing to think that the car is now 75 per cent quieter than its predecessor - an already silent car to begin with! So between this and the magic-carpet suspension, you really feel like you are floating on a cloud! The view of the ample hood and the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament guiding you as you drive is an added kick. Like before, it can be retracted or raised - and is available in multiple finishes. So from chrome to sterling silver, even solid gold and in-lit crystal - buyers can choose from many variations of the enigmatic figurine.
I could write many volumes about what else the car boasts of and some of the many technology and bespoke features it carries. You can customise all that to a large extent as a buyer too, and in fact can go as high as double the price of the stock car in customisations and additions! But at the heart of it the Phantom is truly an exceptional car - because there is none other like it. It does not have rivals in the car world - rather yachts and villas perhaps are its buyer's other distractions. The new Phantom really needed to deliver not just on the performance, luxury and snob appeal, but also carry the legacy of this rare and gilded nameplate. The new car does that with panache, an effortless élan and loads of style. I did switch from the driver's seat to the rear every now and then, and I can happily affirm the claim on this being something unique and rare in the automobile world. Now my only problem is - how am I ever coming down from cloud nine and getting back into - gasp - an 'ordinary' car ever again?