Alex Kersten profile picture Alex Kersten 8 years ago
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What It's Really Like Driving A Rolls-Royce

"Woah, is that yours? I bet that's nice to drive. How much does it cost? Are you in banking? Can I have a look inside?"...These were the reactions of people who saw me driving a £358k Phantom Drophead recently. And here's what it's really like to drive a car of such Brobdingnagian proportions

Photos by Olgun Kordal

Remind me later
Rolls Royce - What It's Really Like Driving A Rolls-Royce - Blog

You all know the score by now. The team and I get a car delivered to our front door with tax and insurance paid for and a full tank of fuel to burn through for a week. The cars are usually driven from a manufacturer’s HQ to our respective homes by a semi-retired bloke called Bob or Dave. We exchange pleasantries, sign a piece of paper and part ways.

Rolls Royce - What It's Really Like Driving A Rolls-Royce - Blog

Sometimes, however, Bob or Dave won’t be driving the cars themselves because another bloke called Mike or Phil will have an HGV license, and that’s how the very special cars get delivered. The BMW M5 you’ll have seen in our videos a few months ago was one such special car that was delivered on the back of a lorry, and so was this: the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead. All 6.75 V12 litres of it.

Rolled out on the road, the Drophead eclipsed everything; cars, people, houses and even the sun was blocked out momentarily while it readjusted itself higher in the morning sky. At 3050kg - that’s as-near-as-makes-no-difference the weight of two Jaguar F-Types - the Phantom really does stand proud.

After Mike explained the basics - the doors open rear-ways, the gearbox is controlled by a lever to the right of the steering wheel - I just looked at the car for a while, praying to the spatial awareness Gods that they might take extra special care of me for this loan in particular.

Thoughts gathered, it was day one of driving a £358,488 Rolls-Royce, and I was en route to a photo shoot location in London that snapper Olgun had recommended.

Rolls Royce - What It's Really Like Driving A Rolls-Royce - Blog

The first thing that I realised when I fired the Phantom up - apart from the deafening silence of the engine and quality of the leather and lambswool - was that this isn’t a car for short people; the steering wheel is massive (almost boat-like) so sitting close to it makes manoeuvring seem a little clumsy. The vastness that is the interior was also a little unnerving, but enough of my Napolean complex already…

Once you get the big Rolls rolling, hard tarmaced roads turn into endless streams of 13.5 tog-rated winter duvets. Speed bumps and pot holes no longer exist in a Phantom Drophead driver’s world (thanks to anti-lift and anti-dive technology, big tyres and self-levelling air struts), nor does oncoming traffic; even men with ven (that’s a Peep Show reference, yes) surrender their position as king of the road because they just know that you must have something very important to do.

Rolls Royce - What It's Really Like Driving A Rolls-Royce - Blog

Despite this, driving a Rolls-Royce in London isn’t easy. In fact, it’s downright stressful thanks to width restrictions, bus drivers, relentless traffic, and steering that’s incredibly vague (read wafty) and overwhelmingly light.

Rolls Royce - What It's Really Like Driving A Rolls-Royce - Blog

Acceleration is quite impressive on paper - 5.8 seconds to 62mph - but in the real world, you don’t feel that speed. The fact that you never hear the mighty 454bhp and 531lb ft V12 engine (three quarters of the torque is available at 1000rpm) plays its part in this as does the ZF automatic gearbox that slips through its eight speeds seamlessly. ‘Powerful serenity’ is a phrase used by the company and I can’t argue with that.

Rolls Royce - What It's Really Like Driving A Rolls-Royce - Blog

Parked at our photo shoot location, Olgun gets to work capturing the stunning images you see here. I, meanwhile, am holding a flash pack and being directed from left to right. Despite being 11pm on a Tuesday evening, it doesn’t take long for people to start hovering: “Woah, is that yours? I bet that’s nice to drive. How much does it cost? Are you in banking? Can I have a look inside?” were the usual questions, followed by disappointment when I told them that I didn’t own the car. Nevertheless, pictures were taken by both Olgun and passers-by and a light filter was run over and smashed into a million pieces by me (remember what I said about manoeuvrability?). And so that was day one.

Days two and three passed by without the big V12 moving an inch; I was on a launch for those two days, which meant I’d be parking my trusty Seat Ibiza long-termer in Heathrow’s hectic airport car park. And besides, the spatial awareness Gods had been kind to me on day one, so I didn’t want to call in another favour just yet.

Day four was video shoot day with Ethan, which meant driving out of London to a location where we could stretch the Phantom Drophead’s legs a little (the power reserve dial inside the cabin hadn’t read much over 70 per cent for the first few days). This country location would be a good opportunity to see how the Roller would handle when driven more like a hot hatch.

That experience lasted all of a few minutes as I very quickly realised that the Drophead was very uncomfortable being rushed. Big inputs of the steering wheel were the only way to get the car through sweeping bends and the suspension pitched and wallowed unceremoniously beneath me. Confidence-inspiring the Phantom is not on a fast B road. But we knew that already, didn’t we?

Rolls Royce - What It's Really Like Driving A Rolls-Royce - Blog

The Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead (any Roller for that matter) is a car that you enjoy smelling, sitting in and appreciating. After all, it takes 60 pairs of hands and more than 450 hours to make one of these luxury machines from start to finish. And that shows. The lambswool carpets are so soft you can’t help but rub your face in it.

Rolls Royce - What It's Really Like Driving A Rolls-Royce - Blog

The wood - which is oiled and made up of 30 layers, plus thin sheets of aluminium for strength and to prevent splintering, is beautiful and hand-crafted. Then there’s the creamy pièce de résistance, the leather, which will change the way you look at your new sofa:

Only the finest hand-selected hides from Alpine bulls are used by Rolls-Royce. The healthy environment and open meadows without thorn or barbed wire result in far fewer natural marks. The leather is drum pigmented to allow the durable Rolls-Royce leather to retain its famous soft and supple feel, giving a rich, uniform colour while maintaining the natural feel, softness and grain. Each of the 450 leather parts that comprise an interior is cut by laser before being hand sewn by the artisans in the company’s own workshop.

I know what you’re thinking, but the seats do truly reflect this usually-spurious PR bumpf. They’re as soft as butter, smell like success and make you feel special.

Rolls Royce - What It's Really Like Driving A Rolls-Royce - Blog

Driving the Phantom is certainly an occasion, but I never really enjoyed the experience. The car’s too big, too uninvolving and too expensive to drive for normal car guys like me. To get the most out of the Phantom, you need wide and empty roads, a massive fuel budget and a cat-like ability to judge gaps. If you can’t tick all of these prerequisites, then I’m afraid that a car like this will be wasted on you.

For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that this is a car I’d have enjoyed more (and truly appreciated) from the buttery passenger seat…