2019 Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII Drive: Not Just a Chauffeur Car
It’s the first time I’ve been tense in three days. The Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII I’m piloting is worth a half-million dollars, and frankly, I don’t have that sort of cash on me. Up until now, I’ve been the picture of calm behind the wheel of 20 feet and 5,700 pounds of arguably the greatest luxury on four wheels. But these narrow lanes and speeding New Yorkers are making me nervous.
The historic Saw Mill River Parkway in Westchester County, north of New York City, began construction in 1926, the same year the Rolls-Royce Phantom I entered production at the Rolls-Royce of America plant in Springfield, Massachusetts. The stone bridges crossing over the highway were clearly never intended to have four lanes of 55-plus-mph traffic crammed under them.
After a few bridges, though, it’s clear my trepidation is unwarranted. The Phantom is as agile and precise as a purebred sport sedan. Rear-axle steering sharpens the responses, and active anti-roll bars keep all this mass on an even keel as the road follows the river’s contours. The steering is fingertip light and millimeter accurate, a far cry from the Phantom VII that lurched like a yacht in heavy seas while I traversed Los Angeles the better part of a decade ago.
New York’s abysmal roads have posed the greatest challenge to the air suspension since I left Manhattan, traveled the length of Long Island, and set sail for Connecticut and Massachusetts. But I’m far more concerned about getting a flat tire than I am about actually feeling a jolt in the cabin. Only the worst impacts are felt, and then only ephemerally thanks to a forward-looking camera that identifies road impurities and prepares the suspension.
Impacts are the loudest thing you’ll hear in a Phantom if the radio is silenced, but you hear them in the same way you might hear someone walking around on the other side of the house. The outside world is a silent movie to be contemplated, the massive 6.7-liter twin-turbo V-12 a sleepy giant stifling a yawn when prodded. Rolls-Royce once advertised the Phantom I as being “as silent as its shadow,” and the mantra survives nearly a century later.
The giant will spring to action when called, though. Ring the engine room for full steam, and the Phantom VIII disappears into the wind as easily as its namesake. An unearthly force simply draws you forward, not quite like any other combustion engine—or electrically driven—vehicle.
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Stopping is the reversal of the force. The brake pedal is as soft as sinking your feet into the impossibly plush carpets, yet it somehow retains its feedback. Performing anything but a perfect chauffeur stop requires dedication to impertinence.
It’s often falsely assumed all Rolls-Royces are driven by chauffeurs. When they’re this responsive and reassuring to drive, it’s apparent why the passenger sometimes takes the wheel.
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