Rolls Royce Drophead: the statement

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IOL mot aug1 RR a . The Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe has enormous presence on the road. Pictures: Divyesh Dajee.

ROAD TEST: Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé

Johannesburg - His nonchalance is most admirable. Rolls Royce SA’s brand manager had only moments ago floored me with an under-his-breath mention of price, and now he’s handing me the keys to a delivery mileage model and sending me out into Sandton traffic. There’s a twinkle in his eye and a sparkle in his teeth when he says, “just have fun”, as if he damn well knows it won’t be that easy.

And it’s not. I can’t lie and say there isn’t some enjoyment to be had while steering a 5.6 metre-long Phantom Drophead Coupé around like some land-loving captain of the high streets, along with all the attention that comes with it... but trust me, your senses will never be tuned into errant taxis, indicator-less BMWs and jagged kerbs like they will when driving a car this big and this valuable.

I’m not at liberty to disclose exact pricing, but let’s just say that if you bought the car pictured here and a Kia Picanto together, it would cost right around R12.6-million.

Understand that Rolls pricing wavers immensely with exchange rates, and it’s near impossible to pinpoint numbers on such bespoke and personalisable cars.

The term “Price On Application” applies here quite literally.

IOL mot aug1 RR b The Drophead is whisked along by a 6.75-litre V12.

GRANDIOSE

As I float down Oxford Road I try to familiarise myself with the huge Roller’s interior much like I would in any test car, only here things seem much more foreign than what motoring plebs like me are used to. Everything’s of grandiose proportion. While one eye fixates on my lane’s boundaries, my other gazes around the place as if I’m on centre stage in a stupendously capacious lambswool and bamboo cashmere-lined concert hall.

The steering wheel’s unnecessarily large in diameter, but gripping a smaller one just wouldn’t have the same effect. I hate to use the word pompous, but it’s an easy attitude to adopt when holding this thinly-rimmed helm with arms wide at ten to two. I also noticed how Rolls Royce snuck in a slightly cheesy throwback to pre-war models’ steering-mounted engine timing adjusters, stylistically repurposed as remote phone and audio-system buttons.

Most controls are self explanatory, and I like the way the dashboard’s been designed with understated old-world charm and exaggerated classiness in close balance. A centrally-mounted analogue clock, for instance, somersaults to reveal a full-colour display screen. Disappointing, though, are the easily recognisable BMW iDrive infotainment system graphics. It’s a neat and intuitive system that any 3 Series driver could operate with ease, but for this kind of money I’d expect a better disguise. Also strange is switchgear that seems sourced from two very different suppliers, because while seat and exterior mirror control joysticks look crafted from fine crystal, the indicator, cruise control and gear-selector stalks feel like flimsy plastic in comparison.

QUALITY NIGGLES

At the risk of never being invited to set foot in a Rolls again, I also must comment on an ill-fitting dashboard panel, a misty tail light, and shoddy finishing inside the tonneau well which the roof retracts into. Oh hell, while I’m at it... the automatically closing suicide doors (ahem... coach doors) slam shut in the most ungraceful way, and the bootlid doesn’t come with an auto open/close function at all (even a C-Class gets an electronic one). There, I said it. For this much money you expect more.

IOL mot aug1 RR ac The interior is a study in ostentatious luxury but some switchgear looks cheap.

The quality of the drive is unquestionably high class, however. No matter what the road surface underneath looks like, it feels paved with a layer of butter cream, and the massive rolling diameter of those 21” tyres partner with air springs to sop up protuberances like croutons in French onion soup.

WAFTING ALONG

Waftability is an overused word when referencing Rolls Royce ride quality, but for good reason. It wafts well. Rolls itself has endorsed the word by giving the crease along the bottom of the doors the official title of “Waftability Line”.

Because this is a Series 2 Phantom (launched in 2012 and recognisable by squarer, LED-accented headlights) it gets an eight-speed gearbox to replace the older Series 1’s six-speeder. A bit insignificant an upgrade on paper, but one that improves the Phantom’s already silky glide immensely.

Gear changes are almost completely imperceptible, and there’s only an old-fashioned reserve power meter where you might expect a traditional rev-counter, so there’s no real way of knowing which ratio is selected at any given speed. The 6.75-litre V12 up front also does little to give away its rate of churn, meaning acceleration happens with a most ghostly muffle.

Feed the throttle from a standstill and the big boat just sails away in silence as if it’s being blown along by the breath of God.

There’s a healthy 338kW and 720Nm available but there’s no hiding the Roller’s 2.7-ton kerb weight. Rolls Royce quotes 5.8 seconds for the 0-100km/h test, but getting this much mass moving doesn’t happen in a hurry and I think that number’s a tad ambitious. Not that it matters. This car’s more about departing and arriving in style, not how quickly it can get between the two.

That said, its performance can be deceptive. At one point, while driving I commented to a passenger about excessive wind noise emanating from the windscreen area, oblivious to the fact that I was doing 180km/h. The Phantom does high speed in the same way it stands still. Affluently.

VERDICT

The Phantom Drophead Coupé (old-English for convertible) is the most expensive car in Rolls-Royce’s current repertoire, and it would still sell if it were twice as much. This car makes a statement, and that statement is: I’m rich and I don’t care if there are better cars for less money because I can buy them too. -Star Motoring

Follow me on Twitter: @PoorBoyLtd

FACTS

Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé

Engine: 6.75-litre, V12 petrol

Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic

Power: 338kW @ 5350rpm

Torque: 720Nm @ 3500rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 5.8 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 240km/h (governed)

Consumption (claimed): 14.8 litres per 100km

Price (estimated): R12.5 million



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