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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Rolling in luxury

I felt the nerves running high right from the beginning. The Rs 4 crore-Phantom Coupé, unloaded from the transporter at a fuel station outside Udaipur, was immediately a stark contrast to the surroundings.

Picture this. Battered old Tatas and Leylands scrap fender-to-fender, two-wheelers and rickshaws dive through gaps in traffic and the road is lined with an assortment of sump-gouging potholes. Just to add a further twist to the already chaotic set-up, countless cattle lie sprawled across the road like they’ve been brought in from some idyllic pastoral scene. Into all this, slips the Phantom Coupé.

The first surprise was just how serene everything felt from the inside. And it was not “wow, this is good.” It was more like, “Is this V12 really turning over, and did I really just float over those huge bumps?” Soon, the barge-like nose of the Phantom slipped its mooring and glided into the traffic on the Udaipur bypass.

Now, as driving in a straight line there and maintaining lane discipline was well nigh impossible, and since slaloming was the only way forward, I slalomed the Phantom Coupé, as ridiculous as that sounds. And then, when I reached the city, the traffic got even worse. This was an all-new excitement!

I had a date to keep with an old lady and so I pushed on and made for the tranquil Lake Pichola, dotted with some of the most exquisite palaces. Finally, the Phantom Coupé felt right at home, driving along the massive lakeside Shiv Niwas Palace and up the cobblestone drive. “Wait till you see the Rolls’ we have,” said the curator of the car museum, who came to see the Phantom. Truly, Mewar’s collection of Rolls-Royces is beautifully maintained, but the black Phantom II is just something else.

National Highway 76, which I took the next morning, tells you just how good our roads can be. It felt like a different world. Imagine two perfectly paved strips of tarmac separated by a wide median, a pair of perfectly marked lanes, service lanes on each side, Armco barriers at dangerous points on the road, and barriers to protect cars from mini-landslides. The best part, however, was that, at that early hour of the morning, there was almost no one there.

Time to move my mental gear lever from cruise to drive, and to see if this Coupé can put a smile on my face. Now the Phantom is no lightweight skiff and won’t feel as chuckable as a go-kart. How can it be so at two-and-a-half tonnes? Still, this shorter wheelbase Coupé has a stiffer chassis, more feel in the steering rack, and, something that shouts BMW engineering — 50:50 front-rear weight distribution! BMW owns Rolls-Royce after all.

Time to gobble up the miles, although at sane speeds. Now the ride was so flat and the car so silent that there was almost no sensation of speed — even at 120kph. As the Flying Lady on the bonnet parts the air, you get a great view of the road from your high perch behind the wheel. With the power reserve gauge hovering near 100 per cent, I gently woke the 6.75-litre 453bhp V12 from its slumber.

At first, it’s as if nothing’s happened. Then I felt the gentle weight transfer and noticed that the speedometer had secretly moved past 140kph. Rolls calls this seemingly effortless increase in speed ‘waftability’, and the speed continued to build as I went on to three-fourth throttle. The steering is very light and friction-free, but it is also really direct. It’s possible to place the car very accurately at speed and stability on these fat tyres and the big air springs are fantastic. However, there’s plenty of damping in the manner in which the brakes function and, as you can expect, the Rolls, rolls a bit as well.

I quickly discovered that the best way to enjoy this car was to carry plenty of speed into a corner, get the nose pointing in the right direction and then allow it to glide through. And the NH76 was the perfect road to do that on. I flew past some low hills, as the road curled lazily through them, and then got onto some long straights where I could really stretch the Phantom. Some sections were in fact so traffic-free that I saw 200kph on the speedo every once in a while.

After approximately half an hour of fantastic high-speed motoring, I bade farewell to the billiard-table smooth NH76 and headed towards Mount Abu. Here I encountered a few rough bits of road, but the Coupé steamrolled over them so effectively, I half-expected to look back and see the potholes smoothened out.

Then came approx imately 26km of Ghat Road. Now taking a Phantom up a narrow one-lane ghat, with buses hurtling down at you, is not something you take lightly. But I was so comfortable in the Coupé by that time that it felt perfectly normal. The shorter-in-length Coupé is more manageable around tight corners, and it does help that other drivers give you a wide berth when they see you coming. But the real surprise was just how agile and balanced the Coupé felt. It really does drive well and has a nice balance to it. As I got into a smooth rhythm behind the wheel, the Phantom shot up the winding road, and there was even enough grunt on hand to overtake, without trying too hard.

The majestic Roller has tremendous presence, is super-comfortable, smooth as silk and surprisingly nice to drive over long distances. This is the ultimate personal indulgence, bar none. Finally, a Rolls you’ll love to drive, especially over great roads.

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