Rolls-Royce Phantom VII range

Rolls-Royce Phantom VII

BUYER’S GUIDE

Rolls-Royce Phantom VII Review

The Phantom set the tone for Rolls-Royce’s modern era and remains the perfect blend of technology and tradition…

What Is It?

It’s testament to the strength of the British automotive industry that, through various twists, turns and sometimes shared destinies, it can support two luxury brands of the standing of Rolls-Royce and Bentley. And that their respective current owners have been able to carve out two very different identities for each in recent years, with distinct interpretations of shared traditions of wood and cream leathered luxury.

For its part Rolls-Royce has, under BMW ownership, been allowed to return to its regal position as the very pinnacle of four-wheeled luxury and status, the seventh-generation Phantom we’re looking at here launched in 2003 and represented the first of the Goodwood-built era that has come to symbolise its recent rebirth.

Even 20 years on a Phantom isn’t exactly the bargain modern classic, and nor is it a casual purchase for running as a daily. But the experience from behind that legendary Spirit of Ecstasy emblem is second to none. Here’s how to live the dream.

Checklist

  • Phantom production started in 2003, underwent an update in 2009 and was then more significantly revised from 2012 for the ‘Series 2’ models
  • Fundamentally they’re all the same in looks and engineering, though Series 2 versions get some subtle visual changes, the most obvious being the switch from circular secondary lights to rectangular LED ones
  • The other big change for the Series 2 was a switch from the previous six-speed automatic gearbox to an eight-speed transmission for improved flexibility and refinement
  • Other versions include the Extended Wheelbase launched in 2005, the Drophead Coupe of 2007 and Coupe of 2008
  • While BMW-based, the V12 engine is enlarged to the iconic ‘six and three-quarter litre’ capacity of old and packs 460PS (338kW)
  • As you’d hope these are well-engineered engines, but not without their issues
  • Check for leaking cam cover gaskets and oil on the block; the pipe from the water pump that runs up the ‘vee’ of the cylinder banks can also fail and Rolls-Royce dealers will charge a small fortune to fix it – specialists can achieve the same for a (relatively) more reasonable cost
  • The engine should be silky smooth at all times – if it’s not check for failing fuel injectors, which are a known weak spot on earlier engines
  • There was a recall for the brake servo in 2010 affecting a total of 689 cars built between 2003 and 2009 – this should have been addressed but check the history of any car from this era to make sure it has been
  • The Phantom runs two batteries – ensure both are in good condition, especially on cars that may not have had regular use
  • Check the air suspension is sitting level and operating as it should – bellows can leak, with resulting strain on pumps; third-party specialists can address at more reasonable cost than dealers
  • It goes without saying that paint, panels and trim on the Phantom are of exquisite quality and should present in top condition. If not, repairs to the appropriate standard are not going to come cheaply
  • While still very expensive to buy, some Phantoms may have led surprisingly hard lives as premium rentals for weddings, proms and other special events, so check the ownership record and state of the interior carefully, and be wary of any offered for what look like relatively cheap prices

How does it drive?

Many Rolls-Royce owners will, of course, prefer to enjoy the lounge-like luxury of the rear seats and entrust the driving to a member of staff rather than take the wheel themselves. Which is fine. But you’ll be missing out if you don’t have a go driving it yourself on occasion! True, the Phantom is an intimidatingly large vehicle and not for the faint of heart in busy traffic. But it’s also a very calming place to be, your isolation from the hustle and bustle outside and very obvious elevation over all around meaning you should be able to make progress without having to fight your corner too hard.

The V12 engine provides appropriately effortless performance despite the considerable weight, the ‘power reserve’ gauge in place of a more typical rev counter a subtle reminder that a Rolls-Royce’s performance is more about sensations than statistics.

The simplicity of the classically styled, slim-rimmed steering wheel is another subtle nudge as to how this car should be driven, the relatively low gearing and well-oiled lack of resistance to inputs encouraging an elegant, drive with your fingertips style that’s all about wafting rather than racing. Genuinely there’s nothing else quite like it.

 What’s good?

While there is a degree of parts sharing with the contemporary BMW 7 Series the Phantom is sufficiently elevated over this and other ‘regular’ luxury saloons like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class as to feel in a different league entirely. A Bentley may come close, but still feels a little ‘new money’ in comparison, the Phantom was also a cut above the more closely 7 Series-derived Ghost that followed. Suffice to say, if you’re looking for the ‘real Rolls-Royce experience’ the Phantom remains the absolute pinnacle.

This will obviously be dependent on the tastes and budget of the original buyer, but some of the options for materials, personalisation and special finishes are truly exquisite as well, so if you’re willing to put in the legwork you may well find a car benefitting from another level of luxury.

Then there’s the experience of travelling in a Phantom as well. The famous magic carpet ride quality, the refinement and the sense of occasion all meaning there’s no such thing as an ordinary journey in a car like this.

What’s bad?

The Phantom’s sheer size is obviously a practical issue, this combined with a degree of emotional baggage meaning it’s hardly the kind of car you leave parked on a suburban driveway without raising a few eyebrows. This is luxury at its most ostentatious, with little option for cruising about under the radar if you’re not in the mood to be centre of attention. We’re still some way off Phantoms falling into the slightly spivvy image Silver Shadows gained back in the day but, whisper it, the fashion for prom night rentals and some of the blingier appearances in popular culture hint at a direction of travel that may yet end up in a similar place.

In the parallel universe of long gravel driveways and country houses a tastefully appointed Phantom will, however, always look right at home. At a more practical level it’s safe to say nothing comes cheaply with Rolls-Royce ownership, and while the Phantom is an inherently well-engineered car, you need to face the fact running costs are going to be consummate with the original six-figure purchase price. 

Which model to choose?

If you’re only ever going to let Parker take the wheel while you relax in the back quaffing champagne there is the Extended Wheelbase option, the 250mm stretch freeing up even more room for relaxation. That’s hardly lacking in the regular version, mind, and turns what’s already a big lump of car into something borderline unwieldy.

Given that for all the scope for endless customisation the fundamentals remained pretty consistent throughout the Phantom’s long life the only real decision is whether you hold out for a Series 2 for its eight-speed gearbox and updated interior. The changes to the latter mean more modern infotainment but, fair to say, the Phantom still feels defiantly old-school on this score and if you crave big screens and fancy graphics it’s not the car for you.

From the outside few casual observers are going to notice the difference between the round or oblong headlights and your status will be assured whichever version you choose, meaning holding out for nicest example with a solid history, colour and spec in line with your personal tastes will always be the best bet.

Specifications – Rolls-Royce Phantom VII Series 1

 

Engine

6.75-litre V12 petrol

Power

460PS (338kW) @ 5,350rpm

Torque

720Nm (531lb ft) @ 3,500rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 2,485kg

0-62mph

5.9 seconds

Top speed

149mph

Production dates

2003-2017 (total production, both series)

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