After a weekend driving the 2009 Phantom, I realized the key to driving it: letting the car float gracefully along the highway at 80 miles per hour, while avoiding ratty Honda Civics that seem to dart out in its path.
Do they not SEE a 6000-pound, custom-white-painted Goliath? It's hard to imagine anyone, anything not seeing the Phantom, a decided throwback to the way cars used to look. There's just nothing like it in the automotive world--save for the aged Bentley Arnage, which will be replaced soon enough by a new fleet-footed Bentley sedan. It's an utter traditionalist from its thick D-pillar, to its sloped trunk, to the wide bands of chrome that could blind the Palomar telescope, all the way in front to the winged Spirit of Ecstasy hood trophy, which kindly and thoughtfully tucks itself into the hood when the car is parked. Inside, the Phantom's a touch more modern, thanks to digital additions like iPod inputs and navigation screens--but tons of lacquered black trim, chrome pulls and switches, and the wide swath of wood that embellishes the bridgelike dash keep the vibe distinctly Victorian. You may not love it, but it's hard to hate the Phantom's devotion to its moment in time. (Which is approximately 1928, we think.)
Reserved and regal on the outside, the Rolls Phantom's a real performer beneath, thanks to BMW-engineered powertrains and suspension pieces. BMW owns Rolls-Royce these days, so it's no surprise to find a V-12 engine derived from the German automaker's vast engineering works under the hood. The Phantom's sheer mass blunts its 453 horsepower off the mark, but 60 mph arrives in just 5.7 seconds. A top speed of more than 155 mph seems credible, and the Phantom merely hustles harder as speeds grow. At 100 mph on the interstate, its engine is utterly serene, its six-speed automatic shifts almost invisibly (or phantom-like). The suspension is multiple links and control arms and self-leveling shocks all around, which gives it an ethereal ride quality: it's not bothered by very large road rash, and hardly lets on that something's amiss underneath its tall tires. With a huge-diameter steering wheel and feather-light feel, the steering won't urge you at all to attack corners--the $340,000 price tag certainly doesn't condone it--but the Phantom does respond to inputs on the brakes and steering diligently, if not rapidly.