2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 17, 2009

The 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom mistakes all its passengers for royalty, even when they aren’t.

TheCarConnection.com has researched reviews and driven the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom sedan to bring you this comprehensive review of its safety, performance, styling, comfort, and quality. Resident Anglophiles at TheCarConnection.com also used their drives in other ultra-luxury vehicles to compare and contrast the Rolls-Royce Phantom with cars in its lofty class.

The 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom four-door is a sedan like no other. Massive, traditional to its smallest details, and hugely powerful, it’s an ultra-luxury vehicle engineered in the most modern way possible but with all four of its wheels planted firmly in the past. It’s available in either standard or long-wheelbase forms, with a base price beginning at $340,000, not including a $2,000 destination charge and a $3,000 gas-guzzler tax. The Rolls-Royce Phantom provided to TheCarConnection.com for this Bottom Line road test summary carried a sticker price of $438,330.

Unmistakable styling brings the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom to the forefront in any driving lane, valet space, or carriage house, though some of its modern touches don’t suit the Edwardian outline that keep the Phantom in touch with its Rolls-Royce heritage. The tall radiator grille, Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, and massive D-pillar hark back to the days of classic Rolls-Royce sedans—and yet, the narrow, rectangular headlamps seem out of touch with the more traditional style. The front end is tall and imposing—maybe too tall and imposing, even by Rolls standards. The stance is right, and the ladling of chrome and polished metal everywhere from pillar to exhaust pipes is fitting, and still, it’s an awkward homage. New this year: bumper treatments, drawing the sedan parallel to the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé and Drophead Coupé, reviewed separately.

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Inside, the Phantom’s dash spans the broad cabin, a platoon of small chrome controls floating in glossy veneers and sumptuous leather. Again, the clash between modern details and traditional style plays out; the analog clock rotates out of view to expose a navigation system, for example. It’s closely akin to riding in a regal English bar—on this particular example, right down to the flip-out wooden “drinks cabinets” and “picnic tables” fitted in the backseat. Trays and boxes stack in the Phantom’s center console amid somewhat randomly placed controls for audio and emergency lights. Many details are quite charming: the push-pull stems that control the air vents, the stitching on the seats, the wood-veneered door caps optioned on this test vehicle. They’re also expensive options; the drinks boxes alone run $14,600. Paint colors and interior finishes can be chosen by Rolls clients almost at whim.

It appears traditional, but the 2009 Phantom is a modern performer, thanks to parent company BMW’s engineering assistance. The 6.75-liter V-12 engine under hood, for example, is a variation on the 12-cylinder found in some big BMW 7-Series sedans, though designed specifically for use in the Phantom and hand-built by Rolls-Royce engineers. Here it produces 453 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque in a seamless, nearly silent stream of power. Transmitted to the Phantom’s rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, the engine’s power pushes this nearly 6,000-pound sedan to 60 mph in only 5.7 seconds (or 0.2 second more for long-wheelbase versions). A control-arm front and rear multilink suspension are teamed with self-leveling air springs and electronic damping to produce an ethereal ride quality and surprisingly responsive, but feather-light, steering. Rolls claims excellent dynamics for the Phantom—in truth, it’s difficult to push this tall, extraordinarily expensive sedan to its limits on public roads, and with a trucklike 47.9-foot turning circle, it's difficult to park. But TheCarConnection.com’s testers sampled its serene straight-ahead feel at more than 100 mph and can attest to its quiet, fleet freeway feel. Fuel economy is 13/19 mpg—astonishingly high for a car weighing, at minimum, 5,800 pounds.

The 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom wraps its upright sheetmetal and library-like cabin around an aluminum body structure that provides high, comfortable seating for four or five passengers. Rigid aluminum sections are assembled to give the Phantom a more lightweight (!) body than traditional steel would. It’s also strong enough to allow the Phantom’s rear doors to open on rear hinges—coach style, as Rolls puts it. In hard numbers, the Phantom is about 19 feet in length (the longer version is 20 feet), with a wheelbase of almost 12 feet (12.5 feet, longer version)—the latter, about as long as a MINI Cooper. That explains the vast interior space afforded the front and rear passengers, and the cathedral-like headroom resulting, even with the Phantom’s high-mounted front seats and optional theater-style raised rear seats. It’s not an extraordinarily wide sedan, but it does have 103 cubic feet of interior volume—nearly a Scion’s worth of space just in the seating area. Trunk space is wide but not very deep, at 14.1 cubic feet. More than cavernous interior space, the quality of interior materials is what owners seek, and the Phantom does not disappoint. Rolls selects cows for perfect leather graining, cuts their hides with laser precision, bonds the wood trim to aluminum for durability, and employs furniture makers to blend details like inlaid mother of pearl and banded boxwood into the Phantom’s trim. From the ultra-plush carpeting to the exquisite headliner, the Rolls Phantom is a fit and finish tour de force.

Drivers and passengers are provided the latest in safety gear inside the 2009 Phantom. The strong aluminum body is backed up by standard dual front, side, and curtain airbags. Those curtain airbags protect rear passengers as well. Anti-lock brakes, along with stability and traction control, are also standard, as are an electronic parking brake and park-distance control sensors for the front and rear of the Phantom. Front and rear cameras are offered as an option, but the Phantom does not include the very latest safety features like lane-departure warning systems, laser-guided cruise control, or blind-spot detection systems. Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested this car.

Each 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom is fitted with features equal to its status as one of the world’s most expensive sedans. The navigation system and satellite radio simply aren’t integrated as well, nor are they as easy to use as they could be, but the sheer number of dazzling options and finishes makes the Phantom a perfect scorer for features. The leather interior, wood trim, and power coach-style rear doors are complemented by a heated windshield; rain-sensing wipers; bi-xenon headlamps; wood-trimmed rear picnic tables; soft-close doors and trunk lid; power front seats; a power tilt/telescope steering wheel; automatic climate control; a sunroof; heated front and rear seats; twin umbrellas stowed in the coach door jambs; a retracting Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament; Bluetooth connectivity; and a Lexicon Logic 7 audio system with 420 watts of power, 15 speakers, a six-CD changer, and satellite radio. The test car provided to TheCarConnection.com adds a vast list of features, including custom paint ($9,800); seat piping ($2,520); a veneered instrument panel ($1,100); Rolls-Royce logos stitched into the headrests ($620); door-mounted drinks cabinets ($14,600); front and rear cameras ($3,300); a “coolbox” for drinks ($5,200); 20-inch wheels ($6,250); chrome exhausts ($6,000); “Starlight” headlining ($7,200); iPod integration ($630); a six-DVD changer ($1,550); theater-style rear seating ($10,400); a milled drink-holder box, also known as cup holders ($5,100); Rolls-Royce inlays in the door caps ($1,500); front cup holder veneer trim ($920); silver pinstriping on the door caps ($5,310); a thicker steering wheel ($4,290); a two-tone instrument panel top ($1,230); and a bespoke package of black Rolls-Royce logos on the headrests, chrome window switches, and satin trim on the engine ($5,810). All tallied to a final price of $438,330, making the Phantom the most expensive car road-tested by TheCarConnection.com to date. In addition, Rolls-Royce will fit its cars in almost any way imaginable, from turning the glove box into a humidor to modifying the body for added luggage space in the trunk to buffing the Ecstasy ornament with 24-carat gold.

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