Often when we talk about cars that ‘stir the soul’ there’s an atmospheric screamer of a combustion engine spinning to the heavens involved. That or a chassis of such exquisite poise that it tickles the synapses in a way that has to be experienced to be believed.
Achieving any good level of stirring with boring old refinement is a much harder task and far rarer to witness. It can be equally gratifying, however, and that’s the case here, with a twin-turbo V12 that idles low enough to have you checking for signs of life, at near 650rpm.
Once aboard, you push a button to shut off the outside world, which explains the absence of an obvious door-handle. Step-off in the eighth-generation Phantom is then so absurdly serene that it can actually make you feel giddy, like when you’re not sure whether it’s the train you’re watching or the one you're sitting in that’s beginning to glide away. Throttle response is perhaps a touch lethargic, but you’ll forgive it that.
On the move, that six-and-three-quarter engine is so impossibly distant that it may as well be connected to the car in front via an extra long propshaft. The engineering brief was probably to hide its existence altogether, and so you don’t get a tachometer, only a reading of how much power you have left in reserve.
Drive sensibly and you’ll make ample progress without ever leaving anything less than seven tenths as back-up, although mashing your foot into the inch-and-a-half-thick pile of the carpet will make 60mph come up in 5.1sec. That’s quick enough to leave our current favourite hot hatch, the Honda Civic Type R, for dead and evidence of more than 660lb ft of torque from just 1700rpm.
British roads versus all-new Phantom, then – hardly a fair fight? In general, no, not really. This car debuts a fresh, more torsionally rigid all-aluminium spaceframe platform for Rolls-Royce. From it are hung air springs with adaptive dampers and active anti-roll bars. There’s also four-wheel steering, which in this instance is less about realising the last word in agility than it is making this 5.76 metre-long car tolerably manoeuvrable on tighter roads.
You quickly realise that the broad, flat seats are a statement of intent. There’s precious little bolstering because the expectation is that you’ll never need it. Endless modes for the steering, suspension and engine are also wonderfully conspicuous by their absence, and so you settle into driving the car in the precise manner in which it would like to be driven. That is with an economy of gesture and a heart rate commensurate with the ultra-low idle of the engine.
The steering is accurate enough to place the car with confidence on smaller roads (everything short of a dual-carriageway is ‘smaller’ for this car), but it’s delightfully light and the wheel is thin-rimmed. That encourages you to plot your course with the gentle precision of fingertip efforts, guiding the car by calmly anticipating the road ahead, just like your driving instructor said to.
If there’s one thing about the new Phantom that really takes your breath away, though, it’s the sense of detachment from the world. There’s a feeling that you wouldn’t need to raise your voice inside even as vortices began to flow from the Spirit of Ecstasy. You perceive the outside world in the same way you perceive a scene in a film – from a different dimension.