Rolls-Royce gingerly tweaks its Phantom to improve comfort and economy
Gently does it Unmatched luxury: The Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II is easy to pilot even in the city, despite its immense size -- PHOTO: ROLLS-ROYCE MOTOR CARS

Amid whirlwind changes that continue to sweep across the automotive landscape, it is refreshing that some things still mature like good wines.

Nine years after the Rolls-Royce Phantom limousine was introduced here, the facelifted version has arrived. As with most facelifts, the changes you find on the Phantom Series II are not earth-shaking.

Cosmetically, the car's yacht-like body has been given a nip here and a tuck there. None of which is immediately noticeable, except for the new all-LED headlamps and the 21-inch wheels.

On the road, it is just as imposing as ever - a whale of a car that makes even a Mercedes S-class look compact.

Inside, you will find subtle changes as well, such as new audio-visual connectors, new phone port and a larger multi-function monitor (which still looks small for a car its size).

Rolls-Royce says seats in the second row have been raised by 18mm, but it is still not quite possible to have a good view of the road ahead, even if the rear seats are slightly reclined.

The Harman sound system has been juiced up, but alas, radio reception for a few channels are not crystal-clear.

Well-heeled owners are, however, likely to enjoy the car's improved navigation system (which includes maps of Malaysia and Thailand) and its bird's-eye-view camera system. The latter makes negotiating carpark ramps and other relatively tight spaces less of a chore in the leviathan.

The two most significant changes are invisible. First, the vehicle's electronic platform has been updated to enable the inclusion of some of the newer gadgets onboard (and possibly paving the way for a more modern all-new model in the pipeline).

Second, the car has been fitted with a new eight-speed autobox, which offers a 10 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency over the previous six-cog affair, and more importantly, an even quieter performance all round.

Whether at the helm or in the towkay position, the revised Phantom astounds with a level of noiselessness previously unimaginable for non-electric cars.

At a trot, you can make out some tyre noise if you strain hard enough. At a gallop, a V12 hum permeates, but only just so.

The suspension system has also been tweaked to give a somewhat more settled progress. The ride is exceptionally comfortable, but less floaty than before. Despite the larger wheels (21- instead of 20-inch), nothing short of a crater upsets the Phantom. Anything less is muffled.

While the new transmission is a wee bit more responsive to foot pressure than the previous gearbox, the car still lacks the vigour you find in the RR Ghost. Perhaps it is time Rolls-Royce breaks with tradition and equips its flagship with a turbo-charged power plant.

A turbo will no doubt enhance low-end torque delivery and allow RR to move away from its ageing 6.7-litre engine. But exact configuration will have to be executed carefully, lest the additional verve comes at some expense to silky, seamless acceleration.

The current set-up is no slouch when you put your foot down. A zero to hundred dash is achieved in 5.9 seconds, unchanged from before.

The other thing that remains unchanged is the way the car feels at the wheel. Despite being so big, it is surprisingly easy to pilot, even in the city.

If you prefer the backseat, the Roller's unmatched luxury continues to impress. Deep-pile carpeting, motorised doors, soft leather upholstery and beautiful craftsmanship are some of the things to look forward to.

But if you can wait, the next generation should be out in three to five years' time.

SPECS

ROLLS-ROYCE PHANTOM SERIES II

Price: From $1,510,888 without COE

Engine: 6,749cc 48-valve V12

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Power: 453bhp at 5,350rpm

Torque: 720Nm at 3,500rpm

0-100kmh: 5.9 seconds

Top speed: 240kmh (electronically limited)

Fuel consumption: 14.8 litres/ 100km

Agent: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Singapore