Rolls-Royce Phantom Menance

Story by Benjamin Greene

Originally published by Dupont Registry:

You were not raked through the coals when the stock market took a plunge, your conservative investing has left you with enough money to splurge, and you are now ready to buy yourself an ultra-luxurious item to reward yourself for the hard work. Since you want to sit in the lap of luxury, you go with the one brand that has it in droves: Rolls-Royce.

Looking at the Rolls-Royce line up, one would come to believe that choosing between the Phantom sedan, Phantom Coupé, and Phantom Drophead Coupé was as easy as deciding what body configuration suits your needs best. In actuality, each car offers the driver and its passengers a different experience. Cut from the same mold yet strangely different were our initial impressions during our back-to-back drives of the three cars.

Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe

Introduced in the summer of 2008, the Phantom Coupé is the third iteration in the Phantom class. Its sleek, rakish body is nearly reminiscent of the Rolls-Royce cars of the 1940s and '50s. The coach doors, or suicide doors as they are more commonly known, are now a Phantom-family trademark and open wide to allow easy ingress and egress for any rear seat passengers; however, they seem to make a it a little bit more awkward for those in the front seats, especially for those taller persons that are not used to entering a car at an angle coming from the nose of the car. (As a 6-foot-plus, 250-pound man, I could not stop myself from repeatedly knocking my noggin on the roof’s edge.)

If you were blinded folded and seated in anyone of the three cars, you would be hard pressed to be able to quickly decipher which model you are in. All three cars are adorned in supple leather no matter where your hand may come to rest. To keep things simple, the switch gear is sparse, and although different in look, is identical in feel and actuation to the controls normally found in a BMW. The small touches can make or break a car once you become an owner, and one small touch in the Phantom Coupé that will always bring a smile to the owner’s face is the Starlight headliner, which utilizes 1,600 fiber-optic bulbs in the leather headlining to create the illusion of looking up at a star-filled night sky.

Hold a button to have the door automatically close, throw in the key fob (which again leaves one with BMW memories), and press the starter button to ignite the 6 3/4-liter V-12. This engine does triple duty in all three Phantoms forms, is powerful yet never once overly intruded inside the isolated cabins of all three cars.

Once on the road, the performance-oriented nature of the Phantom Coupé over the other two cars becomes quickly apparent. Unlike the Drophead Coupé and the Sedan, the Phantom Coupé comes with a “Sport” button that not only makes the transmission start in first instead of the standard second gear but also lowers the car a tad to increase handling prowess. Despite being 100 pounds heavier than the Phantom sedan and only 0.1 of a second quicker to sixty miles per hour, the Coupé feels faster, effortlessly accelerating at any speed well into illegal levels. Of the three Phantom configurations, this car is the only one that really beckons to be driven and not chauffeured.

Rolls-Royce Phantom sedan

On the other hand, the Phantom sedan begs its owner to sit back and enjoy the ride. The back seat is enormous and with 12-inch monitors on the back of each front seat, optional side-window curtains, and an optional cooler to stow your favorite white wine, the four-door Phantom is cozy enough to make one want to skip the first-class flight and be driven long distance instead. Where the Phantom Coupé comes with a “sport” button, the sedan and Drophead Coupé make do with only a low button, which insists the car start in first gear. Unfortunately, the Phantom sedan and Drophead Coupé paled in comparison to the actual feeling of going fast against the Phantom Coupé. 

Phantom Drophead Coupe

The Drophead Coupé feels more like the fun-loving black sheep of the family. The chief designer Ian Cameron said his inspiration for the car was the J-class racing yachts of the 1930s. Teak wood trim that spans from the rear deck, which hides the fabric-convertible top, to the inner panel of each passengers' door combines with the brushed-steel bonnet that encircles the passenger cabin to give the car a yacht-cabin-like look; sisal woven floor mats only add to the fun, care-free spirit of the car. If the Phantom is for the guy in the three-piece suit, the Drophead is for his pleasure-seeking brother in the Hawai'ian shirt. Acceleration and suspension tuning is the one area where the Phantom and the Drophead Coupé are nearly identical. Both cars offer intuitive steering but never take away the feeling that you are driving a 5,000-pound, 220-plus-inch tank on wheels; of all three, the Coupé hides its size the best.

So which Rolls-Royce is right for you? It all depends on which is more your flavor. If you want to sit in the lap of luxury but drive yourself, the Phantom Coupé is the clear winner with its sportier nature. If you are more at home being chauffeured or would much rather have a car that all three of your friends will feel at home in, the Phantom sedan is the hands down winner. If you live in a climate that almost necessitates beach trips nearly every weekend, the fun-in-the-sun Drophead Coupé is the perfect choice to give you the feeling of light-hearted bliss.