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A sportier rolls

Almost a year after unveiling the plush two-door Phantom saloon, the 101EX, Rolls-Royce announced a convertible version of the 101EX, dubbed the Phantom Drophead Coupé. Now, the 101EX is getting another prestigious, two-door variant — the Phantom Coupé.

Considering the fact that mostly everyone on Earth knows of this legendary marque, let me tell you about one small button in this car, instead of talking about its endless list of luxury features.

It’s a little button on the steering wheel, designed to be as innocuous as possible. You see, this button has the power to launch this car into sports mode! By Rolls-Royce standards, it makes this car the first of its kind. Each gear is held longer, and kick-down is faster. This Phantom variant is designed for gentlemen and ladies who prefer hopping into the driver’s seat to handing over the keys to a chauffeur.

UNDER THE HOOD

The monster under the bonnet is the same 6.75-litre V12 motor that powers all BMW-era Rollers. It churns out 453bhp and 73.41kgm of torque and is claimed to be faster than the BMW 750Li in the 0-100kph sprint, managing to touch 100kph in 5.8 seconds (our recorded BMW test time was 6.38 seconds!).

DRIVER’S DEAL

I couldn’t help putting this claim to test. As I forcefully pushed down the accelerator pedal, I knew that the V12 under the bonnet was going ballistic, but behind the steering wheel there was nothing but a hush.

There’s no thunderclap and no gruff vocals from the twin exhaust pipes. The 2,590kg car simply whooshes out with the politest of murmurs. In the driver’s seat you have a commanding view straight down the long sweep of the bonnet to the Spirit of Ecstasy. Its direct-injection petrol engine delivers 75 per cent of its maximum power at just 1000rpm, giving it that smooth, unstressed performance. The motor becomes progressively responsive as engine speed builds up, and you really need to keep one eye on the speedo to keep track of your pace in this deceptively quick car.

Even at triple-digit speeds the power reserve dial keeps taunting you by saying that more than 90 per cent of the power is untapped. The top speed has been limited to an adequate 250kph.

The engineers at RR have made countless detail changes to the suspension, steering and transmission that have resulted in sharper responses from this coupé. But on finding open corners on the back roads of Greater Noida, I definitely felt a slight lag between steering wheel input and car response, though this wasn’t drastic enough for the car to veer off in a completely different direction.

I didn’t expect this 5-star room-on-wheels to be slalom championship material — I can only assume that those who expect the Phantom to exhibit Sukhoi-like responses have an Ariel Atom tucked away in their mansion-sized garage.

Does the sport mode change things, you ask? Well, the truth is that the sports mode does not turn the Phantom Coupé into a sports saloon. So drivers aiming at showing off enthusiastic fashions of driving will miss their targets completely.

Yes, the steering does get a little more responsive, and progress is a bit more urgent but it’s rather pointless. Rolls-Royces are all about comfort and luxury, and were never meant to be ‘sporty’. Pacey, yes; sporty, no. The Phantom Coupé is first and foremost a luxury car, and perhaps the grandest of the grand tourers.

INSIDE STORY

Even the cabin exudes a little bit of sportiness. Its refined detailing was designed to make your life as quiet and comfortable as possible. In India, there’s no denying that we tend to talk loudly in our vehicles, being surrounded by everyday background noise. But cruising along at triple-digit speeds in the Phantom Coupé, the cabin is so quiet that I have to drop my volume a few octaves so as not to sound like a loudmouth.

Also, as soon as I stepped into the Coupé, I knew that I could spend hours just looking at and touching everything in the car. Even the smallest details, like the switches shaped like violin pegs , seem to have been sculpted by a highly skilled jeweller. It’s just a tactile overload of the finest wood and luxurious leather with dashes of chrome. The dashboard is a piece of fine furniture, and the seats are sofas; it seems to be more a corner of the Buckingham Palace rather than a motorcar cabin — with only Prince Charles missing.

There is one odd feature that stood out from the rest, appropriate for rap stars with blinged-out cars in an MTV video. It is the optional ‘starlight’ headlining.

This uses hundreds of tiny fibre-optic lights to create the impression of a starlit night sky, adjustable to provide a quiet glow or ample light to read by. The fibre-optic pieces are all individually punched through the headlining by hand, so no two cars are exactly alike. But you know what? I changed my mind; it somehow works in this car.

FINAL VERDICT

No car is 100 per cent perfect though. So what are the not-so-good points about the Phantom Coupé? After much deliberation, I finally sighted two. The huge rear-hinged backward-opening doors mean that you can’t park it in a tight spot, but then I guess no Roller owner will ever have to park it in a tight spot.

Okay, here’s another gripe — rear window visibility sucks but then again, you have the option of using a rear-view camera. So there!

As for the final verdict, I don’t think that any Rolls-Royce has ever been built with an accountant dictating practical issues to the car’s designers. The Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé is grand, luxurious, über-extravagant and very expensive. Work really hard and maybe some day..!

SPec check

ROLLS-ROYCE PHANTOM COUPÉ

Price (ex-showroom, India): Rs 4.10 crore
L/W/H: 5609/1987/1592mm
Wheelbase: 3320mm
Turning circle: 31.1m
Kerb weight: 2590kg
Engine: V12, 6749cc
Installation: Front, longitudinal, rear-wheel drive
Power: 453bhp at 5350rpm
Torque: 73.41kgm at 3500rpm
Suspension (F/R): Double wishbones, air springs, anti-roll bar/ multi-link, air springs, anti-roll bar
Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
Fuel tank: 100 litres
Brakes (F/R): 374mm ventilated discs/ 370mm ventilated discs
Tyre size (F/R): 255/50 R21; 285/45 R2

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