Driven: The finest motorcar in the world

Driven: The finest motorcar in the world

No doubt about it, the 2019 Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII is the best car yet

When I was around 11 years old, two things happened. First I discovered a British TV show called The Avengers. This became my favorite show, displacing Star Trek reruns. The main character in the show, John Steed, portrayed by the great Patrick Macnee, was who I wanted to be when I grew up. One of Steed’s cars in the show was a Rolls-Royce Phantom. This made an impression.

Around the same time, my dad bought me my first car book, The Rolls Royce Owners Companion. I read this book cover to cover and decided that Rolls-Royce was my favorite car brand.

Since then, while I have driven and/or owned cars of many brands, I have never owned a Rolls-Royce. However, after driving the new 2019 Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII, that may change, and soon.

What you have in the 2019 Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII is quite literally the finest car that has ever been built.

I know this sounds like a bold statement, but I have driven everything from a Triumph Spitfire to a McLaren F1, the Mercedes Maybach to the Bentley Mulsanne.

Elegance in motion | Brian McCarthy photo

Just how much better is the Phantom than everything else? It is so good as there are literally no other cars to compare other than the other current offerings from Rolls-Royce, and even these suffer a bit in comparison.

To be honest, the reason I even inquired about testing the 2019 Rolls-Royce is a bit of a funny story. I judge at the Greenwich Concours every year and this year the committee set up a new VIP parking area. Since that parking is literally across the street from the concours, I wanted a car that qualified as a VIP car. What better than a Rolls-Royce.

Rolls-Royce not only approved the loan of a press-fleet vehicle, but delivered it to my home. My first thought on seeing the car was of how huge it is. I checked with the gentleman dropping off the car to be sure that this was indeed the short wheelbase model, which he confirmed. The car measures at 228 inches long, or about a foot longer than my garage. This car is big!

I got into the car and was greeted by a display that said, “Welcome Mr. Reid.” Nice touch.

Car welcomes its driver | Andy Reid photo

I immediately took the car on a short drive to see how it worked. Despite the car’s mammoth dimensions, it seems to shrink in size when in motion.The Phantom is an easy car to drive, no matter if it is going thru city traffic or on the highway.

The first thing you notice from behind the wheel is that it feels exactly like you would expect from a Rolls. The only cue to the BMW ownership of Rolls-Royce is the knurled aluminum I-Drive controller, which can be hidden away.

Everything you see and everything you touch is simply the best available. The car exudes British luxury like no other car every made, including Rolls-Royce cars of the past. I say this after spending many miles behind the wheel of older Rolls and Bentley.

Another of the amazing things about the car is how quiet it is. While driving it around town I hear a distant motorcycle exhaust. I looked next to me and there was a Harley with open pipes. I rolled the window down and heard the extremely loud exhaust. After putting the window up, the sound practically disappeared.

The car is extremely quiet, 80 mph on the freeway sounds like 35 in other vehicles.

I set off for the Greenwich Concours tour at 6 a.m. and all was good until I hit Interstate 95. Traffic was stopped. Usually this would drive me crazy but in the Rolls Phantom I simply put on a Hall and Oates CD, turned on the seat massage functions and waited for the traffic to clear.

Speaking of the audio system, this needs further discussion. My wife, Ann, is a bit of an audiophile and as a result our home audio systems are some of the very best available, costing tens of thousands of dollars. The Bespoke Audio System, a $10,875 option in the Rolls-Royce Phantom, makes our home system sound like that in base-level Nissan Versa.

Spectacular does not begin to describe the sound. No manufacturer has ever installed an audio system that holds a candle to the one in the Phantom. Thinking I might be overstating how good this system is, I put a few friends who are serious audio geeks in the car and all were blown away by the quality. This is box you really need to check if you order one of these cars.

We got to the tour start point and rallymaster Rich Taylor asked me if I could carry a few passengers. Being a proper gentleman Rolls-Royce driver, and since I only had my navigator, Mark, and myself in the car, I said of course.

View from the second row | Andy Reid photos

The guests rode in the back of the car and were immediately taken by the car. They tried every button and setting available and soon found themselves enjoying being ensconced in the luxury of the Phantom. We could have been at a British club Boodles in London, enjoying an after dinner drink. Phantom is that phenomenal a place to be. In fact the car is likely a better place to be than an exclusive British club, as none of those clubs I have visited feature a roof of lighted stars.

When you first see the Starlight Headliner you might feel that it is a bit over the top, but it truly makes the car an even better place to be and has to be one of the most wonderful interior options for a luxury car ever devised.

At one point we were on a high-speed stretch of the route and opened the car up quite a bit. I mentioned how fast we were traveling to everyone on board and they would not believe me until the leaned forward and saw the speedometer. The car isolates you that much from the outside world in the best possible way.

Much of this is due to the great amount of sound-deadening material in the car. Rolls added 285 pounds of it to the new Phantom. More amazing is that even the tires have sound deadening foam used in their construction.

Phantom is large, but amazingly easy to drive, well, until you try to fit it into a standard-size garage | Brian McCarthy photo

The word I would use to describe the car from behind the wheel is effortless. This has to be the easiest car to drive I have ever had the pleasure to pilot.

The Phantom is powered by a 6 ¾-liter twin-turbocharged V12 engine with 563 horsepower and 664 pound-feed of torque. This allows the 5800 pounds car to cover 0-60 in only 5.1 seconds. That itself is impressive but more impressive is the way the car does it. Instead in being slammed back in your seat, you instead feel a slight increase of power. Holding the accelerator to the floor of this car is a mind-bending experience in that you find yourself traveling quite rapidly very quickly, but you only realize that if you are looking at the speedometer.

During the Greenwich Concours the car attracted more attention in the parking lot than the Ferraris and Lamborghinis parked next to us. I cannot imagine how many hundreds of Instagram posts were made on the car.

We also made a few side trips with Phantom, going to Target as well as a McDonalds drive thru. During both side trips the car received tremendous positive attention.

If there was one downside to my time with the Phantom is was when trying to park it at the hotel. The only way to safely do so was to park it at an angle. Yes, I was forced to be that guy who parks crooked. My excuse it was the only way the car would fit in the garage.

The valets insisted on this parking spot next to the vintage Silver Cloud

After the Concours, I drove the car to the Del Mar hotel to meet some friends. At the Del Mar, the valet had me park next to a Silver Cloud Drophead.

I drove home, enjoying my last long drive in the car, taking in the amazing leather seats, the under-glass gallery of the dash, the world’s best audio system, and the effortless performance and magic of the behind the wheel experience. During the trip back, scores of other drivers took pictures as we passed.

On the way home I took the car to the best touch-free car wash in Connecticut. As I watched the car through the windows of the car wash make its way thru the process I saw that the attendants were filming themselves as they were washing the car. This is the way the Phantom impacts people.

It’s hard to describe the legitimate and very real sense if loss I felt after the Phantom left. It is also amazing how one can become so used to the unsurpassed and seamless luxury embodied in this exceptional motorcar. The Phantom is in a category all by itself.

VIP parking spot

To best illustrate the Phantoms excellence, about two hours after returning the magical Rolls-Royce, I drove my 2016 BMW X3 on an errand. The BMW felt like a Toyota Corona from the 1970s.

And now the challenge: How to come up with the half-a-million dollars it takes to own such a vehicle.

2019 Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII

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8 Comments

  • James McIntire
    June 20, 2019, 6:13 AM

    Once in my life, many years ago I had a friend who had purchased a well-used Rolls to drive his wife around in it; to treat her like the queen that she deserved to be. It was a 1980’s model that needed restored, but still a Rolls nonetheless! He allowed me to sit in it for a few moments simply to take in the feel of British luxury at its finest. I realized that A wore out, crusty Rolls Royce with cracked leather and splintering woodwork is still a finer car than any new Ford! And I had just purchased a new Ford and was still feeling on top of the world!

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  • Kevin Flankey
    June 20, 2019, 9:43 AM

    A nicely-restored Silver Shadow captures the best of the old, handmade Rolls-Royces without the computers needed in the newer cars. There is a mid-western shop that markets their cars on eBay for around $40,000 complete with warranty. Spend a little more upfront than buying a cheaper car with needs that will ultimately cost you more in the long run.

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  • Jennifer Revson
    June 20, 2019, 11:44 AM

    Such a wonderful write-up of a beautiful car. I could picture everything as if I were riding along.

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    • Malcolm Graham@Jennifer Revson
      June 20, 2019, 3:05 PM

      I bought my first Rolls-Royce about 25 years ago, a 1974 Series 1 Silver Shadow.
      Every word this writer says is true – although l think the night sky roof is something a buyer with more money than senee might specify. Such people are not rare among buyers of these cars.
      What Mr Reid says about the cars not seeming to be going as fast as they are is not always a good thing: l was sitting in the back of my Bentley Arnage T (a VW adaption of a Rolls-Royce product) while my lady friend drove and her father had the front passenger seat.
      We were proceeding quite briskly, rather more briskly than the law allows. I wasn’t concerned for our safety because the driver had been taught how to drive while she was a member of the New Zealand Police but rather the longevity of her licence.
      A pet hate of mine is passengers who comment about my driving (I once had a wife who was well practiced at it) but l had to speak up: "You’re doing 130 you know." "That’s not THAT fast." "It is a mile per hour speedo."
      The car was UK spec. Here in New Zealand we use kilometres. We were doing over 200kph. Eek!
      Great write up Mr Reid. The good news is that you can have the parts of your experience that matter for a fraction of the price if you shop on the second hand market. The bad news is that the costs of keeping a Rolls-Royce, Bentley or other similar car properly serviced will make your eyes water – but you will forgive the car every cent next time you drive it.

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  • Frank Comstock
    June 20, 2019, 2:25 PM

    I’ve driven just one Rolls Royce, a 1962 Silver Cloud. A friend had bought the very tired car, but it was still a Rolls. It wasn’t particularly quiet since the auto transmission crunched and clunked through the gears and I had to have the windows open because the A/C barely worked. I had a chance to ride in the car — but not drive it that time — a year later after my friend got it back from the restoration shop. The leather was still somewhat cracked, although it had been reconditioned and he had only had the paint buffed out. The engine and transmission had been thoroughly restored and the brakes and A/C had been rebuilt. It was a different car, much more like I expect it would have been in 1962 rather than the 40 year old car it was at the time. I’ve never forgotten the ads in the New York Times in the late 1960s and early 1970s when you could buy a 20 – 25 year old Rolls for as little as $1,500. There were multiple cars advertised every Sunday. There just wasn’t much of a market at that time. Still too much even then for someone just graduating from high school. I did dream, though.

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  • Thomas Graziano
    June 20, 2019, 2:55 PM

    Drove the Phantom at Pebble Beach last year. It’s an amazing automobile from the power delivery, phenomenal handling for such a large vehicle and the piece and quiet it provides. The tires even have soundproofing material in them. It might not be for everyone (myself included) but the Rolls-Royce is truly the finest automobile on the road. Period.

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