Taking the best that exists and making it better. Inspired by the words of Sir Henry Royce, this is exactly what Rolls-Royce have done with the new Phantom Series II, and we were at their Goodwood headquarters to witness the launch.
This might be a development of the existing Phantom, but it’s no mere facelift; the Series II suffix indicates that this is a significant overhaul of the now nine-year old Phantom, intended to keep the car fresh for a good few years yet.
Just before the reveal of the Phantom Series II, we took time to reacquaint ourselves with the 2003 Phantom. Imposing rather than beautiful, somehow majestic yet threatening, the dramatic front end of the Phantom dominates over everything ahead. Updating the Phantom is a risky move and great care must be taken not to alienate the existing owners.
The silk covers slide off to reveal the Series II. That dramatic Pantheon grille remains, now flanked by very modern rectangular LED lights. And, at first glance, that’s it.
The changes are certainly subtle, barring those LED lights which are the first all-LED headlamps on any production car. The lights draw less power from the engine, while also producing a brighter, whiter light that provides a clear view ahead and helps to hold off tiredness on long dark journeys. The requirement for daytime running lights has been handled elegantly, with an LED bar running across the centre of the headlight unit. The light package is also adaptive, with the beam pattern adjusting according to speed, from a low and wide beam at low speeds to a long and intense beam at high-speed, with the lights also turning by up to 15 degrees to illuminate around corners.
Along the side, the Phantom and Phantom EWB gain a new RR plaque that incorporates the side repeat indicator, while the brightwork around the windows has been extended slightly to reduce the visible bulk of the C pillar. Further back, a new rear bumper with stainless steel highlights complements the revised front end.
As ever, a coachline can be added along the side of the Phantom, hand painted using brushes of ox and squirrel. Each line, and there can be up to four on one car, takes five hours to paint.
With its sheer presence, even sheer bulk, you would think this is no car for the shy and retiring type, yet the huge C pillars provide a protective shield for the important rear passengers to hide behind, where they’re treated to a revised interior. Environmentalists and vegetarians should probably look away at this point, as a small herd of Alpine bulls and a forest or two make an appearance, but they did not die in vain. The sumptuous new leather seats come with a distinctive three-flute design and now have an integrated side impact air bag. The seats, combined with the supple ride, are designed to ‘lower the pulse’, although blood pressure may be raised once you lose your wallet in the unbelievably deep and soft lambs wool rugs.
A new 8.8 inch screen adorns the centre of the wooden dashboard, with a revised sat-nav system incorporating 3D maps, landscape topography and satellite views. The chromed rotary controller hides its BMW iDrive origins well and a row of eight chrome ‘bookmarks’ allow instant access to various options. There’s also cameras front and rear for maneuvering and a top-view for ultimate precision.
One thing remains untouched and that’s the power reserve meter. Not for Rolls-Royce customers is the ordinary rev counter, as uncouth as it is. In its place is a meter that simply demonstrates how much potential the Phantom has, raising a smile in every driver.
More changes have taken place under the skin. The existing 6.75-litre direct injection V12 engine remains, but it’s now mated to an eight speed automatic gearbox. This improves fuel economy by 10%, with the Phantom now able to return 19.1mpg on the combined cycle, while also reducing CO2 emissions to 347g/km. It’s not going to win any eco awards, but the flip side is impressive performance, despite the car weighing in at more than 2.5 tonnes; 0-62mph comes up in just 5.7 seconds thanks to the 531lb/ft of torque available, while the 453bhp will power the car to an electronically limited to speed of 149mph (or 155mph if you go for the Coupe.)
For those that choose to sit up front, an optional dynamic package is available that offers stiffer suspension, visible exhausts, a thicker steering wheel and tuned gearbox and brake performance.
All of these changes are, individually, quite small, but they add up to a significant enough update that the car warrants the Series II suffix. Rolls-Royce have, rightly, been very careful with the changes they’ve made; their customers know better than anyone else what they want from a Rolls-Royce, so the team from Goodwood asked them directly. That’s something you can do with sales of 3,000 or so a year and the answers given have directly led to the Series II. There’s only been change where it would improve the vehicle, there’s nothing changed simply for the sake of change. Everything has a reason, everything has a place, although in a car that’s six metres long, finding a place isn’t tricky.
Bigger than my first flat and with a better stereo, the Phantom is not just king of the road, but king of the King’s Road. It’s the ultimate expression of motoring luxury. The Series II takes the best that existed, and makes it better.
Just as Henry Royce would have wanted.