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THE BIG ONE

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Mon, Oct 23, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

THE BIG ONE

By JOHN GRAFMAN

I am standing in my garage with a thirty-foot Stanley tape measurer, determining if this space is going to be sufficiently long enough. As I might have guessed, there is no way a Rolls-Royce Phantom will reside happily inside this garage unless either (a) a few feet of additional structure is added, or (b) we lop a couple of feet off the car. I decided to go with option c.

The adage "with wealth comes obligation" is so true. How can one possess a grand piece of automotive transportation without having a suitable stable for it? Being somewhat familiar with the dimensions, I know ahead of time that housing this might be an issue. While SUVs of similar or greater proportion also have size issues, there's no hesitation about parking it out in the elements.

Fortunately, I procure a tandem garage with the help of a considerate neighbor. I guess it is difficult to overlook the actual grandiousness of the proportions - nineteen feet is nineteen feet, no matter how you slice or dice it. This, in fact, is the largest issue concerning the Rolls (no pun intended). However, if parking is number one on the problem list, life is pretty good (and, it is).

Never has being stuck in traffic feel so gratifying. Typically, the 405 mid-day crawl brings out the worst in drivers. Today, the story is more amusing than ever. My mood is elated, surrounded in such a pleasant cabin. As a car enthusiast, I often keep a keen eye out for other extra special cars on the highway. In Southern California, it doesn't take too long to spot a particularly cool car, which helps pass the time. On this occasion, the Phantom takes center stage. Onlookers peer upward hoping to catch a glimpse of perhaps Brad Pitt, or Donald Trump. I can feel their frustration in attempting to recognize me. The commoners sadly don't recognize one of their own.

Each and every street, regardless of how many times I've passed it before, takes on a new view. From a stately high-seated position inside the exquisitely crafted interior, one has a commanding vantage point. Gracefully motoring along Ventura Boulevard past Encino towards Sherman Oaks at a gentle pace, the isolation from the outside world is outstanding on all fronts. Block after block slips past us, and yet neither my guests nor myself note noises from the city or the roadway becoming an unwanted intruder. Every undulation of the less-than-immaculate pavement is thwarted by the engineering efforts in suspension dynamics.

Rolls-Royce does provide drivers (as well as passengers) unique privileges. The Phantom's salon-like arrangement in the aft seating is contoured to allow those in the rear to converse in a civilized manner, angled slightly toward one another should they chose to do so. In essence, this can be done to some extent in many vehicles, but not with the comfort built into the lounge-like seating of the Phantom. The sides of the rear seatbacks flow into the sides of the body in a manner that creates an environment suited to interaction between guests, be they heads of state, or romantic interests.

Similar to those seated up front, the all-metal vents are controlled with organ stop pulls. These are a touch of heritage that is not commonplace among the mass-market luxury manufacturers. I find that many of the driver-related controls are functional, but maybe not the most ergonomic in layout. A particularly good example is the seat controls. Seating can be adjusted in just about every conceivable manner, and I might go out on a limb to say that these are maybe the most comfortable of seats one can find. Yet, the ability to adjust the seats is a bother. The controls are located under the leading portion of the center armrest. As a result one must somewhat awkwardly lift the center lid, then operate the controls by first locating the portion of the seat needing adjusting, depressing the button controlling the desired portion, and then using a joystick to maneuver the portion into the desired direction. Achieving this without looking is possible once initiated and with some dexterity. Those who aren't can find this rather time consuming.

The controls for the seat heaters are also in an awkward position. This makes the controls less of a visual intrusion in design, but some very flexible wrist action to activate the controls is required. Additionally, the controls are not as easy to read as some other cars we've been in. The bias in the Phantom is really leaning toward design over function.

It takes me several days to adjust to an automobile with such a high priority on style. Actually, I might never truly appreciate the layout as well as owners might. To be able to afford a motorcar pushing 350k requires a very different mindset. That mindset is, while the world doesn't revolve around you, it will wait for you. At least it would be safe to say that the lucky few that do have the means to own one can take a slightly more leisurely time in getting to their destination. If the owner of a Rolls is a few minutes later than anticipated while operating the array of functions on this transport, those at the other end will no doubt wait. Ah, the benefits of wealth.

All the trapping of the good life exists within the confines of this car. The book-matched veneer wood panels throughout the interior are veneers split and folded over like a page in a book. The same grain mirrors the wood trim elements on the opposite side of the part, or on the car itself. Lambs wool floor mats that are deep enough to swallow your feet (a Rolls-Royce signature feature) seem almost too lavish to rest anything but the cleanest of unworn shoes, or freshly bathed feet. The leather is some of the finest to be had. Smooth and soft, this is without blemish flaw continues to be a hallmark of the brand. No aspect is left unattended. The headliner, while often overlooked in most cars, is cashmere - and wool and becomes a fashion statement unto itself.

Dramatic presence is amplified by the correct lighting. I am partial to the appropriately named Boulevard Lighting. The button on the overhead console illuminated sconces in the rear pillar and in the recess in the interior door handles, as well as nominally in the overhead art deco dome lights. The dim glow is enough to provide a much more social atmosphere in the evening hours while motoring in town. As to how this affects the driver? The Boulevard Lighting proves to be no detriment in operating after dark. I actually find this to be of benefit during late hour driving on the highway. Normally, oncoming lights in the evening require the human eye to work overtime in adjusting from one extreme to another. By minimizing the range by virtue of already having a slightly illuminated cabin means less eye fatigue. I argue in favor of all automobiles having a feature that mimics the Rolls. This may not have been planned, but the unintended results are very welcome.

Rolls-Royce is known the world over as the best of the best in quality and luxury. The features on the Phantom are in step with the requirements and desires of the most demanding clients. Included on this auto are the elegant picnic tables, or more in keeping with the times, laptop tables. Built-in umbrellas are waiting and ready in the rear doors panels, in the event of a downpour. Run-flat tires ensure that mobility will be preserved until the destination is safely reached. Front and rear cameras provide an additional assist in parking. Front side windows have imbedded electric defrosting to provide fog free glass without resorting to loud air pouring from side vents, which can also be at an uncomfortable temperature to the occupants. The laminated glass also prevents smash and grab techniques employed by thieves. Just as important, the thick laminated glass cancels outside noise, maintaining the whisper quiet interior.

The RR monogram is able to remain upright by virtue of the synchronized wheel center caps being mounted on bearings allowing the caps to rotate. As small a detail as this might be, this provides a proper look to the Phantom at all times. The Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament is also iconic and is a requisite element on any Rolls. To that extent, the engineers have provided for both manual and automatic retraction of the ornament to within the hood. In doing so, this prevents unwanted removal by those looking for a souvenir from the car.

Even at rest, socializing within the confines of this automobile is a joy. The marvelous Harmon Kardon audio system is superb. Through the 17 Lexicon speakers comes a very clean and defined sound, with the good separation that a large car such as this can provide. The audio plays well, be it classical or alternative rock. When the volume is turned up some systems falter, this isn't one of those. I'm finding the audio components are brilliant and matched to provide exceptional acoustical reproduction. I believe in pushing the system. As such, all of the sound deadening techniques employed in this car weren't just to keep outside noises out, but to keep the expansive sound within the confines of the interior.

One of the oddities on the audio system is that the satellite radio switch is not a separate switch as it is with the CD player. The FM switch is actually used to actuate the satellite radio, which doesn't seem to really give the recent technology the respect it's due.

This model is a massive vehicle in weight. At a lofty 5,577 pounds, this is as heavy as one-and-a-half normal cars. The appearance also gives additional visual cues that this is very solid, almost immoveable. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 6.75 naturally aspirated engine offers a robust but smooth-as-silk 453 horsepower along with a Herculean 531 pound-feet of torque. This abundance of power allows one to evade whomever, whenever the occasion is needed. Even at full throttle, the delivery of thrust is superior - and this doesn't simply live up to the reputation of Rolls-Royce, but this elevates it to a new height. Features well-sorted by parent company BMW further enhance control. Dynamic Brake Control, Dynamic Stability Control, Dynamic Traction Control, and Cornering Brake Control all work in harmony to maintain driver assistance through technology in the way a Harrier Jet can levitate miraculously thanks to onboard digital oversight.

Lane changing and turning might appear to be a task in a vehicle of this proportion, but the truth be told - this is child's play. The proportions are very deceiving, as the Phantom turns rather tightly. City streets are no problem in navigating, and the steering is neither strained nor requiring more rotations of the steering wheel than typically any other motor car. Far more than most exotics, this is owner-friendly in real world conditions and is easy to live with. The ability to bring the car to a stop is just as surprising.

Of course, as easy is this is to live with, using the Rolls sparingly allows even the most meaningless to become an outing. Just a simple drive down the coast to the Balboa Bay Club is elating, as it should be. Nearly all who spot the car on the road have to smile, and they more or less bask in the joy the driver feels - similar to the way sports fans get a rush when their team wins. Hey, why not share the love? Typically a vehicle of this type stands alone. On this day, it falls into line with a few other Phantoms resting with the valets at the BBC. It seems we aren't the only ones who thought this is an appropriate place to relax at.

Some of those that have special cars, fantastic in their own right (albeit of lesser distinction) - I find have the most trouble in appreciating the Phantom. But they simply don't measure up to the Rolls. Mind you, not all, but some.

Associating this pillar of society as the top in the automotive food chain is all well and fine. But just like in the animal kingdom, it pays to have a little humility and one eye looking over the shoulder. Spending several years down on the coast of Orange County, I know this only too well. As luck should have it, on arriving at a friend's house in a nice but not overly opulent neighborhood, a cordial driver in a fresh silver Mercedes SLR blocks the entrance. This brings you back down to earth quickly if you don't have proper grounding.

The Phantom may be massive in dimension and social standing, but it's up to those that drive it to keep the size from going to their heads. From my brief experience, this is a challenge well worth taking.

For more information go to www.rolls-roycemotorcars.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $ 328,750, as tested $ 346,650

Engine type: 6.75-litre, 60 degree V12, all-aluminum unit, four valves per cylinder (48) twin overhead camshafts per cylinder bank (four total), direct fuel injection, fully variable valve lift control, and variable valve timing

Horsepower: 453 bhp @ 5,350 rpm

Torque: 531 lb.-ft @ 3,500 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine / rear-wheel drive

Transmission type: ZF six-speed automatic transmission 'shift-by-wire'

Suspension: Front: double wishbone front suspension allied to self-leveling air springing Rear: multi-link rear suspension allied to self-leveling air springing

Wheels and tires: Front: Standard: 265 x 790 R540 A 111 W Michelin PAX run-flat tire system, Optional: Goodyear Rear: Standard: 265 x 790 R540 A 111 W Michelin PAX run-flat tire system, Optional: Goodyear

Brakes: Front: Ventilated discs 374 mm (14.7 ins) diameter, two-piston alloy calipers Rear: Vented discs 370 mm (14.5 ins) diameter, single-piston calipers

Four-channel anti-lock system, dynamic stability control, cornering brake control, electromechanical parking brake is fitted (automatically applied when the gearbox is moved to Park), emergency brake assistance

Overall length:5,834 mm (229.7 ins) Overall width:1,990 mm (78.3 ins) Overall height:1,632 mm (64.3 ins) Curb weight (kg.):2,530 (5,577 lbs.)

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 12/19

Top Speed, mph: 149 (130 for U.S. model, electronically governed)

0-60 mph: 5.7 seconds

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