2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Review

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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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2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom

Styling

The 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom blends tradition and modernity into a contemporary iteration of how an ultra-luxury car should be styled.

A mild refresh graces the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom, including redesigned wheels, grille, and front bumper, while the interior features new reading lamps. Cars.com says the “new front bumper and smaller stainless steel grille give the Phantom a more streamlined, contemporary look.” Motor Trend reports the Drophead Coupe, or convertible, is “the first production Rolls-Royce that breaks from the traditional Parthenon-inspired grille shell. It's curved, angled rearward, and finished in brushed stainless steel instead of polished.” They add, “In the tradition of the finest 1930s-era coachbuilt automobiles, the Drophead boasts rear-hinged, front-opening doors in the name of style and to make entry/exit a more elegant proposition.”

Edmunds sums up the Phantom’s exterior styling, saying, “no other automobile boasts the unique style, grandiose dimensions and sterling reputation of the Rolls-Royce Phantom.” Autoblog concurs: “big, bold, and sublime, the Phantom Drophead Coupé is Rolls-Royce's halo car.”

As night falls, the interior of the Phantom becomes more impressive. According to Autoblog, there are 1,600 fiber-optic lights in the headliner of the 2009 Phantom. “At its lowest setting the headliner is twinkle, twinkle little star. At its highest setting, there's a lot of light. It's soft light, not like the klieg lights in some other luxury cars, and probably bright enough to read the paper by.”

Motor Trend asks, “Could there be a more inviting cabin?” They add, “everything you see and touch is wrapped in sublime leather (more than 450 pieces, stitched together by real people with sewing machines), lustrous wood of varying finish, and thickly chromed metal." Edmunds says “the inside of the Rolls-Royce Phantom is even nicer than might be imagined, with more leather hides and matching pieces of wood than you'll find on a herd of cattle lost in Sequoia National Forest.”

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2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom

Performance

The 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom meets its ultra-luxury performance directive. At 400 large, anyone desiring Ferrari performance can afford to purchase one on the side.  

Rolls-Royce claims the BMW-sourced 6.7-liter V-12 powering the 2009 Phantom produces 453 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque that propels the 5,776-pound Phantom to 60 mph in under 6 seconds.

“In spite of a curb weight approaching three tons, going from zero to 60 mph takes just 5.7 seconds,” says Edmunds. “The 453-horsepower Rolls V-12 shares its basic makeup with that of the BMW 760 sedan,” reports Motor Trend, “but it's larger, more powerful, and retuned for even greater refinement. It even sounds different from a 7-Series V-12: dead silent at idle, but with soft intake and exhaust moans when you're really on it.”

Reviewers agree that "sporty" is not the word to describe the 2009 Phantom, but for such a sizable automobile, its handling and road manners are impressive. “Sporty is always a relative term, particularly when it’s applied to a coupe that’s well over 18 feet long and weighs close to three tons,” says Car and Driver, adding “the coupe drives smaller than its specs suggest, the suspension is a little stiffer than that of the other Phantoms, and the steering is surprisingly quick and tactile, with good on-center response.” ConsumerGuide comments, “considering its heft and ride qualities, handling was impressive, with good steering feel and little body lean in fast turns.”

According to Autoblog, the Phantom is “the stiffest Rolls-Royce in the lineup, and utilizes different spring rates, stiffer dampers, a thicker rear anti-roll bar, and steering tuned for more response.” Its handling is helped by “a 49:51 weight ratio," and “imagine being able to sit on the back of a white rhino and hit the gas, you'll get the feeling,” they muse.

However, the reviewer at Edmunds describes his experience driving the convertible a little differently: “As we drove this car in Italy across some of the finest goat paths in the Tuscan countryside, the Phantom Drophead felt more than big; it felt out of scale, like a 1:18th-scale model in a 1:43-scale world. Many a Fiat Panda had to swerve into roadside olive groves to avoid us as we came steaming down the centerline.”

Motor Trend says the Phantom is “backed by ZF's superb six-speed automatic transmission, which offers a 'Low' mode-in reality more like a 'Sport' mode-holding the tranny longer in each gear for more spirited acceleration.” Edmunds isn’t as impressed with the Phantom’s transmission, remarking, “the only operational aspect of the convertible that we don't like is the six-speed automatic's reluctance to downshift during passing maneuvers,” adding, “even a car with 531 pound-feet of torque occasionally needs the torque-multiplying magic of a shorter gear.”

As if fuel economy matters with a vehicle such as the Phantom, ConsumerGuide reports that there was “no opportunity to measure, but the EPA estimates an average of 14 mpg. Premium fuel is required.”

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2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom swaddles occupants with luxury and keeps the outside world at bay, but lesser luxury sedans have more space.

Whether you’re a taking a ride in a Rolls-Royce for the first time or the 100th, the Phantom always manages to impress its passengers with its level luxury. However, some reviewers ask how interior spaciousness could seem somewhat confined for such a large car.

“There's 103 cubic feet of passenger space, which isn't great considering this car's exterior size,” says Cars.com, adding, “there is a generous 16.2 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk.” Without doubt, the Phantom is a large car. “At more than 19 feet long, a regular-wheelbase Phantom surpasses a 7 Series by more than 2 feet in total length, and it can completely swallow a Mini between its front and rear axles,” reports Edmunds. “We lined up for a spot between a Golf cabrio and a Renault, and all of a sudden it felt like we were trying to park the Death Star,” quips Autoblog. “Speaking of length, though, that back seat isn't anywhere near as spacious at the one in the BMW, but there's room for an adult to be comfy long enough to get wherever you'll be going.”

ConsumerGuide reports that “supremely comfortable seats and ample adjustments join plenty of headroom and legroom for first-class accommodations. High-mounted seat cushions aid ingress and egress, and though the rear-hinged door takes getting used to, it doesn't impede entry or exit, and the power closing feature is an appreciated luxury.” Cars.com says the Phantom can "comfortably seat five, or four if the optional rear bucket seats are chosen.”

Edmunds proclaims the aluminum space frame upon which the Phantom is built provides a ride that is “superb, soaking up huge potholes and minor road imperfections with equal aplomb.” And ConsumerGuide comments that “although our Southern California preview routes weren't plagued by badly broken pavement, the Drophead Coupe soaked up every road imperfection encountered with impressive aplomb and was devoid of undue float or bobbing over bumps.”

Where the Phantom truly shines is in its ability to figuratively transport you to another realm. “When the windows are up, the outside world ceases to exist,” says Autoblog of the experience. Conversely, “when you roll down the windows, the volume inside the car jumps a noticeable number of decibels, and you remember, ‘Oh yeah, there's, like, stuff out there.’” Even the convertible is noticeably silent. “Top down, it's quiet, allowing normal conversation at 80 mph, and only a bit more volume is required to chat at 100,” asserts Motor Trend. “There is a fair amount of wind buffeting, though; air swirls around the back-seat area, and you can feel it blowing between the front seats.”

The reviewer at Autoblog notes that “there are things I could complain about, like the BMW 7-Series key and the finicky iPod integration. But I won't. People buying this car simply don't care.” And Motor Trend says “all the controls are calibrated for fingertips not biceps.”

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2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom

Safety

Despite the lack of crash-test ratings, the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom scores well due to its excellent safety features.

It's no surprise that neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has crash-tested the 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Drivers and passengers are provided the latest in safety gear inside the 2009 Phantom. Cars.com lists standard safety features as including “side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, antilock brakes, electronic stability system, traction control and break-resistant glass.” An electronic parking brake and park-distance control sensors for the front and rear of the Phantom are also standard equipment.

“To aid in safety, privacy and social interaction, backseat occupants sit well back in lounge-shaped seats alongside the C-pillars rather than next to the doors,” reports Cars.com.

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.

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2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom

Features

Each 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom has features befitting its status as one of the world’s most expensive sedans.

According to Edmunds, when it comes to features on the 2009 Phantom, “the ultra-luxury competition may offer more high-tech gizmos and a greater sense of the contemporary, [but] the Rolls-Royce Phantom features an undeniable old-world charm and much-larger-than-life presence.”

What really sets the Phantom apart from its competition is the sheer number of dazzling options and finishes, along with Rolls-Royce’s willingness to accessorize it 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.

Motor Trend lists its top five details: 1) “Winged Spirit of Ecstasy retracts into the grille when you shut off the engine.” 2) “Twin umbrellas deploy from the front door opening.” 3) “Forget something as vulgar as a tachometer. The Phantom has a Power Reserve gauge instead.” 4) “Rear ashtrays, beautifully cast of metal, resemble organ pipes.” 5) “Rear panel of the trunk area folds down for use as tailgate party seating, or a nice place to spread out your buffet.”

Autoblog says some features are hidden, “like the seat controls under the center armrest, which is a minor issue, and the media screen controller, which is a good thing.” Another small complaint from Autoblog is that “the only thing there is to play with are the climate control knobs, which, not being digital, could involve a bit of finessing to get the temperature you want.”

“How's the 15-speaker stereo?” asks Edmunds. “We were convinced that it was our driving partner who was singing along. It wasn't until we screwed up the courage to look over and see that his mouth was shut that we realized it was a recorded voice. Moments later, he said, unprompted, ‘God, I thought that was you singing!’ That's a good stereo.”

The Phantom is the most expensive car road-tested by TheCarConnection.com to date. While the navigation system and satellite radio simply aren’t integrated as well or as easy to use as they could be, the Phantom is nonetheless deserving of its place among the best ultra-luxury cars available.

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