2009 Rolls Royce CoupePosted on March 22nd, 2009
Where else can you get an optional $12,000 Starlight headliner?
By Bill Baker
Since Rolls Royce introduced its $434,000 convertible last year – you know the one that reminds you of a Riva speedboat you can moor in your garage – it has been sold out.
Now, the company that brings you the disappearing Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament has completed the four-model Phantom line with the addition of a two-door coupe built off of a modified convertible chassis. Those two models, along with the original Phantom and its Extended Wheelbase version, comprise the complete Rolls Royce line until sometime next year when “RR4” comes along. That will be a less expensive, much sportier addition to the Rolls’ sedan stable that will come off a BMW 7 Series platform.
For now, let’s see what it’s like to pilot nearly three tons of Coupé.
The 2-door Coupé is meant to be driven by its owner whereas the 4-door Phantom usually has a chauffeur. The car is striking in its massive dimensions – nearly 18.5 feet of elegantly painted and sculpted steel and aluminum spreads across 6.5 feet of road and rides on a 130.7 inch wheelbase. Its huge 21-inch wheels – available in three styles -will always come to rest with central “RR”logo upright. It’s done with weights and hydraulics and probably costs more than a case of Dom Perignon.
The “A” pillar actually forms a triangle (A/B pillar?) with a small quarter window in it that aids in visibility, strength and makes the vehicle even more visually unique.
The doors continue the uniqueness as they are hinged at the rear. This allows driver and passengers to enter with grace and aplomb. Once you slide into the leather-clad interior the doors may be closed by a button housed discreetly inside the front quarter light. Incidentally, should it be raining, there’s a very handsome umbrella housed in its own receptacle built into the doorframe.
The Phantom Coupé’s profile has a high waistline that tapers to a boat-tail. The body panels create an uninterrupted visual flow, complemented by accents of stainless steel and aluminium. While there are nine standard exterior colors, I thought the all-black car with the stainless hood was stunning. But don’t fret, Rolls is only too happy to work with your decorator or stylist to provide the car in any of 44,000 hues!
The trunk – which is actually called a “picnic boot” in Rolls-speak is a “wonderfully sociable feature.” Part of the two-piece affair folds down to make a seating platform for two with hinges substantial enough to hold 330 lb. The upper lid accesses the luggage compartment which has a volume of 13.9 cu ft – enough for four sets of golf clubs or a tailgate picnic catered by Martha Stewart and Wolfgang Puck.
The paint finish is indeed all you would expect from a Rolls Royce; five coats of hand-rubbed lacquer gleam like no other production car.
Rear view cameras are becoming fairly common these days, but the Phantom Coupe also has an optional forward looking camera that let’s you see if someone or something is lurking near the front end.
The inside of this car is truly special. No fewer than 17 cowhides have been stitched together by very meticulous British craftsmen. The leather and woodworking skills that are found in England are like none other and is a major reason Rolls-Royce parent BMW kept the assembly of the vehicle in the UK at a very environmentally green plant on the grounds of historic Goodwood Speedway.
When seated, you see or touch only leather, wood or chrome. The wood is actually a veneer laid over many layers of specially bent wood and aluminium. They do this because the old practice of using a solid piece of, say Burr Walnut, was not as safe nor as long-lived as today’s cars require. It all looks like it came out of Buckingham Palace.
There are six standard wood finishes including my favorite, rosewood. Of course if you prefer Australian Black Wattle they’ll be happy to provide it – for a price.
The air conditioning vents are chrome balls with organ stop controls. There’s a beautiful analogue clock on the central fascia which flips over to reveal the navigation system. Here old meets new. The nav screen is also the entertainment, communication and car settings display. It’s all operated by a rotary knob that pops out of the central armrest. This is a bit of BMW-sourced technology but is far more user friendly than what was originally found in the 7 Series.
The top of the armrest is in two pieces. The forward one flips up to reveal the seat controls and the dimmer for the Starlight headliner. It’s a bother to keep opening the cover to fiddle with the seat settings which we did frequently as we found getting truly comfortable surprisingly elusive. This was especially noticeable in the seat-to-steering wheel relationship. The wheel moves up and down but not in and out, nor does it change its angle. The wheel is large in diameter and is nicely padded. The steering position is formal; that is, one doesn’t slouch and steer with two fingers.
The rear part of the armrest has storage and phone. There are two cup or bottle holders that slide out of the forward center console and they’re adequate should in-car beverage consumption be necessary. I’d wait until you get to the club.
A note on the Starlight ceiling. This is a hand-perforated display of 1,600 fibre optic lights that, for $12,000 extra, replaces the standard headliner.
Its luminescence can be bright enough to read by or just provide enough glow to get your companion in the proper attitude for whatever you might have in mind. Should you be an astronomy maven, Rolls Royce will custom tailor the light pattern so you can contemplate Cassiopeia on the ceiling of your car. Naturally, there will be an additional charge for the planetarium decor.
The sound system is a Logic 7 by Lexicon. It uses 15 metal-matrix speakers that deliver 420-watts of digital sound using a nine-channel amplifier. Whether you’re Seiji Ozawa or Devin the Dude, you’ll be sonically satisfied.
The two primary hallmarks of a luxury car are quietness and power. The Phantom Coupé delivers both in spades. On the highway, the Rolls is very quiet and provides plenty of space, even in the rear seats.
The 6.8 liter V12 engine develops 453hp at 5350rpm. The 531 lb/ft of torque can move the massive car from rest to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds according to the factory. Top speed is limited to 155mph. You’ll feel comfortable with the power on tap but you won’t be tempted to blast around any semis without sufficient passing space.
There are no optional suspension settings but the driver can push a button on the steering wheel to engage the “S” mode. This holds gears a bit longer and downshifts faster. There are no selectable gears other than “D” and “R” so again, if you want to play, break out the Ferrari or the S Class.
The 43-foot turning circle is tighter than a Maybach 57 by .9 feet, but 2 feet wider than a Bentley Arnage. This all means that doing a U-turn can be done on the Champs-Elysées but not on Mulholland Drive. Steering is rack and pinion and rather over-boosted and lacks the kind of feedback a driver-centric car would have.
On twisting mountain roads, the lack of a downshift capability beyond the “S” button meant you had to keep dabbing on the brakes to keep your speed in check. I would have preferred to let the engine slow the car by selecting a lower gear. There was no hint of brake fade and pedal modulation is excellent. Climbing hills was no problem either as there is more than ample power on tap at any time.
We had a chance to drive this elegant machine from the very comfortable St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco up to Bodega Bay in Sonoma County and back.
What you really do is maneuver the massive RR grille and its Winged Lady hood ornament into and out of the consciousness of bystanders and pedestrians. Gawkers wondered what celebrity was going by, or what banker or stock broker still had enough cash to afford one of these things. The Coupé lists for $400,000.
Cars in this price range are as rare as a hole-in-one at Augusta National. My driving partner – another long-time auto journalist – and I had an interesting debate as to how you actually evaluate a car like this from a technical standpoint. Do the nuts and bolts, performance, ride quality and other mechanical things add up to a justifiable $400 grand price tag? No, they don’t, any more than a $10,000 Rolex watch tells time better than a Timex. In fact, as a driver’s car, the Rolls is surpassed in a couple of key areas – steering feedback and tracking come to mind – by cars costing far less. .
When you get right down to the essence of this car, driving isn’t the point of a Rolls Royce anymore than the quality of the cuisine at the New York Yacht Club is the main criterion for joining that august establishment. The Rolls is an accoutrement. When it comes to automobiles, nothing else is a Rolls Royce. When you reach your destination in a Phantom you don’t just get there – you arrive. Heads turn, doormen jump, valets elbow each other out of the way, curious onlookers speculate. There were1010 Rolls Royce cars sold last year. For those few people, all that fuss along with pride of ownership in having something rare and special is worth it.
Rolls Royce North America president Paul Ferraiolo had what I think was an accurate analogy. Most of Rolls’ “clients,” as they call their customers, own several cars – a Porsche or Ferrari for speed and thrills, a Mercedes or BMW for daily business, a Range Rover for weekend sports and the Rolls for an evening out. Think of a Rolls as you would a tuxedo. Properly tailored, a tux makes any man look good and feel smart. Sure, you could go shoot baskets or run down to the Home Depot wearing a tux, but you wouldn’t. Nor do you use a Rolls to haul fertilizer.
To be seen and speculated about one should belong to an exclusive country, yacht or polo club. Or you could also be a rapper arriving at a nightclub or a baseball player going to a signing event. Of course there are the oil sheiks who need a Rolls for running down to the OPEC meeting.
A Rolls Royce is about as subtle as Paris Hilton in a convent. Obviously the price assures exclusivity but you also have to be pretty comfortable in your skin and like to have people look at you to truly enjoy the experience. But it’s not a car you’ll want to jump in for a fast blast through the foothills. Again, would you wear a tux for that?
Is the Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe for you?
Buy this vehicle if
You want to show the world that you are immune from the recent global economic collapse. But seriously, no other vehicle makes the statement that the Rolls Royce grille with its Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament does. It helps if you need a formal ride to the club, a night out at a restaurant that holds your table every night, and your broker has your photo on his nightstand.
Keep looking if…
Your Board might not appreciate this symbol or your firm was saved by the federal bailout. You need credit to finance it or really prefer a car you can drift through the corners.
Four people in absolute luxury and quiet – depending on what’s playing on the 15-speaker sound system.
Options worth splurging on
The Bespoke Division will be happy to develop just about anything you might wish.
Maybach 57, Mercedes SLR, Bentley Continental GT,
Did you know?
* The aluminium spaceframe in every Phantom is hand-welded. Every morning the welder’s run a 400mm bead to test how the metals are reacting to atmospheric conditions. In all, there are 130 meters of welds making it one of the strongest bodies of its type in the world.
* BMW bought the rights to build Rolls Royce cars after a fierce bidding war with Volkswagen AG who thought they were buying both Bentley and Rolls. It turned out that Rolls Royce Aerospace owned the rights to the name and the brand which they sold in a separate deal to BMW for far less money.
* BMW built a new factory at the site of the famous Goodwood racetrack where they now build all Rolls Royce cars.
* Some 1010 Rolls Royces were sold worldwide in 2007. California, Florida and New York/Connecticut are the largest markets in the US.
* Rolls Royce’s Ultra High Net Worth owners donate an average of 7% of net worth to charity according to Rolls’ studies.
One response to “2009 Rolls Royce Coupe”
When you’re thinking of picturesque high-class vehicles, the Europeans keep the leadership, as a result of such popular brands as Rolls-Royce, Range Rover, Aston Martin, and Maserati. Experience luxury, love life.
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