Sportiest Model Ever?

2009, Rolls-Royce, Phantom Coupe

The new Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe, which officially goes on sale next month with a base price around $400,000, is being called the sportiest model ever from the iconic British super-luxury brand. It comes with a 6.7-liter V-12 that makes 453 horsepower and 531 pounds-feet of torque. Its suspension is stiffer than the other models in the lineup, enhancing its performance characteristics.

The Phantom Coupe is the third new Rolls-Royce model since BMW Group bought the brand in 1998. The acquisition by BMW came after a tilt with Volkswagen, which also coveted Rolls-Royce and its sibling Bentley brand. Volkswagen ended up acquiring Bentley and a manufacturing facility. BMW gained the Rolls brand and built its own factory in England to accommodate it.

The Coupe possesses classic Rolls-Royce features such as the long hood (or bonnet, as the British like to say), large-diameter wheels, short overhangs in the front and long ones in the rear and the familiar rising profile. On the front, slender LED sidelights and big, round headlights give it a distinctive design. The edges are soft, creating a raked appearance that flows into the long bonnet and abruptly ends with sharp A-pillar lines.

Its doors are the traditional 'suicide' types that Rolls is known for -- rear hinged. To make them easier to use, there is a button inside that can be pushed to close them once you're inside the car. In the interior, wood grains, chrome accents and rich leather are the best that you'll find in any vehicle.

Perhaps its quirkiest feature is a ceiling that can light up to produce a 'stars at night' effect, with the touch of a button. We sort of felt like this was something Rolls-Royce should have left for the after-market enthusiasts to add on. It's like if you saw a dude wearing an expensive Armani suit, then, as a fashion accessory, he whips out a pair of those glasses you wear to watch a 3D movie. Not quite a great look.

Rolls-Royce says the Coupe is ideal for long trips, thanks to its roominess, luxury, comfort of ride and power. It has a top speed of 155 mph and goes 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds. The Coupe was surprisingly powerful, speedy and graceful on twisty Northern California roads where we tested it.

"Some people still think of Rolls as being a clunky, old-fashioned car, which hasn't been the case since 2003," Paul Ferraiolo, president of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America, told journalists at a media preview. The Coupe joins the Phantom sedan and convertible models in the Rolls lineup. The Coupe, which weighs 5,798 pounds and is 220.8 inches, has a more athletic look than other Rolls models.

Even with the attention to performance given the Coupe, you can still notice some front-end airiness on some roads. Steering was relatively precise and the twisty roads didn't pose too much of a handling problem, even at higher speeds. The brakes offered good power.

For long-distance touring, it would be hard to beat this model. Even at a speed as high as 100 mph, the power reserve dial on the dashboard indicated that 90 percent of the engine's power wasn't being used. The six-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly.

For added performance, you can hit the 'sport' button on the steering to hold gears longer and raise the acceleration rate and prompt quicker shifts. Up front, the seats are sizable and comfortable. All the amenities you would expect are present, including a backup assist camera.

The height of the Coupe, 62.7 inches, requires you to kind of step up a little upon entry. For tall folks you can stretch out in either the front or rear seats. But in the back, don't try to accommodate three passengers -- the middle area doesn't provide much comfort. The cavernous trunk comes with a two-piece lid with a mini-tailgate that offers seating.

Gas mileage is rated att 11 mpg city, 18 highway - ouch. But if you can afford 400 large for a car, spending a few more at the pump probably won't faze you. The Coupe has a 26.4-gallon.

Ferraiolo perhaps stated the obvious when he said Rolls buys are frequently folks for whom price isn't much of a factor. They seek outstanding performance, quality and luxury. Rolls says in this country, a typical buyer profile might be someone who owns a private airplane and a large boat, is a male in his 40s or 50s and resides in California, Florida or New York.

By Rob Douthit

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Images of the 2009, Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe

2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe front view
2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe front view
2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe interior
2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe interior
2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe back seat
2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe back seat
2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe rear shot
2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe rear shot