Roll in the New

Rolls-Royce updated the Phantom - but only in the most subtle and intelligent ways

01 Feb 2014 words by Sandra Lane in The Lifestyle

One of the greatest challenges for any designer, surely, is to create something that is not only fresh and exciting but also timeless. All the more so when that 'something' sits at the very apex of its product category - a Rolls-Royce Phantom, for instance.

Since the first new-generation Phantom rolled out of the Goodwood factory in 2003, it has been clear that Ian Cameron and his team had succeeded heroically in doing so. All the more, when you consider how ageless those decade-old cars still look. Yes, a decade already. So when Rolls-Royce announced an update for its 2013 models, nobody should have expected anything too radical. As the company points out, Rolls-Royce owners would not appreciate having a car that looks dated.

Inside, amid the beautiful wood, leather and sheepskin, there have been few visible changes (if it ain't broke....) but some intelligent technical upgrades.

Given the opportunity to drive the new Series ii sedan and coupé when their world tour brought them through the UAE this month, I naturally leapt at the chance. I'm firmly of the view that these cars are wasted on chauffeurs; riding in the back - while a wonderful experience - means missing much of what makes them so special.

The new Phantom sedan is every bit as stately as the first, the power delivered oh- so-smoothly from the 6.75-litre V12 engine. indeed, it is smoother than ever, thanks to the new 8-speed transmission from the shift-meisters at ZF (replacing the previous 6-speed gearbox). The other big change is that all three Phantom models (including the drop head) now have a 'Sport' setting - coupled to a stronger, stiffer chassis. Now, this is clearly not intended for racing the Porsche in the next lane at the traffic lights, but it does give a great 'feel' to the drive and reduce roll in the corners (on our short drive, that was the roundabouts out the back of nad Al Sheba). These changes make the coupé even more of a driver's car.

Externally, the most obvious change is that the 'porthole-style' headlamps have been replaced by rectangular LEDs (which are fully adaptive, getting brighter or dimmer according to the conditions and pointing around corners as you turn the wheel). The body lines are very slightly softer and the bumpers subtly different - a change so subtle that it needed pointing out and the coupé has a new radiator grille. This is quite an engineering feat - a magnificent piece of sculpture stamped out of a single piece of metal, rather than several, bolted together - and typifies Rolls-Royce's obsession with finding ways to improve things. 

More: Luxury Cars