King of the road? New Rolls-Royce Phantom marks the end of the era of opulence
When automakers are spending billions to produce and promote electric vehicles, it actually stuns a little when someone unveils something that’s unapologetically un-pluggable.
That phrase aptly describes the 2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II. The longest-running nameplate of the 116-year-old brand, Rolls-Royce’s flagship sedan boasts a 563-horsepower V12 engine, 12 mpg in the city, and a price tag that, for most buyers, will approach $700,000. (Gas guzzler tax included.)
Its opulent braggadocio will be booed in some social sets, and its infotainment systems fall a hair off the mark in general finesse, compared with those of industry leader Mercedes-Maybach, but Phantom II well maintains Rolls-Royce’s status at the pinnacle of luxury on four wheels. More than a car, it represents an entire lifestyle. You won’t just feel special when riding inside the Phantom’s vault-like confines; you’ll feel superior.
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Phantom II proffers few changes from its previous generation, apart from revised headlamps with 820 tiny bezel-cut stars surrounding them, new wheel options, and a slightly shifted grille. The focus here is on letting clients do pretty much whatever they want to make the car feel like their own. You can commission your own art or the art of a favorite artist for the dashboard; you can order the interior done completely in silk if you like. Now, that is very old-school cool. Uplighting on the Spirit of Ecstasy masthead ($4,950), elevated footrests ($6,325), refrigerated Champagne cooler ($3,500) and picnic tables in the rear covered in wood veneer of your choosing ($4,100) are some of the more conventional options.
The dark emerald-green Phantom I drove 290 miles from Los Angeles to Las Vegas last week weighs in at $651,450, which includes such things as a $14,525 “rear theatre configuration" and $1,650 “commissioned collection umbrellas in cashmere grey." (Actual weight: 5,643 pounds.) Its Gotham skyscraper grille advertises to all that it owns the road; 22-inch forged black disc wheels (a $13,000 option) recall the dark deco cars mobsters drove during Prohibition. Unapologetic, indeed.
“Is that your Rolls parked out front? That’s a real tank!" a neighbor texted before I left for Vegas, a destination with an apt landing pad: the Wynn Las Vegas hotel. (I’ll explain why.) Yes, its outsized proportions—18.9 feet from front to back, or about a foot longer than an F-150—preclude it from being stationed in anything so proletarian as a standard parking space. You’re going to want a U-shaped driveway and an oversized garage, preferably separate from the main house, for this. I’m thinking a converted stable sounds about right.
On the plus side, a 6-foot, 9-inch acquaintance in Vegas says he had all the headroom and legroom he needed, both behind the wheel and in the back seat. NBA pros, take note.
Vegas, in fact, proves a logical place to drive what a Rolls-Royce spokesperson says is the last internal-combustion-powered Phantom that Rolls-Royce will produce. (The person declined to comment on whether the next generation will come with an electric drivetrain, or even a hydrogen drivetrain, as Oliver Zipse, BMW Group chief told me on Oct. 18 could happen in Rolls-Royce’s future. But with the buzz surrounding the launch of the all-electric Rolls-Royce Spectre, and the company’s promise that by 2030 it will make only EVs, it’s an easy guess that Phantom will soon follow suit.)
Besides the fact that the essence of Las Vegas celebrates accumulating and exhibiting wealth, the city lies amid some of the best two-lane desert drives in the American West, with Death Valley, Valley of Fire, and the towering Hoover Dam all within striking distance. Wynn Resorts, whose properties include hotels in Macau, the world’s single-biggest owner, with 35 Phantoms, according to Rolls-Royce; Wynn attracts a clientele that can easily afford—and expect—such a palatially styled car. These are the kind of people who have two, three, or more Rolls-Royce vehicles in their fleet, with a brand-wide average age of 43. (That number is astonishing, considering that the average age of a luxury car buyer across the industry is the mid-50s. I haven’t hit 43 yet, but time is running nigh; I’d better figure out a new line of work to beat the average.) So far, every single order of the Phantom II has been heavily bespoke, a spokesperson tells me, with the value of the car increasing at least 20% or even doubling with the add-ons.
King of the Road
Phantom unfurls itself most regally on the road to Vegas. Driving on Interstate 15 past Barstow, Calif., it glides through the desert in serene silence, like a ghost ship. It keeps the noise down to 60 decibels inside the cabin, according to my phone-app, compared to 90 decibels or so in a regular sports car, thanks to Rolls-Royce’s legendary sound-deadening efforts in everything from the lining of the cabin walls to the inner spaces of its tires. Most of that hum comes from the road, not the engine. The only way to get it quieter would be to make it electric. (I guess we have only to wait.)
This gilded barrel of a car easily moves from 50 mph to 80 mph and higher, so much so that at some number above 80 mph that I will not share with you, I have to remind myself to slow down. Good thing, too: I watch a roadside highway patrol officer pull over a white SUV for speeding just after I’ve surged past it. Whew.
Some notes for those who are as nit-picky as me: I wish the ample rear pillar didn’t block my view of that SUV; I might have seen the cop sooner out of the corner of my eye. The pillar includes privacy blackout curtains on each side ($8,200) that would, at the touch of a button, close off each window in the rear cabin , along with the rear window. This would further impede driving visibility, but makes a great hideout for passengers .
I wish the steering wheel were better to grip: a little thicker and rounder to hold rather than flattened at the edges; it is made to evoke the thin, boat-like steering wheels of Phantoms past, but at this point it feels dated. I’ll also gripe about the many layers—I counted seven—of the interface I must click through to engage the messaging seats function. Those should be obvious one-click tabs. And I’d move that handsome analog clock in the dashboard, from its way-off-center spot that’s difficult for the driver to see, to the middle of the dashboard, underneath the infotainment screen.
Can you tell I’m reaching? In truth, the new Rolls-Royce Phantom II is sublime. From its sleek engine prowess to the elite comfort of the interior, I’m hard pressed to find fault within its confines. It lives up to its promise as the world’s best rolling cocoon of traditional, uncompromising excellence. As we move toward electric power, it’s also one of the last.