Money Can't Buy Happiness, But It Sure Can Make You Smile
I used to say that the best $7000 dollars you could spend in the car world was the P31 option that took the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG’s horsepower from 451 up to 481 hp. Well friends, I was wrong. Desperately wrong! Turns out the best way to spend $7K car is to spring for the rear sheer curtains (option code: FU Paparazzi, probably) in the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Added bonus: The curtains, in this case made of lovely oyster colored leather, actually cost $6525, leaving you an extra $475 to blow on cravats and caviar. Whoopee! Oh, you probably want to know what’s so great about the curtains. As you should.
The loan of this here Midnight Sapphire Phantom ($9450 for the paint, please) just happened to coincide with my best friend’s bachelor party weekend in Las Vegas. Eric, the guy in the passenger seat, is a large man, 6 foot 3 and a strapping 265 pounds. I mention his size because the friend sitting behind Eric is 6 foot 5, and was perfectly comfortable on the 260-mile ride to the Aria in Vegas. And when the 6-foot, 5-inch guy was up front, Eric still had plenty of room. Remember, this is the short wheelbase version. Tall people, take note. With the tall guy safely ensconced in the rear, he and another friend (a shorty at 6 feet even) invented a new game: curtaining. Here’s how you play curtaining: Lean forward to clear the Phantom’s massive, formal C-pillar and wait until someone driving, riding, or walking down the street makes eye contact with you. Do not worry. You are in a Phantom; they will make eye contact. You won’t have to wait long. The second they do — BAM! — one of you hits the button that closes the curtains and then begins laughing uncontrollably. (The driver also has full curtain controls, should you find yourself being chauffeured.) Repeat for four hours. Then do the exact same thing all the way back to Los Angeles. Juvenile? You bet your short pants. More fun than the rest of the weekend? Possibly.
In general, what is best about cars? Depends upon whom you ask. Value and efficiency matter to some; numbers and performance to others. What matters most to me, especially after a week of living with the Phantom? How a car makes me feel. Despite only setting your total net worth back by $487,615 ($407,540 base price plus more than $80K in options, including $3425 for the must-have Crossbanded Royal Walnut), the Rolls-Royce Phantom makes me feel like a million bucks. Actually, that might not be enough, as the average Phantom owner’s net worth is $30 million. Average. Point is, the car makes me feel special. In terms of smiles per mile, I don’t think the car has any peers.
The big Roller has the same effect on whoever’s inside its cavernous, ultra-lux innards. I base this statement on the reactions of my eight buddies, who fought each other for rides all weekend. The Prius V driver and the guy who doesn’t drive at all seemed particularly impressed. I first drove the new Series II Phantom last year in and around Monaco. True, it happened to be the weekend that Francois Hollande, the Socialist president of France, got himself elected. But those collectivist shockwaves never reached the South of France. The Phantom, while obscenely special, purposefully ostentatious, and delightfully decadent, never felt out of place. But while cruising the outlet malls in Barstow, we stood out like a well-massaged, truffle-fed, gilded thumb. Yet even though were performing a very poor impression of the 1 Percent, we couldn’t stop smiling. Obviously for someone with my net worth the Phantom is pure, uncut fantasy. But what fun!
Let’s not overlook an additional benefit: Being that the Phantom gives you a constant sense of occasion. Allow me to illustrate. If you’ve never been to Las Vegas, the ATMs charge you $6 to pull out cash. That’s the standard fee at most casinos and one hell of a racket. (Hot tip: The Wynn and the Encore only charge you $5. Go figure.) Now, worrying about losing $6 is Vegas is akin to worrying about being underdressed in Las Vegas. You can’t do it. I get that. But some of my friends are, let’s say, overly frugal, cheap, stingy bastards, despite their poker proclivities. So we wasted $15 in gas to drive a near-$500K car several miles off the Strip to save $6 in bank fees. Then I made one of them tip the valet $10 to ensure the Phantom stayed parked up front, completely invalidating the entire purpose of our silly outing. In practically any other vehicle this would have been a mindless, infuriating chore. In the Phantom, it’s a story I can – and will — tell for the rest of my life.
A story I won’t be repeating is how the Phantom did on our test track. First of all, apologies to our scales as the Phantom weighed heavily on them at 5863 pounds. To be fair to her royal Phatness, the last Bentley Mulsanne we tested was even lardier, weighing in at 5984 pounds. Why’s the Rolls so “light?” The secret is that the Roller has an aluminum spaceframe similar to that in a Lotus 7. (More on the $14,100 rear theater-lounge seat in a bit. The 6.8-liter V-12 still makes 453 hp and 531 lb-ft of torque, just like it did when Rolls launched the Phantom in 2004. Normally I scold car companies for releasing a new or significantly updated version of a product with nary a bump in power (Hello, Subaru STI!), but in the case of the Phantom, adequate remains adequate. As such, 0-60 mph happens in 5.5 seconds, the quarter-mile is over in 13.9 seconds at 100 mph, and braking from 60 mph takes an impressively short 105 feet.
What does that compare with? Interestingly, the new Subaru WRX. The Rexer’s numbers are 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds, quarter-mile in 14.0 at 98.1 mph, and 60-0 mph in 106 feet. Eerily similar, no? As for its more direct competition (says me – Rolls-Royce refuses to acknowledge any competition), the much more powerful Mulsanne hits 60 mph in a ferocious 4.8 seconds, runs the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds at 104.4 mph and can stop from 60 mph in 108 feet. Rolls would probably prefer we not publish this next part, but it takes the Phantom 28.2 seconds to get around our figure eight, same as an EcoBoost F-150. That’s almost minivan territory – a Toyota Sienna SE takes 28.6 seconds. The Mulsanne can get it done in a middling but much better 26.8 seconds, while the little Subaru is sports-car fleet, needing just 25.3 seconds. And now, the kicker. To a Phantom owner, nothing could matter less than the preceding two paragraphs.
What matters most? Well, it could be that theater-lounge seat. Imagine if you will a loveseat in place of rear seats. The place where your butt sits is one expansive, unbroken hunk of white leather. You don’t see car sofas like this outside of prewar, deco streamliners sitting on upper-crusty golf courses. Charles Rolls was a Minerva dealer, after all. The theater-lounge seat is one of the most luxurious set pieces I’ve ever experienced in a car built after 1939. A week after Las Vegas I found myself in the back of a Rolls-Royce Phantom EWB being whisked through the Joshua Tree National Forest by an actual British person (Hi, Pat!). EWB stands for “extended wheelbase,” and the entirety of the nearly 10-inch stretch is found in the rear compartment. Yet this particular car, despite its $543,000 price tag and cubic yards more legroom, just wasn’t as special in back as the Vegas Phantom was. The EWB Roller even had curtains — though no $6450 fridge below the rear seat. The indignity! — but it just wasn’t as lush, as memorable, or as fun.
Fun. In the final summary, fun is what matters most here. Hitting the little button that covers the nav screen with a burled walnut cover is fun. Hiding the iDrive wheel is fun. Figuring out that the tray that pops out from the center of the dash perfectly holds your cell phone and your wallet is fun. Two glove boxes is fun. Popping the Spirit of Ecstasy up out of the hood when you drive by a car full of pretty girls is fun. Blasting the Melvins, Killdozer, Cephalic Carnage, NoMeansNo and Opeth over the Phantom’s creamy good stereo in a space intended for Chopin and Tchaikovsky is not only fun, it’s subversive. And what’s more fun than subversion? Fun is why I’d rather have a Morgan 3-Wheeler over a BMW M3. When you’re wealthy enough to own essentially any car you want, why not make fun a priority? Don’t read me wrong. Captaining the Phantom down your favorite, curvy canyon road is decidedly not fun, nor is it the point of the car. That’s what the Ferrari is for. The Rolls-Royce Phantom is fun because it makes the mundane special, the ordinary extraordinary, and the routine memorable. Most importantly, if I could have a Phantom, I would.
|2014 Rolls-Royce Phantom|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$487,615|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||6.8L/453-hp/531-lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||5863 lb (49/51%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||230.0 x 78.3 x 64.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.9 sec @ 100.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||105 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.78 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.2 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||11/19/14 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||306/177 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.43 lb/mile|