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SERIOUSLY FUN

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 Sat, Aug 11, 2007

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

SERIOUSLY FUN

By JOHN GRAFMAN

For eons, the name Rolls-Royce has been legendary. While handcrafted and limited quantities have value, quality is an issue that is expected to extend beyond first blushes and press releases distributed by the marketing department. It's quality that matters when other concerns have long ago been forgotten.

In recent years, Rolls-Royce has made remarkable strides to create not only a desirable car today, but also one that will be so in the decades that follow. The new Phantom Drophead Coupe', a derivative of the 100 EX show car, is the third production car from the company since BMW's involvement.

While most mass-market vehicles are generally accepted for being sound transportation, limited production motorcars are not always in the same league. Oftentimes, these cars are getting by more on charm or a few technical achievements than on the overall quality of the product.

A car can take you from point A to B, but it's how you get there that matters. Insensitive questions regarding the value of the product, be it the Phantom Drophead Coupe' or any number of other products geared for the ultra affluent, can't be measured in the normal sense.

First off, if you can't afford the price, then certainly this doesn't make horse sense. Only those with suitable bank accounts or generous expense accounts can truly answer the question of value fairly. This editor can only imagine exactly what the clients see from their vantage, as (unfortunately) my checking account seems to have the decimal point falling completely in the wrong place.

As the number of Dropheads to be produced each year will be counted in just triple digits, the cost of tooling is shared by a number that is completely disproportionate to the automotive industry-at-large. This borders on being a concept car for a fortunate few. But when it comes down to quality, the Drophead is as solid as a rock. Not many concepts can make that claim.

Most cars say something about the owner and those within the confines of the vehicle. Even the Drophead's sibling Phantom can't deliver with the same fanfare. With the top stowed and the occupants exposed to the heavens can upon reaching their destination gleefully cheer, "Here I am" to those curbside. But more significantly, by the identifying grill, all in attendance know already that those sitting within those two doors have arrived in more ways than one. The convertible allows one to commune with nature and everyone else in a more approachable fashion than the sedan affords.

The striking design is a combination of styling elements carried over from the Phantom and a flavor taken from nautical influences. The brushed steel grill, bonnet and A-pillars along with the use of teak wood and chrome all provide a unique nautical flair to the convertible. While the look is a slight departure from the sedan, one can't mistake this for anything else. Even road construction workers along our route literally stopped traffic to just take a photo of our car with his cell phone camera. Perhaps the Flying Lady up front tips off those who might otherwise confuse this. Whatever it is, this is a standout in stature and elegance.

Unlike the company's products only a few generations back, this drives without any excuses or compromises on any account. In spite of the size (just under 10 inches shy of the oversized Phantom sedan), this car handles well beyond my expectations. In fact, the smooth riding character and complete lack of noise or flex associated with a convertible leads me to believe I'm making headway at a much slower and relaxed pace. The torsional rigidity can be largely credited to the advanced aluminum spaceframe.

It isn't until tires begin to produce audible signals that I glimpse at the speedometer and discover that I'm going well past the suggest speed for the winding hilly drive. I'm sailing along at a speed that is more credible in a sports car than in this.

The Drophead Coupe' gives up very little to other modes of transport. While sporty performance isn't the outright main purpose of the Drophead, it nevertheless provides agility and other sporting qualities without boasting. Rolls-Royce believes that higher levels of quality and ability should be accommodated in a vehicle such as this without having to point it out in a blatant manner. That crass behavior isn't in keeping with the brand.

I, on the other hand, have no trouble in praising the virtues of this amazing motor. Anything that can move something this large from a standstill to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds captures my interest. Equally as impressive is the Drophead's top speed of 149 mph, which is governed so as to not exceed that.

At a stop, this car is as silent as a lamb. When pushed, the vehicle is a little audible, but never in a way that would be confused with a BMW. This is about silent luxury. There is abundant power at any point. Inclines are of little consequence for the 12 cylinder engine. A number of changes have evidently been made to give it a different behavior from its cousin in the 7-series. The ultra smooth 6.7-liter, 48 valve motor puts out 453 horsepower and torque of 531 pound-feet at 3,500 rpm. On the instrument panel, there is a dial that indicates available power. More often than not, there is always more on tap.

As imagined, this ekes out a measly 13.5 miles per gallon. I thinking in normal day-to-day operation, this can maybe get 15 mpg, but I won't stake my reputation on it either.

Rolls-Royce Motorcars is now reaching a turning point where it now returns a profit to the parent company. The initial investment in the brand is now coming full circle. In order for any company to be successful, it does need to turn a profit. When the total output is so limited, it is understandable that the cost per unit will be significant. This is a car that simply isn't for everybody, but it is one everyone will be ecstatic to own. Hey, it's only money.

While on that subject, it should be noted that this is an automobile that is better conceived than most to accommodate those with the ability to place this in their driveway and garage. With the top up, even generous-sized basketball players with oversized contracts should have ample headroom. Covering a course over the lower corner of the California coast (and the adjacent desert climates eastward of it) has all the things that make one yearn for a convertible. With the inland temps hovering in the mid 90s, it does provide a wide variety of venues to sample the true driver-vehicle relationship. Congested highways to city streets, and isolated hills to valleys, are all absorbed by the end of the drive.

Feedback from the thin-rimmed steering wheel is good, with a blend of effortlessness without being enigmatic or completely isolated. The brakes are able to stop a tanker truck, if need be.

The transmission doesn't offer much in the way of driver input, except for a button providing a low gear launch. However, this really isn't an issue as the transmission does seem to be very intuitive and the smoothness is beyond reproach. I am impressed at how graceful the entire power delivery system works in this. At idle, it is imperceptible. It is easy to be confused if the motor is running or not at a standstill.

While the act of driving is effortless, the adjustability of the other aspects controlled by the BMW iDrive-related Multi-Task Controller (MTC) takes more than a few hours to become acquainted to. An overly simple dial and organ pull knobs on the all metal spherical vents however control the ventilation. This only further accentuates the complexity of the MTC. The new convertible offers a number of systems that are indeed rather advanced. Whether those who are getting up there in age (born in a different era) will be able to digest all of this is anybody's guess.

An interesting note on the vent system, as the cold air chills the metal a layer of condensation beads up on the vents. This throwback to a time when plastic was unheard of serves as a visual reminder as to the extra effort Rolls-Royce has taken, even when it might be out of step with common practice.

The same is true with the doors, which hinge from the rear. Not only is it another visual cue, this design feature provides additional structural strength to the A-pillars for both a sound car, but also in the event of a rollover. The use of 'superforming' techniques to drape heated aluminum over molds to create the shapes and retain all the necessary structural properties is an achievement that unites design and engineering.

On this same subject, the brushed steel of the bonnet and the surrounding aluminum of the A-pillar and windshield surround are beyond distinct. The manufacturing capability of producing this piece perfectly is not as simple as one might think. One problem the company overcame was the potential of corrosion when aluminum and steel are brought together. Also, creating this requires both aesthetics that are flawless and durable. This process will be on nearly all of the first year models. Sighting one with a painted bonnet will be an exception, at least for now.

The design of the windshield with wings (side glass) proves a very quiet cabin with the top open to the elements. Even while traveling at super-legal speeds, our voices don't need to strain to be heard. With the soft top roof in place, it's far better, but not as quiet as an isolation tank. A bit of wind noise can still be heard. On the other hand, the car is shaped like a brick. All right, a smooth, rounded brick with a drag coefficient of .37, but a 5,776-pound brick no matter how you look at it. So the little bit of air noise I hear doesn't really upset me or surprise me in the least bit.

Another feature that stands out is leather that is up to the quality standards of the most demanding of clients. The Drophead has a smoother finish on the seating to provide for ease of care and durability with open top motoring. That is one of many issues the company considered in the development of the convertible. The absence of ventilated seats however is missed in cruising top-down in the heat of summer. Certainly, with the top upright the car is a perfect environment, but I believe if the sun is out the top should be down. Well, I do understand that perforations will trap more dirt and dust. In any event, this is one of the few items left off the feature list. On the other hand, the bespoke accommodations are unbelievable. If you need a wine cellar in your car or other unusual requests, Rolls-Royce can handle it.

The mix of materials like wood and sisal mats can provide a less stuffy appearance and will wear well according to the manufacturer. I did find this to be the case, however the wood on the door sill is a tad hard. As the door sill is high anyway, the armrests within are a much better solution.

Rolls-Royce is amazing in the ability to kick all aspects up just a notch or two. The audio system, with nine channels of sound arriving via 15 speakers should be plenty for even the most diehard audiophile. The automated door closure that can be activated by the driver enabling him or her to close the passenger door (the passenger has a similar button) is one of those special features that sets this apart, as if all the others don't. Even as basic as it this is, the quickness and quietness of the window operations is worthy of comment.

One of the unsung virtues of the Drophead is how it influences the world around it. It is hard for others not to smile when this passes by. This might just be a cultural phenomenon in the states. I guess here everyone believes that perhaps one day that will be them behind the driver's seat. In fact it very well could be. While the price of $407,000 is a princely sum, most see it as just out of reach for the time being. This might be pricey, but it just doesn't seem snobby.

As a machine goes, it is hard to ask for more. Rolls-Royce is certainly taking itself and its place in the pecking order very seriously, and the marketplace ultimately might do the same. The only remaining question: Can one be taken completely serious when having this much fun?

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The view from the lap of luxury is a good one, and the sunshine on the face only makes one smile more.

Find out more at www.rolls-roycemotorcars.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $ 407,000, as tested $ 432,100

Engine type: 6.7-litre, V12, 48-valve, direct injection

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 11/18

Horsepower: 453 @ 5,350 rpm Torque: 531 lb.-ft @ 3,500 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine / rear-wheel drive

Transmission type: Six-speed, ZF (6HP-32) fully automatic with low range button

Suspension: Front: Double-wishbone featuring a hydraulic mount Rear: Multi-link rear with anti-lift and anti-dive technology

Wheels and tires: Front: 8 x 21", Goodyear EMT 255/50 R21 106W Rear: 9.5 x 21", Goodyear EMT 285/45 R21 109W

Brakes: Front: Ventilated disc 374 mm / 14.7" Rear: Vented discs 370mm / 14.6" diameter

Advanced Dynamic Stability Control System

Overall length: 5609 mm / 220.8"Overall width: 1987 mm / 78.2" Overall height: 1581 mm / 62.2" Curb weight: 2,620 kg / 5,776 lb

0-60 mph: 5.6 Top Speed, mph: 149 (governed)

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