Opportunities to drive a Rolls-Royce don't come along very often. I last drove one back in 2006, so I jumped at the chance to get behind the wheel of a new Phantom. Driving a Rolls-Royce is still a special occasion, one that merits snapping a few personal photos of family and friends with the car, in addition to ones needed for the web site. Compared with my 2006 pictures, my 2014 pics show a much greater difference in my kid than in the car, but the Phantom has undergone some changes, too.
Most of these changes arrived with the Series II version, in 2012. The 6.75-liter V-12 is now paired with an eight-speed automatic, which Rolls says helps improve gas mileage by 10 percent (although 11/19 mpg city/highway still isn't great). The center display screen is larger and is operated by an iDrive-style controller. Both the screen and the controller, like so many elements in the bento-box interior, are hidden behind dampened, wood-veneered covers. The 2012 improvements also included full-LED active headlamps and a much-needed series of cameras to aid maneuvering.
More impressive, though, are the elements that haven't changed. A car with an asking price north of $400,000 should feel different from ordinary cars, and the Phantom certainly does. It feels different from the tall driver's seat, where you're facing a large, thin-rimmed wheel and looking out over a long, creased hood. It feels different in the even higher, wraparound rear seat, with sheepskin rugs under your feet, picnic tables that unfold from the seatbacks, and retractable display screens (and their own rotary controller). My Phantom test car even had power-operated curtains for the rear windows.
The engine, nearly silent at idle, is felt—though still not heard—as you press deeper into the long-travel throttle. As the Phantom quickly gathers speed, the power reserve gauge needle swings to the left, indicating in percentage form the remaining revs. It's sort of an anti-tachometer, and like many things in the Rolls-Royce, it follows its own unique logic. So, too, do characteristic elements such as the push-pull organ-stop air vents, the retractable Flying Lady hood ornament, and the self-righting "RR" wheel centers.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's quote about the very rich, "They are different from you and me," is also true about this car of the very rich. The Rolls-Royce Phantom might not be very different from what it has been for the past decade, but it is still very different from ordinary cars, which seems more important.
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