Review and road test of the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph (1998 - 2005)
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Though it may no longer be able to justify its existence as the best car in the world, a Rolls-Royce undoubtedly has something that other cars lack. Seat yourself behind that long bonnet and glimpse the Spirit of Ecstasy at the end and you know you've definitely arrived. Some may argue that you've arrived fairly and squarely at planet naff, but what would they know? They don't have carpeting deep enough to hide a third world dictator, enough wood and leather to render environmentalists speechless whilst being smoother than a boy band's buttocks.
If you thought that this sort of luxury doesn't come cheap, you're right, but neither does it have to be the sole preserve of the establishment. With such accomplished rivals around, can a used Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph justify itself? Being useless at suspense, the answer has to be no, but letting your heart rule your head has rarely been so rewarding.
4dr saloon (5.4 petrol)
It's been at least twenty years since Rolls-Royce produced an all-new vehicle, few will doubt that the Silver Seraph has been worth the wait. The project was conceived in 1994, when the Rolls-Royce's chief stylist, Graham Hull first started penning the lines for the new car. The design brief was tricky, calling for a car which would appeal to a younger, more dynamic demographic group whilst at the same time not alienating Rolls' existing customers nor in any way denting the marques brand equity. Twinned as has been the case for years with a Bentley model, the Arnage, the Silver Seraph's aim of causing no offence to the more traditional buyer was severely dented by the fitment of a 5.4-litre V12 engine from BMW. Which, it won't have escaped you is the same German company that brought Rover to its knees.
This, more than anything, was the key talking point of the Silver Seraph. Whereas Bentley finally capitulated by offering the traditional 6750cc V8 engine in their Arnage, Rolls-Royce have stuck with a BMW unit, perhaps hardly surprising given that the Rolls-Royce name will be officially transferred to the ownership of BMW in 2003. Appeasement? I have in my hand a piece of paper.
In 2001 Rolls-Royce announced the last of the cars to be built in Crewe, the Silver Seraph 'Last of Line' models. With plusher woods and more intricate marquetry, the Last of Line cars also featured red badges, a throwback to Rolls models of the thirties.
What You Get
Look up the word "seraph" in the Oxford English Dictionary and you'll arrive at, "A celestial being of the highest order, associated especially with light, ardour and purity." Whilst the venerable tome neglects to mention a 5.4-litre V12 engine in this definition, it's a start. The ethereal influence probably stems from the design cues derived form the 1950s Silver Cloud, with its sweeping waistline, inset cabin and rounded luggage compartment. In fact, the key design feature of the car is the elegantly shouldered waistline, plateauing ahead of the front door handles and arcing to the in a sweeping, continuous line. The all-steel body is 65 percent stiffer than prior models and features a 10-stage, anti-corrosion pre-treatment as well as comprehensive stone-chip protection to the underside.
The elegantly rounded design is carried through the interior as well. The Silver Seraph features a rounded seat silhouette and a gently curved console to highlight its luxurious amenities. The Rolls-Royce reputation for superior craftsmanship and attention to detail is showcased on the interior. With improved front seat headroom and legroom, the car has addressed the issue of driver comfort. Seats have been specially designed using variable density foams to provide anatomically correct support to the shoulders, back, base of spine and thighs. The front seats are adjustable in four directions and feature bi-lumbar support as well as seat heaters. The driver's seat has a four-position memory that is linked to the steering wheel and the exterior mirrors. Rear seats are also independently adjustable and feature lumbar support and seat heaters.
The curved centre console has been formed by Rolls-Royce craftsmen out of ten thin layers of tulip wood. A complex membrane press is used to apply the veneer as well as enables the craftsmen to veneer into the instrument apertures on the fascia. Rolls-Royce craftsmen use hand-selected, unbleached veneers to ensure purity of colour and hand-match each side of the vehicle, so that they are mirror images of each other from front to rear. Over 150 man-hours are spent to make one complete set of fascia, cappings and trim for each Rolls-Royce.
Controls for the new climate control system are digital and allow airflow and temperatures to be set in four zones- the front, rear, upper and lower cabin areas- to ensure all passengers are comfortable. The climate control system features pollution control sensor, pollen and dust micro-filters, a dehumidifier and a residual heating mode. In a joint project with Rolls-Royce, Alpine Electronics developed the sound system, which features a six-disc CD autochanger and speakers located throughout the vehicle giving the sound system a concert-hall effect. New tweeters offer a cleaner output, especially when relaying speech.
The Silver Seraph comes equipped with an extensive selection of amenities that bring the marque if not into the 21st century then at least somewhere doing a reasonable approximation of the late 20th. The rear view mirror automatically dims, while the exterior mirrors dip when reverse gear has been selected. In addition to the instruments and driver information panel, a trip computer is also featured. Rear seat passengers will enjoy the picnic table and magazine stowage area mounted to the back of the front seats. The audio system also features a remote control for rear seat operation.
The Silver Seraph features a variety of security features including a volumetric and perimetric alarm system, an inertia sensor fuel shutoff, driver-only unlock function and walk-up courtesy headlamps. Keys feature both master and limited access, suitable when using valet parking. Who said the class system was dead?
What to Look For
Think of the Silver Seraph as the best combination of British craftsmanship and German engineering and you wouldn't be too far wide of the mark. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the big Rolls-Royce has proved mechanically very reliable. It pays dividends to make sure that your prospective purchase has all of the fittings and fixtures intact and the trim is in perfect condition, as these sorts of small cosmetic faults are often enough to put off prospective purchasers and knock values severely. Also check the condition of the rear tyres. Drive a Silver Seraph to the limits of its handling and a the only thing louder than the clock will be the man from Avon Tyres of Bath Road, Melksham asking for £400 per corner. Otherwise, always look for main or specialist dealer servicing and buy with confidence.
(approx based on a 1999 Silver Seraph) Rolls-Royce spares prices certainly aren't cheap, although they are in the same ballpark of many more mainstream manufacturers. The famed durability of Rolls-Royce vehicles should also offset the cost of parts. A new exhaust system, including catalyst, for a Silver Seraph is in the region of £3,800, whilst a starter motor retails at around £340. A new alternator will be £410 and if a headlamp takes a parking knock, a new unit will be around £360. Brake pads are £135 a pair at the bow and £85 a pair at the stern.
On the Road
The all-aluminium V-12 engine, designed by BMW, has been mated to an adaptive five-speed transmission and a new suspension system to give the Silver Seraph a swift, yet refined driving experience. The transmission continuously monitors both road and driver responses and selects gear-change thresholds that are appropriate for the driving conditions. The engine is surprisingly responsive, dragging the heavyweight contender to 60mph in a mere 6.9 seconds.
The suspension features a wider track, stiffened springs, computer-controlled dampers and an independent, double wishbone system. This design gives the Silver Seraph greater stability particularly when cornering and at speed. A four-channel, anti-lock, power assisted braking system brings the Rolls-Royce to rest from 60 mph in just 3.0 seconds during maximum braking conditions. An Automatic Stability Control is fitted to detect skidding and aquaplaning and increases traction by engine torque reduction and braking intervention to the rear wheels.
The Silver Seraph marks a new start for Rolls-Royce in their quest to once more be recognised as manufacturers of the world's best cars. And it's quite a credible effort. As a used buy, the Silver Seraph makes a better case for itself than new, the durability of the lazy, unstressed 5.4-litre V12 BMW engine barely run in after the (relatively) low mileages that average Rolls owners clock up. Whilst it can't offer the technological sophistication of the latest Mercedes S-class models, it's always reassuring that with a Rolls-Royce, even a used example, you are dealing with an icon, the most evocative brand in the automotive world. Some will counter that the image is too brash, but for those who appreciate the agreeable, clubby ambience nothing else will suffice.
Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph (1998 - 2005) review by ANDY ENRIGHT