The Hon. Charles Rolls and Mr. Henry Royce were an unlikely pair to establish their iconic nameplate back in 1904, but great partnerships have often been based on less plausible collaborations.

Rolls was a youthful and wealthy aristocrat with marketing flair while Royce was a down-to-earth engineer with a head for business. Always attracted by speed, Rolls was inevitably drawn to the developing field of aeronautics – a risky business back in the early part of the 20th century. Sadly, this was to be his undoing and he died in his Wright biplane following structural failure at just 32 years old. Henry Royce forged ahead alone to lay the foundations of what became one of the world’s top luxury brands. Royce was later knighted, not for the cars, but for the legendary Merlin aero engine of WW2. Today, even rivals would agree that no carmaker has quite achieved the mystique of Rolls-Royce.

This mystique is about to be reinforced even more strongly with the announcement of a new series of Phantom flagship models. New models from Rolls-Royce don’t come along too often and once they do, they tend to have very lengthy production lives, which must please buyers who invest considerable sums in the cars and understandably don’t like them to quickly date.

The new Phantom VIII (a name that goes back to 1925) looks a lot like its predecessor at first glace, but it’s all-new from bumper to elegant bumper. It has wonderfully sweeping lines that can only be termed ‘regal’ as far as opulence goes. Interestingly, it’s a little shorter than the earlier Phantom VII, but still a huge car by any standards. If you want to stand out from the swarms of look-alikes out on the road, there’s no better way to do it than in a Phantom. To say it has presence is an understatement. Those who do want a lengthier Rolls can order an extended-wheelbase version if they wish.

The Phantom is built on an aluminum platform, an increasingly common practice among luxury carmakers. Aluminum is light and structurally efficient and it’s said that the material is easier to repair than steel. The big car is powered by a 6.75-litre V-12 twin-turbo engine based on a BMW design, which is no surprise since Rolls-Royce is part of BMW and has been for years. Rolls used to build its own engines, but with the complexity of current power units, it would be all but impossible for a company as small as Rolls-Royce to develop a powertrain separately.

As before, the Phantom comes in three versions: saloon, coupé and convertible. It’s unusual for a luxury manufacturer to offer these choices with its flagship model though Mercedes-Benz comes close with its S-Class range. Rolls-Royce continues its interesting practice of having rear doors hinge at the back on the saloon. With the two-door cars, the doors also hinge at the rear. It works very effectively and the car seems easier to get in and out of in any configuration.

Despite the size of the Phantoms, they are a lot nimbler and more responsive than a first glance suggests. Take one of these aristocratic motor cars out on a winding road and drive it hard and it feels much smaller than it really is. It falls short of being a sports car of course, but it’s no slouch when it comes to performance. As expected, the cars are silky smooth and near silent in operation, especially on motorways. Rolls-Royce goes to great lengths to refine its cars to the highest possible standard and this is one of the features buyers pay large sums of money for. The ride can only be described as ‘other worldly’ and the occupants feel completely separated from the hustle and bustle of the world outside.

Of course, the vehicle is trimmed and fitted out in a manner only Rolls-Royce seems to attain. The cars are more or less hand-built and the slightest flaw detected during assembly means a rigorous process of remediation. Superlative detailing and expensive leathers and fabrics add up to something very special. The company has taken this a step further with several limited edition upgraded cars announced and this includes all three variants.

Rolls-Royce has put many decades of experience and craftsmanship into its new Phantom and the fortunate few who will own one probably won’t be getting much change out of half a million euros, especially for the limited edition models. Given the technology and artisanship packed into every model and the fact that it’s probably more technically sophisticated than a small aircraft, this magnificent car is probably worth the money.

ENGINE: 6.75-litre twin-turbo V-12.

TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed automatic.

ACCELERATION: Zero to 100 km/h in 5.3-seconds.

TOP SPEED: 250 km/h.

I LIKED: The car’s impressive presence on the road. If ever a car had star quality, this is it. The Phantom handles far better than it ought to, given its huge bulk. Assembly quality and detailing is unsurpassed in the industry.

I DIDN’T LIKE: This is a very large car and for that reason, many Rolls-Royce buyers prefer the smaller Ghost. It’s not the kind of car you want to be driving around the streets in looking for a parking space. It needs a spot the size of a full size SUV and then some.

MARKET ALTERNATIVES: Bentley Mulsanne, Mercedes-Maybach S 650
WHO DRIVES ONE? People who want to make the ultimate statement possible with a saloon car. Buyers who want the most impressive way of expressing their status and success in life.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY: Available now. Estimated price €415.000 euros and up.

WORDS TONY WHITNEY   PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF ROLLS-ROYCE