Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe, 2009 car review

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You may not be able to afford a Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe, or even want one, for that matter. But you owe it to yourself to drive one before you pass on. If all you drive are cars such as Toyotas and Chevys, you’ll never get the full picture.

The 2009 Phantom Coupe ($400,000) is large, heavy and luxurious. That’s the way Rolls-Royces have always been, so why break tradition? But the car also is powerful, fast and agile on twisting mountain roads near this city, I discovered while driving it at a recent media preview, And that’s not the way Rolls-Royces have always been.

The 2009 Coupe should not be mistaken for a Rolls built before Germany’s BMW Group took charge of the car after a battle with Volkswagen, which wanted the then-combined Rolls/Bentley operation.

Making a long story short, Volkswagen got Bentley (long basically a Rolls with a different grille) and a combined factory for both cars. BMW got the Rolls name, but little else. So it had to wait until 2003 to introduce its new Rolls, for which it built an ultramodern factory in England.

Called the Phantom, the first Rolls under BMW’s umbrella was a blend of traditional Rolls poshness and modern components that changed Rolls from being a 20the century anachronism to a modern iconic car. However, BMW kept the craftsmanship, utility, comfort and prestige of older Rolls-Royces.

The Phantom Coupe joins the Rolls Phantom sedan and convertible. The latter is arguably the sportiest Rolls, if only because you can put the top down. But the Coupe is plenty sporty — if any car weighing 5,798 pounds and is 220.8 inches long can be called sporty.

The Coupe looks sportier than the Rolls sedan, partly because it’s got classic long-hood/short-rear proportions and its grille is gently raked.

The Coupe’s power is from a massive 6.8-liter, 453-horsepower V-12 that whisks it from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. It’s almost hard to believe that anything this big and heavy can go so fast, but there it is.

Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. I found myself cruising at 85 mph when I thought the car was doing 65, partly because it’s so fast and quiet except for barely discernible wind noise at the windshield.

The suspension is firmer than on other Rolls models, although some roads brought slight floatiness at the front end. But the Coupe has quick, precise steering. And it easily handled winding, undulating mountain roads at pretty high speeds. The supremely powerful brakes have good pedal feel.

No wonder Rolls says the Phantom Coupe is the “most driver-oriented” car in the Rolls line, where prices range from about $359,000 to $434,000.

This car is one of the world’s best long-distance cruisers. At 100 mph on empty two-lane rural roads, a “power reserve dial,” which occupies dashboard space normally used for a tachometer, shows that 90 percent of the engine’s power is untapped.

The V-12 has a push-button starter and works with a smooth six-speed automatic transmission. Tapping the “sport” button on the large steering wheel causes the transmission to hold gears longer, thus increasing the rate of acceleration and causing faster shifts.

Fuel economy isn’t all that bad, considering the Coupe’s weight and performance. It’s an estimated 11 mpg in the city and 18 on highways. A 26.4-gallon tank assures a long highway cruising range.

Rolls owners don’t fret much, if at all, about city fuel economy because Rolls says many have “five to ten other cars” at home and likely wouldn’t take the Coupe on short city hops.

Rolls customers “look at the world differently” than people with lesser means, said Paul Ferraiolo, president of Rolls-Royce Motors North America. He noted that they often are people to whom the car’s price isn’t much of a factor. Rather, they want outstanding luxury, quality and performance.

Many Rolls owners in America are mainly males in their 40s and 50s who own private airplanes and expensive boats, besides high-priced cars. The largest Rolls market is California, followed by Florida and the metropolitan New York area, where there’s lots of “old money.” Many buyers in Northern snow-belt states keep their Rolls-Royces in Florida.

The Coupe’s nifty features include a full-length “starlight headlining” on the interior roof. It uses hundreds of tiny fiber optics to create the impression of a starlit night sky. It’s adjustable to provide a quiet glow or “ample light to read by.”

Occupants sit high in large, comfortable seats in the hushed interior, which has power controls for just about everything. Reverse gear activates a dashboard camera that helps a driver avoid hitting objects when backing up.

It takes an extra half step to get in or out because the Coupe stands tall at 62.7 inches. Long, hefty doors are hinged at the rear so one can enter and exit gracefully. Push a button inside the car and doors automatically close if front-seat occupants don’t want to stretch to manually close them.

There’s lots of room for four tall adults, although rear occupants with extra-long legs might want the backseat area to have a little more legroom. The rear seat’s firm center area makes it uncomfortable for a third occupant, and backseat cupholders aren’t very convenient to reach because they’re near floor level behind the front console.

The roomy trunk has a two-piece lid with a mini-tailgate that provides a seating platform for two, with a weight limit of 330 pounds.

But, take it from me, you’d rather be in the driver’s seat.

Dan Jedlicka has been writing about the automotive industry for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.

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