Even in the narrow entrance drive at San Francisco’s opulently moderne St. Regis Hotel, where the finest automobiles in the world are often on display, a sporting Rolls-Royce is worth a second look. At a glance, it seems to display the unpretentious proportions of a handsome, mid-size 2+2 GT (FHC, fixed head coupe, to the Brits). It is an optical illusion created by the vehicle’s 21-inch wheels and exacerbated by the thickness of its windshield and A-pillar triangulated rollover structure. Approaching the car, the deception becomes clear when reaching for the sculptural sweep of a door handle that seems to link the leading edge of the door to the front fender. This is not simply a grand tourer, it is the Rolls-Royce of tourers.
Swinging open the vast rear-hinged coach door to slide into the Coupé’s interior will underscore both its commodious proportions and authentic details. All the car’s controls are conveniently positioned, with the simplicity of the dashboard belying the technology it manages. The Lexicon LOGIC7 sound system can be controlled by just one dial, and an analog clock set in a bookmatched-veneered panel hides the media screen, only to be revealed when called upon. The multi-zone climate control has chromed eyeball vents and traditional organ stop controls, while additional features are accessed using beautifully crafted violin keys—contemporary uses of long established and much-loved Rolls-Royce designs.
This may be the finest BMW product ever, and in what is tantamount to a contrarian spirit, every system tool on the dash is both intuitive and effortless. In fact, the only thing that is remotely a challenge in the use of the Phantom FHC is its actual size, and that is only true in a parking situation. At full throttle, however, it’s a different story altogether.
With the vast power at low engine speeds, the rigid isolation of the structure and the density of its interior appointments, the Phantom Coupé is like a ghost gliding through the air unnoticed. A little unintentional throttle movement can make an exponential change in the vehicle’s velocity, and if one is not paying attention, that can quickly get out of hand. Before departing the St. Regis, it was suggested that we would find the car beginning to shrink as it won our confidence. While neither the wheelbase nor the considerable track were reduced as we gained experience, the level of confidence in its steering precision and its predictable stability led to us to pick up speed on the narrow streets. By the time we arrived at the coast and headed south on even narrower pavement, we were having fun.
The extreme rigidity of the Coupé’s chassis gives magnificent control and precision. It is not a Porsche or a Ferrari, but it is certainly the most comfortable and civilized competitor at the top of that financial category of automobile. It accelerates quickly and delivers a sense of precision on the road. Steering feel is obviously affected by tires the size of a load-bearing truck, but when aimed, the car will follow, remaining solidly on track. Naturally, the braking system incorporates the latest in anti-lock systems that ensure the weighty Coupé is brought to a stop quickly and without drama.
Never mind the obvious interior dimensions you occupy and the beautiful sweep of coachwork within sight, this is a very fast car. Historic badging aside, there is BMW-ness in all the Phantom Coupé’s dynamics. It occupies a lot of space, but its presence is still far beyond its actual dimensions.
a review of the 2006 Rolls-Royce Phantom