Rolls-Royce engineers recently started public road trials of a test mule for the next-generation Phantom sedan, which we’re expecting to be launched on the market during 2017, as a 2018 model. The test mule was spotted outside a BMW technical center in Germany and features a few distinguishing features that give away its identity (a test mule hides a new car's mechanicals beneath the body of a current vehicle and is used at the earliest stages of development).
At the front of the vehicle are two new intakes, which suggest a new or upgraded powerplant. This is backed up by the makeshift exhaust system fitted to the car, whose exit pipes extend a couple of centimeters out from the rear bumper. Inside, most of the elements are test units borrowed from the BMW parts bin. However, the round air vents and leather-bound lower center console are new items.
The current Phantom has been on the market since the 2004 model year, making it long overdue for a replacement. This is especially true now that Mercedes-Benz plans to encroach on the ultra-luxury segment with its upcoming S-Class Maybach
and Pullman models
The new Phantom is expected to continue with Rolls-Royce's familiar design language, while offering technology not yet seen on any production Rolls-Royce—including an optional plug-in hybrid drivetrain and the potential for a carbon fiber and aluminum chassis. Some reports have suggested the new Phantom will ride on a modified version of BMW Group’s new rear-wheel-drive platform
debuting in the 2016 BMW 7-Series
. However, we’ve also heard that Rolls-Royce may get its own platform for the new Phantom
combining a central carbon tub with aluminum subframes at either end.
Lightweight carbon fiber construction would certainly aid the car's dynamics, given the current Phantom (itself using an aluminum spaceframe) weighs in at over 5,600 pounds. It would also help offset the weight of the plug-in hybrid model, which will feature a large battery. Rolls-Royce has ruled out a fully electric model
, following feedback on its Phantom 102EX concept, but a plug-in hybrid option could prove popular for buyers in emission-restricted cities. It would also technologically rival Bentley's upcoming hybrid vehicles
. In addition to the plug-in model, a traditional V-12-powered version should remain.
Stay tuned for updates as development progresses._______________________________________Follow Motor Authority on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.