2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe Review

2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe -


The new $400,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe is big, heavy and luxurious, but that's to be expected, isn't it? The car also is powerful, fast and nimble on twisting mountain roads near this city, I found while testing it at a recent media preview here.

The 2009 Coupe shouldn't be mistaken for a Rolls built before 2003 because that's the year the revered British automaker became part of Germany's BMW Group after a tussle with Volkswagen, which wanted the then-combined Rolls/Bentley operation. The result was that Volkswagen got Bentley (long a Rolls with basically just a different grille) and a combined factory for both cars. BMW got the Rolls name -- and little else. BMW had to wait to 2003 to bring out its new Rolls, for which it built an ultramodern factory in England.

Called the Phantom, the first Rolls under BMW's umbrella was a blend of traditional Rolls poshness and modern components that changed Rolls from being a 20th century anachronism to a modern iconic car. But it retained the craftsmanship, utility, comfort and prestige of older Rolls-Royces.

"Some people still think of Rolls as being a clunky, old-fashioned car, which hasn't been the case since 2003," said Paul Ferraiolo, president of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America in an interview at the preview here.

The Phantom Coupe goes on sale next month. It joins Rolls' Phantom sedan and convertible models. The convertible is arguably the sportiest Rolls, if only because it's a convertible. But the Coupe is plenty sporty -- if any car that weighs 5,798 pounds and is 220.8 inches long can be considered sporty. It looks sleeker than Rolls sedans, partly because it has classic long-hood/short rear proportions and its grille is gently raked.

The Coupe is powered by a 6.8-liter, 453-horsepower V-12 engine that whisks it from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. I sometimes found myself cruising at 80-plus mph when I thought the car was doing 65, partly because the car is incredibly fast and quiet except for barely discernible wind noise at the windshield.

The suspension is stiffer than on other Rolls models, although some roads brought slight floatiness at the front end. But the Coupe's steering is quick and precise and it easily handled winding, undulating mountain roads at pretty high speeds. The brakes are supremely powerful, with good pedal feel.

Rolls says the Phantom Coupe is the "most driver-oriented" model in the Phantom line, where prices go from about $359,000 to $434,000. In fact, the new Rolls has been named "Best New Luxury Coupe" by the duPont Registry's 2009 Exotic Car Buyers Guide.

The Coupe is easily among the best long-distance cruisers. At 100 mph on deserted two-lane roads, a "power reserve dial," which occupies dashboard space normally used for a tachometer, shows that 90 percent of the engine's power remains untapped.

The V-12 has a push-button starter and works with a smooth six-speed automatic transmission. Touching the "sport" button on the large steering wheel causes the transmission to hold gears longer -- increasing the rate of acceleration and causing faster shifts.

Fuel economy is an estimated 11 mpg in the city and 18 on highways. There was no need to fuel the car after more than 100 miles of freeway and mountain driving because a 26.4-gallon tank helped out.

Potential owners don't fret much -- if at all -- about city fuel economy because many have "five to 10 other cars" at home and usually wouldn't decide to take the Phantom Coupe on short city hops, said Ferraiolo, who noted that many Rolls buyers "look at the world differently" than people of lesser means.

Who buys a Rolls -- any type of Rolls? Ferraiolo said purchasers often are people to whom the car's price isn't much of a factor. Rather, he said, they want outstanding performance, quality and luxury. Primary buying factors vary according to country. For instance, Ned Bateman, a dealer of antique Chinese furniture who was having lunch at a Rolls rest stop during the media test drive, said, "Prestige is the most sought-after single quality for Rolls buyers in China, like $5,000 women's handbags."

In America, many owners have private airplanes and costly boats, besides high-priced cars. They're mostly males in their 40s and 50s. The automaker's largest market is California, followed by Florida and the metropolitan New York area. The Chicago area has one Rolls dealer -- in Northbrook.

"Of course, many buyers in Northern snow belt states keep their Rolls-Royces in Florida," Ferraiolo said.

The Coupe offers nifty optional features. One is a full-length "starlight headlining" that uses hundreds of tiny fibre optics to create the impression of a starlit night sky. It's adjustable to provide a quiet glow or "ample light to read by." One supposes that the next best thing is a top-down Rolls convertible driven on a starry night.

The driver and passengers sit high in big, comfortable seats in the lush-life interior, which has power controls for just about everything. A dashboard camera that helps when backing up is activated in reverse gear.

The Coupe stands tall at 62.7 inches inches and thus calls for an extra half-step or so to get in and out. The long, hefty doors are hinged at the rear so you can enter and exit gracefully. That means they open from the front. However, push a button once inside the car and doors automatically close if front-seat occupants don't want to stretch and manually yank them closed.

There's plenty of room for two tall adults up front and two 6-footers in the rear, although occupants with extra-long legs might complain that the backseat area could use a little more legroom. The rear seat's stiff center prevents comfortable seating for a third rear occupant and backseat cupholders are located near floor level behind the front console.

The spacious trunk has a two-piece lid with a mini-tailgate that provides a seating platform for two -- with a weight limit of 330 pounds.

I'd rather be in the driver's seat.

Prices: $400,000

Likes: Fast. Excellent roadability. Superb highway cruiser. Lush-life interior.

Dislikes: Large and heavy. Long doors. Occasional floaty ride. Low city fuel economy.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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