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Maybach may claim superiority in terms of high-tech gizmos, but the Phantom is a better car in terms of road presence, heritage and significance.
Decadent passenger accommodations, unmistakable styling, drives well for its size, ease of customization.
Might attract more attention than you want, lacks some high-tech features, some confusing secondary controls.
Available Phantom Sedan Models
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For 2006, the Rolls-Royce Phantom has Bluetooth connectivity and front and rear video cameras that display their views through the main LCD screen to aid in parking. Rolls-Royce has also confirmed that it will bring its long-wheelbase version of the Phantom to the North American market later this year.
At its release in 2004, the Phantom was Rolls-Royce's first all-new car in nearly 40 years. Its creation came about after BMW took ownership of the Rolls-Royce brand through a series of complicated negotiations in the late '90s. Since then, Rolls-Royce has sold more than 2,000 Phantoms, making it the most successful ultraluxury sedan currently on sale. When one first sees the Phantom in real life, and not in a magazine or as a grainy Web image, the likely first impression is, "Wow, that thing is big." At over 19 feet long, the Phantom handily beats a BMW 760Li by more than 2 feet in total length, and it can completely swallow a Mini between its front and rear axles. Moving down the road, the Phantom definitely leaves a wake of gawking motorists. But according to Rolls-Royce, the car's size isn't just for mere sensationalism: The requirements for a prominent seating position and substantial interior space were the driving factors behind the car's exterior dimensions.
Producing a vehicle of such size that doesn't flex and bend over every road imperfection calls for a unique structure. In the Phantom's case, that structure is an aluminum space frame that is both lighter and stiffer than conventional steel. It gives the Phantom a bending resistance two-and-a-half times greater than that of the old Silver Seraph, superior to BMW's own 7 Series. Utilizing an air suspension along with the ultrastiff aluminum frame, the engineers kept suspension settings soft and tuned out propensities for harsh impacts over larger bumps.
"The quality remains long after the price is forgotten," said Rolls-Royce's co-founder, Sir Henry Royce. With the Phantom's starting price of more than $300,000, we would certainly hope so. Choosing a "winner" in the ultraluxury sedan segment, which has expanded considerably the past few years, is no easy task. Personal taste plays a much bigger role than, say, the cupholder count in a minivan. But our staff generally agrees that if any of us happened upon a large chunk of disposable wealth, the Phantom would get the nod over the Maybachs and the new Bentley Continental Flying Spur. All of these cars provide a rarefied driving experience and bespoke customization. But only the Phantom boasts a genuine road presence and a powerful and recognizable heritage led by its hood-mounted Spirit of Ecstasy.
The Phantom is a large, five-seat ultraluxury sedan. Most of today's top luxury features come standard, including HID headlights, 20-inch wheels, parking sensors, automatically closing rear doors and trunk, four-zone automatic climate control, full power accessories, an integrated communication system and a DVD-based navigation system. A surround-sound audio system, designed by Lexicon, features a single CD head unit with an instrument panel-mounted changer. Major options include 21-inch wheels, a two-person rear seat with a center console, a rear DVD-based entertainment system and a sunroof. More significant, though, are the customizable options available to buyers, which cover everything from special exterior paint colors to multiple types of wood trim. Rolls-Royce will also accommodate buyers with completely bespoke feature requests.
The Phantom is powered by a 6.7-liter V12 with 453 horsepower. The key to this Roller's 5.7-second 0-to-60 time is the engine's 531 pound-feet of torque, 75 percent of which (413 lb-ft) is available at just 1,000 rpm, and its six-speed automatic transmission. The BMW-derived engine is thoroughly modern and boasts all-aluminum construction, direct injection, dual-overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing.
The Phantom comes equipped with run-flat tires, a tire-pressure monitoring system, antilock brakes, traction control and stability control. Side airbags for front occupants and full-length side curtain airbags are also standard.
Naturally, premium leather upholstery and wood trim are the key materials found inside the Phantom. The instrument panel, with its iconic "organ stop" controls and classic look, should be familiar to long-standing Rolls-Royce owners. More complex operations are handled by a control interface very similar to BMW's iDrive system. And, as one would expect given its considerable size, the Phantom offers spacious accommodations front and rear. Although designed to be an easy driver, the Phantom does have rear seats that lend themselves well to chauffeured travel. The seating position is elevated for greater forward view, and one also gains a pleasing state of concealment because of the prominent C-pillars. The rear coach doors ("suicide" doors in common parlance) allow easy access and can be closed automatically. Furthest back, the trunk can hold a respectable 16 cubic feet of cargo.
The large but spindly three-spoke steering wheel feels light in your hands and the big sedan changes direction with ease, at least when traveling at a relaxed pace. Start kicking things up a bit and it rapidly becomes apparent that the Phantom is no sport sedan. That's not a knock on the big Rolls, just a heads-up for those who think anything BMW touches (like the Mini or Range Rover) becomes an instant canyon carver. Power from the V12 is prodigious. Pushing the pedal to the floor can be a bit surreal, as you never feel the transmission changing gears and the engine makes little noise. There is some wind noise around the A-pillars at highway speeds (payback for the Rolls' tall roofline), but it is minimal and likely only evident because there is no engine or road noise.
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