Wafting down a poplar-lined French motorway at 100 mph, the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe's unique Power Reserve meter informs you that fully 90 percent of the 6.7-liter V12's 453 horsepower is still available, should you need it to whisk past a dawdler.
There's virtually no audible engine noise. The crisp, speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering is perfectly on-center. The seat is comfortably deep and plush, yet supportive. And an XXL-sized 26.4-gallon fuel tank means a cruising range of 400 miles.
The fact that it takes about $125 these days to fill that big tank Stateside is likely of little concern. (It costs 150 euros — over $300 — in France!) After all, you've already spent $400,000 to be seated behind this immense, leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom is the most personal sporting coupe one can own. You choose your coupe's exterior color from among 44,000 possible selections. You specify an interior trim from one of six luscious veneers like Rosewood, Elm Cluster or Mahogany Flare (Piano Black is soooooo boring, darling). You select interior upholstery from eight sumptuous leather options. ("We only use bull hides," Andrew Monahan, the leather shop foreman declares. "Their leather is not stretched.") You even choose between a conventional painted hood or one in gleaming stainless steel.
And that's just the start.
Have It Your Way
Ordering a bespoke automobile as you would a custom-tailored Saville Row suit remains a way of life with Rolls-Royce, as it has for decades. You still can personally select many key, handmade elements of your 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe. If you want to specify a special color, type of leather or rare wood, Rolls-Royce is happy to comply. Rolls-Royce doesn't make many motorcars, so the ones it does make are created slowly and most often to an individual order. The assembly line moves just seven times each day.
Rolls-Royce set a sales record last year with 1,010 units sold (557 Phantoms, 200 extended-wheelbase limousines and 253 dropheads). That's about one-tenth of Bentley's current volume, so if you're looking for serious exclusivity, then you want a Phantom saloon (in either regular or extended wheelbase), a Phantom Drophead (Britspeak for convertible) or especially the new Phantom Coupe.
Rolls-Royce has a long history of desirable grand touring automobiles that harks back to the Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental in the early 1930s. Usually built on a shorter wheelbase, these sporty coupes, cabriolets and close-coupled sedans were fitted with a tall axle ratio for high speeds and generally carried lighter coachwork (in aluminum or fabric) to encourage fast touring. Today, the born-again Rolls-Royce works ensconced in spacious, environmentally friendly (400,000 trees have been planted nearby) digs in Goodwood, England, and is meticulously assembling its huge cars by hand, while an assembly line is being readied for a new, smaller Rolls in 2010.
Meanwhile, the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe — derived from the 101EX concept car unveiled at the 2006 Geneva Auto Show — is just entering production, and it's quite different from the bigger Phantoms that have been built since BMW bought Rolls-Royce in 1998.
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Based on the Phantom sedan, the Coupe shares the same all-aluminum space frame that's built in boxed sections and painstakingly hand-welded to 0.0004-inch tolerances. The Coupe's wheelbase is 9.8 inches shorter than the sedan, and the suspension has anti-dive and anti-lift geometry. The springs and rear dampers are stiffer, and a thicker rear antiroll bar tunes out some of the understeer.
Meanwhile there's more boost for the speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack-and-pinion, and the sensation is heightened by a thick-rim sport steering wheel. The brakes are massive (with 14.7-inch rotors and twin-piston calipers in front, plus 14.6-inch rotors in the rear with single-piston calipers), and they haul this big baby down smartly and repeatedly without fading. Goodyear run-flat tires on 21-inch cast-aluminum wheels (there are two forged wheel options) eliminate the weight of a spare, yet this short-wheelbase coupe still weighs 5,798 pounds, the same as a Phantom sedan and even 22 pounds more than the convertible.
The 48-valve, 6.7-liter V12 — set well back in the chassis for a desirable 49 percent front/51 percent rear weight distribution — delivers 453 hp at 5,350 rpm and 531 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm and gets this heavyweight car to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. This engine also develops some 75 percent of its power at just 1,000 rpm, accounting for the turbinelike smoothness that's long been associated with Rolls-Royce cars. Depress a discreet sport button on the steering wheel and the transmission holds gears longer and quickens kickdown, while throttle response is more aggressive, too.
A Matter of Style
Chief designer Ian Cameron has done a fine job of differentiating and updating this handsome hardtop. Up front, the contemporary Rolls-Royce grille seems even more massive, perhaps because the Coupe's rectangular LED parking lights have been reduced in size and the circular headlamps have been enlarged to recall the proportions of old. The heavy A-pillars, high waistline and bluff corners would appear even more gigantic were it not for a sculpted reveal that arcs gently from front to rear, accented by the extended front door handle and kissed with an elegant swirl behind the front wheel opening that's reminiscent of a 1930s fender line.
The Coupe's enormous rear-hinged "suicide" doors produce a graceful, uninterrupted line at the A-pillar, aiding torsional rigidity and also adding immeasurably to this car's mystique. It does take a bit of practice to slither smoothly inside and maneuver around that big steering wheel. You discover the drill is to first sit gracefully, then swivel your legs around together through about 45 degrees in a fluid, regal arc.
More importantly, the wide, forward-facing coach doors facilitate an elegant egress, especially for a lady in a long dress. The doors can be closed via a pushbutton that's discreetly hidden in the front quarter light. The rear seat is fine for a short trip to the opera, but you wouldn't want to be there for hours.
The Phantom Coupe is surprisingly sporty for its size. Passing maneuvers on the old, tree-lined two-lane thoroughfares of Bonaparte's France are a snap. The Coupe scuttles around the vehicle in front of you and is back in line before you can mutter, "God save the Queen." The brakes are like the proverbial giant hand.
Asked for more speed, the V12 revs quickly, and a hint of a powerful trill breaks its usual impassive silence. Hammer this car into a tight turn, and yes, you'll get some tire squeal and body roll, but the Coupe will grip the tarmac and carry on.
That said, it's not designed for tight twisties. A typical Coupe buyer owns a Ferrari or another exotic in his fleet for that purpose. Long sweepers, arrow-straight byways or the Alps? Bring 'em on. This car puts the "Grand" in Grand Touring. It's all about the journey, and when that's completed, it announces regally: "You have arrived."
If You Have To Ask...
Although the price of the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe has not yet been announced, it's thought to be in the vicinity of $400,000. That's a staggering sum for most people, but wealthy Rolls-Royce owners possess multiples of everything: stately homes, private clubs and cars of all types, so they are accustomed to what they perceive as being the best.
And when you buy this car, the whole process is all about selecting the best. You're getting hand-matched wood veneers, matched leather hides and cashmere blends selected by acknowledged experts. "Our leather actually breathes," coos Andrew Monahan in his leather shop. "It has particular warmth to it."
If you want to personalize your car with embroidery or marquetry, Rolls-Royce will do it cheerfully. No color choice is beyond consideration. "We make each car the way the customer wants," says Tom Purves, now CEO after years as BMW's chief executive in North America. Each car is polished for five hours and driven on the road for an hour before being cocooned for delivery.
Judging from stares and waves of passersby, there's nothing subtle about the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe. That's what you're paying for.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.