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If You’re Rich and Need to Show It, Take Phantom to the Opera

There’s a dichotomy in the manner in which the very wealthy display privilege and power.

Consider the low-key approach exemplified by Warren Buffett and the late David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co.

On the other hand, the poster child for conspicuous consumption these days is Stephen A. Schwarzman, chief executive officer of the Blackstone Group, who reportedly had a $3 million birthday party this year and has a $40 million home in New York.

Maybe you’re not the head of a hedge fund, but if you’ve got mega-bucks and want to participate in what’s being called the New Gilded Age, we’ve got your ride.

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For the contemporary age, the Rolls-Royce Phantom starts from a unique design perspective. According to its official literature, Rolls-Royce stylists and engineers created a vehicle that’s notably larger in overall size, length, height and wheels than those of ordinary luxury saloons (Brit speak for sedan).

There is absolutely no marketing hype in the preceding statement. The Phantom is really big. At 230 inches in length, it is about eight inches longer than the massive, full-size Chevrolet Suburban sport utility vehicle. The body is tall. You sit high and upright in the cabin with a commanding view.

Furthermore, Rolls-Royce blows away any notions of aerodynamics. According to the company, a decision was made early in the design phase to unchain the Phantom from the constraints of current aerodynamic trends.

The prime directive was to design a quintessential Rolls-Royce, not the common wedge-shaped vehicles, so the Phantom assumes a lofty upright position led by its immense grille.

Given the disregard for aerodynamics, it’s no wonder that the huge, upright radiator shell on the Phantom dominates the car and establishes an imperious tone that is unmatched in the automotive world. The winged lady mascot, “Spirit of Ecstasy,” stands proudly in the accustomed place.

The Rolls is not an automobile for the faint of heart or for the owner who craves anonymity. The Phantom demands attention as no other automobile in current production.

Our test Phantom rode on optional 21-inch wheels and tires. These massive wheels enhance the purposeful, almost brutal, appearance of the Rolls. It not only shouts for attention, but also signals lesser vehicles to stand aside.

The interior appointments are as imposing as the car’s exterior. Rolls-Royce uses 18 hides to swathe the interior in rich leather.

True to its heritage, the dashboard appears to be crafted from a massive hardwood plank with the gauges and instruments mounted therein. Although BMW’s iDrive system of accessory control and satellite navigation is installed, these components are hidden from view and must be called out of hiding to perform.

Nevertheless, this amalgam of the super-traditional and the ultramodern is an uneasy marriage. I’d rate the Phantom well below average in the European luxury class for ergonomic considerations. Its controls are strewn about with no clear rationale for use or location. But they do retain a traditional look and feel.

The back seat certainly establishes a plateau of sybaritic comfort. The seats sit well back into the stern, the major benefit of the Phantom’s length, allowing extraordinary legroom and a sense of privacy without blackout windows in the rear.

The standard Rolls, which we drove, has a sofa that wraps around the sides of the rear area (increasing the comfort of riders as they converse with each other), a touch made possible by the car’s length. This means that the back doors are well ahead of the actual seats and are hinged at the rear edge, allowing one to enter the seating area with extreme ease.

Once seated, the passenger can close the door by pressing a button, rather than by having to reach out to close the heavy door by hand.

For a long-distance cruiser on a superhighway, it has no equal.

When I order mine, I’m going to specify the optional chauffeur.


Cordell Koland is an automotive journalist based in California’s central coast. He can be reached at cordellkoland@mac.com.


Rolls-Royce Phantom

Price as tested: $374,300.

Engine:

Type: 6.75-liter V-12.

Horsepower: 453 @ 5,350 rpm.

Torque: 531 foot-pounds @ 3,500 rpm.

Fuel economy, automatic transmission:

City: 13 mpg.

Highway: 19 mpg.

Curb weight: 5,577 pounds.

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