Review and road test of the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe (2007 - 2016)
By Jonathan Crouch
Striving for perfection saw Rolls Royce in 2007 create the world's ultimate convertible, this Phantom Drophead Coupe. If you have the means, it's an unashamed indulgence - and a highly impressive one.
2dr Luxury Convertible (6.75-litre V12 petrol)
Rolls Royce has a rich and elegant history of producing rather unique and very expensive luxury convertibles. They've been very impressive cars, but until the turn of the century, never great ones. People bought them for the name, the presence and the wood and leather open-topped Britishness they offered. One of BMW's first decisions when taking ownership of this famous brand in 1998 was to decree that to be no longer good enough, the 2003 Phantom saloon underlining that intent in a clinically delivered display of excellence. A year later, the company unveiled the 100EX, a drophead convertible version which circled the world's motorshows gathering comment and hopeful deposits from plutocratic owners desperate to see it in production. In 2007, their dreams were realised and the Phantom Drophead Coupe was born.
As any Rolls Royce should be more than just a car, this one must be more than simply a luxury convertible: for more than a quarter of a million pounds, buyers from new expected no less. Cutting edge technology was incorporated but that isn't what makes this model stand out. This isn't a machine inspired by other rivals, nor is it simply a convertible version of the Phantom saloon. Instead, its design team immersed themselves in yachts and stately homes, classic design and timeless elegance. And brought us this. Work of art or flawed masterpiece? If you have the means to afford a used example of this car, you'll enjoy finding out.
What You Get
This car's creators claimed it to be a less formal interpretation of classic Rolls-Royce design than its four-door stablemate and when you inspect the design, it's easy to see what they meant. Pretty much nothing but the engine is shared with the Phantom saloon, with every exterior panel new as part of carefully considered proportions more suited to the shorter body. We say 'shorter' but that's relative. At 5.6-metres long, this at launch was the largest convertible yet made, 200mm longer even than Bentley's enormous Azure. Still, it's proportions are perfect - and actually quite sporty. Look closely and you'll note that the more rakishly set back front grille is more streamlined than other Rolls Royces of the period, with slim front LED side lights sitting above larger round driving lamps.
Further uniqueness is guaranteed if you find a car that was originally specified with the optional brushed steel bonnet intended to reference classic Phantom models of the '20s and '30s. Equally unusual is the optional teak rear deck that gives your car a look reminiscent of a luxury Italian Riva speedboat. There's also the 'picnic boot', the very essence of automotive affability. Though at 315-litres, the trunk is only just about as big as it needs to be to swallow the regulation three sets of golf clubs, its real party piece is its split tailgate, strong enough to provide comfortable seating for two owners to enjoy a couple of well-earned glasses of champagne.
Shunning the trend prevalent in the early Noughties for folding metal tops not suited to elegant looks or picnic boots, Rolls brought us with this car the largest fabric convertible top yet made, five-layered, acoustically-tuned and cashmere-lined to fit like a bespoke suit as it electrically folds behind the cockpit in around 25 seconds. It's near perfectly sealed against wind noise but its design can, when erect, make the back seat a somewhat claustrophobic place to sit. Nor is the space around curved rear lounge seats quite as palatial as you might expect the world's biggest open-top to provide. Still, at least they're easy to get in - and out of thanks to the huge rear-hinged coach doors.
Slipping behind the wheel requires a big step over the wide sills and is something you feel awkward about doing in anything other than a tailored-made suit so carefully chosen is the wood, leather, chrome and brushed steel. But once you're there, the excellence is awe-inspiring. Over 350 man hours is invested in every car, with each using 18 hides for its 450 separate pieces of leather. Each of the 60 pieces of veneer is 40 layers thick, glued onto aluminium and finished by hand, part of over 2400 slivers of timber used in every car. Rolls Royce's woodshop team would have spent up to a month preparing, matching, shaping and finishing each car's set.
And the quality of the design matches the care expended in creating it. The facia hides many of its buttons and controls, plus the colour LCD screen used for satellite navigation and other custom settings, behind exquisitely crafted wood panelling. Indeed if you wish, you can drive the car and control everything from the 15-speaker stereo to the multi-zone climate control without opening any of it. A drawer in the centre glides out to reveal your telephone keypad, while a slide-out door houses the BMW iDrive-derived Rotary Controller that marshalls all the main functions. Traditional touches like the heavily chromed spherical air vents are welcome sights, as are the old-fashioned organ stop levers that operate them.
What to Look For
You wouldn't expect much to g wrong on a car of this calibre - and apparently, not much does. In April 2012, Rolls Royce issued a recall to deal with reports that a few early versions of this model had engine oil from the brake vacuum pump entering the brake vacuum line, resulting in a reduction in powered braking assistance. Make sure that the car you're looking at had the required fix implemented for this. Otherwise, just check he usual things - scratches on the expensive alloys, blemishes on the leather trim and so on. Insist of course on a full service history.
(approx based on a 2010 Phantom Drophead Coupe) An air filter is around £16, as is an oil filter. A spark plug will cost you £3-£7. A thermostat is around £110, while an ignition coil is around £33. A starter motor is around £530. Front brake pads sit in the £30-£38 bracket.
On the Road
Here, as you would expect, is an experience to savour. The 100EX concept car this model was developed from featured a V16 engine that made its under-bonnet architecture as jaw-dropping as the price, but production models satisfied themselves instead with the same BMW-based 6.75-litre 453bhp V12 engine used by the Phantom saloon. Still, it is, to use a very Rolls Royce word, 'sufficient'. At 100mph indeed, the power reserve gauge that replaces the usual rev counter indicates that around 90% of power remains untapped. Discussion of performance figures seems somehow vulgar in a car of this kind but if you're interested, sixty is silkily dispatched from rest in 5.7s courtesy of 720Nm of torque that rolls back the horizon until a speed limiter gently bridles your progress at 150mph.
As for driving pleasure, well it's important to realise right at the start that in this respect, the intention of this car's creators was to lower its owners' heart rates not to raise them. So the driving position is commanding rather than sportily-low. And the thin-rimmed steering wheel, though accurately responsive, delivers little you could describe as feedback. As for sport suspension buttons or switchable stability control programmes, well even the provision of such features would leave room for the possibility that the driver might know better than this car's creators as to how best any given road situation might be addressed. Inconceivable of course.
So instead, you leave yourself in their hands as, once you've realised that the near-silent engine is in fact running, you glide forward, marvelling at the smoothness that 2.6-tonnes of the world's finest automotive real estate can be urged towards the horizon. There are adjustments to make at first. It isn't the easiest thing to manoeuvre at low speeds thanks to the sheer size, the tiny mirrors and, roof-up, the pillar box-slot of a rear window. Plus the light controls, quick steering and sheer urgency of the power are all a world away from what most will be used to. Still, once you get over all that and relax in this Rolls, it's hard to think of a finer way to travel. At least if you're wafting slowly. Over around 65mph, there's a little more turbulence than you'd get in a comparable Bentley, thanks perhaps to the relatively low windscreen top and shallow windowline. But roof up, you could be in your favourite armchair, separate and remote from the world rushing by.
You'll want al fresco motoring whenever possible of course, in which state the kind of structural wobble that afflicts even pricey convertibles has been ironed out at source thanks to the astonishing body stiffness that has produced the substantial 2.6-tonne weight. Yet the ride is smooth and supple, with imperfect surfaces drifting unnoticed beneath your wheels. A lower centre of gravity, a perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a shorter wheelbase than the Phantom saloon means that, thanks to prodigious grip, you can even throw this car around a little if you really must. It's just that you wouldn't really want to. Better perhaps, to use it for Sloane Street cruising, for which a dignified drivepast is made easier by depressing the 'L' button on the transmission tunnel. This holds the 6-speed gearbox in the lowest appropriate ratio to help maintain a constant low speed as you glide along past the less fortunate.
Sold out before it ever turned a wheel, the Phantom Drophead Coupe's success was always assured. There is, after all, a depth of engineering to this car that's massively impressive, fusing as it does the best technology its German brand owners can serve up with meticulous, almost dementedly detailed British craftsmanship. It's big, it's rather brash but above all, it's brilliant.
Ownership of this car confirms not only your arrival as part of the wealthy elite but your establishment there. It's an automobile across which resonates the maxim of company founder Sir Henry Royce - 'Strive for perfection in everything you do'. That perfection comes in many shapes and forms - and this is one of them.
Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe (2007 - 2016) review by Jonathan Crouch