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First look: BMW rolls out Phantom

Clean-sheet design: Phantom was commissioned just four-and-a-half years ago.

BMW revives Rolls-Royce with a new plant, new car and, it hopes, a new image

6 Jan 2003

THE PHANTOM did not steal the limelight at the 2003 Detroit motor show - but that's because BMW chose a couple of days earlier to officially reveal the first new Rolls-Royce since the German manufacturer gained control of the famed British automotive marque this year.

Launched on January 3 at the company's new manufacturing plant and head office at Goodwood in West Sussex, UK, Phantom was unveiled to the public for the first time at Detroit on opening day, January 5.

While the Rolls-Royce Phantom goes on sale immediately in Europe - at a price of EUR320,000 excluding tax - it is not expected to be available in Australia until mid-year, by which time a limited national retail network will be in place.

Designed from scratch to battle with DaimlerChrysler's new Maybach for the patronage of top-shelf limousine customers, Phantom claims to interpret the essence of the world's most famous car brand in a thoroughly modern way.

Phantom appears just four-and-a-half years after BMW Group became the custodian of the Rolls-Royce marque for automotive use (in July 1998) - in the process committing to launch a new company, a new plant and a new car in January 2003.

Taking their inspiration from the Phantom I and II models of the 1930s, the Silver Cloud of the 1950s and the Silver Shadow of the 1960s, designers of the 2003 Phantom incorporated a long wheelbase, short front overhang, a deep C-pillar, long bonnet and that unmistakable grille with The Spirit of Ecstasy mascot.

Also said to be influenced by the guiding principles of Sir Henry Royce, who demanded perfection in every aspect of automotive design, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars says Phantom is the result of cutting-edge engineering technology, unparalleled quality and the finest in hand-built craftsmanship.

Phantom occupants enter via what Rolls-Royce calls coach doors, which open from the centre of the car (the rear doors hinged at the back). Combined with a flat floor, they provide easier access to the slightly curved rear lounge seat, which promotes a more social environment. Leather/Cashmere trim and fitted cabins complete the simple, functional interior.

With Phantom, however, Rolls-Royce owner BMW has apparently improved on perfection by adding a few of its own personal touches.

These include the electrically retractable Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet mascot, which can be lowered out of sight whenever Phantom is parked the wheel hub centres, which bear the interlinked double-R logo and remain upright and the umbrellas stored within each rear door.

Rolls-Royce says most Phantom owners will drive themselves most of the time. Accordingly, much attention has been paid to driver involvement. Described as intuitive and effortless to drive, Phantom offers a high driving position, self-levelling air springs, electronic dampers, double wishbone front suspension and multi-link IRS.

The lengthy 3570mm wheelbase, which places the Phantom somewhere between the short and long-wheelbase versions of the Maybach, combines with high-profile tyres to increase ride quality - the latter making the Phantom the first car in the world to feature the PAX run-flat tyre system as standard, which allows the car to run for 160km at 80km/h after a puncture.

Of the other vital statistics, the four-door/five-seat Phantom measures 5834mm long, 1990mm wide and 1632mm high. There's a big 13.8 metre turning circle, 1685mm and 1670mm front and rear wheel tracks respectively, 100-litre fuel tank and 460 litres of boot volume. Shoulder room (1509mm front, 1431mm rear), legroom (1028mm front, 947mm rear) and headroom (1020mm front, 979mm rear) are also outstanding. But the 0.383Cd aerodynamic drag co-efficient is not.

At the heart of Phantom is a gargantuan 6.75-litre 60-degree V12. Featuring variable valve lift, variable valve timing and direct fuel injection, it produces 720Nm of torque at 3500rpm and 338kW at 5350rpm, with 75 per cent of that peak torque figure available from just above idle at 1000rpm.

Naturally, despite its 2485kg kerb weight, Phantom's performance is hardly muted thanks to the staggering outputs, with Roll-Royce claiming 0-100km/h acceleration of 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 240km/h.

Does fuel economy suffer? Not according to Rolls-Royce, which claims a paltry 11 litres per 100km on the EU extra urban cycle and a combined figure of 15.9L/100km.

The chairman and chief executive of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Tony Gott, says: "For nearly 100 years, Rolls-Royce has been the icon of motor engineering and design. The name has entered the language as an expression of perfection. The new Rolls-Royce Phantom is, we believe, entirely in keeping with that long and illustrious heritage, yet is totally contemporary in its design and technology." "Its name evokes the personality of the Phantom I and II models of the 1930s and reflects timeless values of quality, distinction and authority, combining the best of the past with the best modern design, engineering and technology to take Rolls-Royce firmly into the 21st century."

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