Please don’t call it a makeover. Or, heaven-forbid a face-lift. Think of the latest changes to Rolls-Royce’s mighty Phantom more as ‘polishing the halo’.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nine years since this flagship Rolls-Royce wafted onto the scene. Back in 2003, Phantom set a new, sky-high benchmark in automobile luxury. And it’s a testament to the brilliance of the original concept that nine years on the Phantom still looks and feels as special as it did back then.
But nine years is an eternity in the fast-changing automotive world. So it was time for a freshening, and to adopt of some of the latest technology being developed by parent company, BMW and its expansive network of suppliers.
Arguably the biggest change is something no one but a mechanic will see; the transmission. A six-speed auto was pretty advanced back in 2003, but today if you want the ultimate in smoothness and refinement, it needs to be an eight-speed.
So the new Phantom Series II, that’s due here this September priced from $398,970, gets the brilliant new ZF eight-speeder plus a beefed-up rear differential to replace the original and less robust BMW 7-series unit. Not that the average Phantom owner will be too concerned, but the new transmission helps improve fuel economy by 10 per cent, and reduces exhaust emissions. Al Gore will be over-joyed.
Also long overdue for re-fettling, was the decade-old, and not very good in the first place, satellite-navigation system. So BMW provided its latest set-up with its massive 8.8-inch screen.
A key feature is its 360-degree top-view camera, which is a real boon when you’re trying to squeeze this rolling leviathan into any parking space.
See this latest Phantom out on the street and only the Rolls-Royce cognoscenti will likely spot the styling changes. This, according to dapper Rolls-Royce head of exterior design Giles Taylor, was key to ensuring that current owners don’t suddenly feel their cars look out of date.
Gone are those slightly awkward-looking round headlights. In their place are new, state-of-the-art rectangular LED lights for better nighttime vision - and a distinctive daytime look.
There are also new bumpers front and rear to soften the car’s lines and heighten the elegance.
The good folks at Rolls-Royce kindly invited us to Eze on the French Riviera just west of Monaco, to try-out this re-fettled Phantom for size. And boy, size was the challenge on some of those narrow, twisty roads leading up to the Alpes-Maritimes Mountains from the coast.
But the improvements have only enhanced and heightened the experience of piloting this still-remarkable machine. Now the gearshifts are even more oily-smooth, even more discreet as the new 8-speed slurs from one ratio to the next.
It compliments wonderfully the Phantom’s 6.75-liter V12, which now feels even more alive and eager with its new transmission. Squeeze the throttle and kick-down is near instantaneous, lunging the car forward with breathtaking ease.
This is not a car to throw around snaking French mountain roads. But that said, the steering is still surgically precise, and grip from the massive 21-inch rubberware is immense. Far better, and considerably more elegant, is to waft along Nice’s Promenade de Anglais waving at the hoi polloi.
Hopefully it isn’t another nine years before Giles Taylor gets around to another Phantom re-fresh. But right now consider the Phantom’s halo to be well and truly polished.