Under the eerily familiar sheetmetal is an entirely new car.
There’s a sense of timelessness that comes standard in every Rolls-Royce product, a feeling that this is a car that lives on through the generations without having its class or prestige marred by the years. Apparently Rolls-Royce feels strongly about that, so much so in fact that it debuted the new Phantom VIII with the slightest of changes made to its overall appearance. Squint and you’ll notice that the grille looks a bit taller and narrower, coinciding with new laser headlights a more stout front end, but you'll be hard pressed to find the other changes.
The headlights themselves may be the most clear difference between the previous Phantom VII and the new Phantom VIII when looking head on, but truthfully, the bulk of the changes take place under the sheetmetal. Here's where Rolls-Royce has chosen to apply its new aluminum space frame architecture, dubbed the Architecture of Luxury. This Rolls-Royce exclusive platform will be used on all future models, including the upcoming Cullinan, and separates the marquee from the rest of the BMW Group, unlike how Bentley shares quite a few bits with its Volkswagen cousins. Like the grille, the Phantom VIII itself is taller. It sits 8mm higher and 29mm wider than its predecessor, though it’s also 77mm shorter than the VII.
That translates to a 19mm loss in wheelbase, though it's all for a good cause. The architecture is responsible for a 30% increase in structural rigidity, but it’s also lighter, helping keep the Phantom's 165-pound weight gain over its predecessor from ballooning further. The increase in sound deadening material is partially to blame for the added weight, with a total of 286 pounds of it stuffed inside in order to make this "the most silent car in the world," but extensive technology additions pile on the rest of the fat. That list includes comfort and convenience features like new front and rear axle designs as well as air suspension with increased travel, all contributing to a sublime “magic carpet” ride.
A 48 volt electrical system is fitted to this range-topper, which enables power-thirsty chassis technology like stabilizer bars and four-wheel steering to maintain agility even with such a supple ride. That’s a boon to any chauffeurs excited to use the new twin-turbo 6.75-liter V12 engine, which provides 664 lb-ft of torque as low in the rev range as possible before 563 horsepower kicks in at 5,000 rpm. Power like that, which is sent to the rear set of 22-inch wheels (21-inchers come fitted up front) through an eight speed automatic, makes this luxury yacht good for 62 mph from standstill 5.3 seconds before topping out at 155 mph. Not like the speed will be apparent on the inside.
In addition to the sound insulation and 6mm double glazing on all windows, the interior provides plenty of distraction with stainless steel hand-polished metal, soft supple leather, and museum quality woodwork. Old school lovers of the analogue will appreciate the fact that every screen can be hidden away and Rolls-Royce even added a new heads-up display so that less information needs to be displayed on the dash. In keeping with the theme of simple beauty, there's a glass fascia on the dashboard where pieces of commissioned artwork can be placed behind for the passengers’ viewing pleasure. Standard Rolls-Royce touches, such as rear-hinged rear doors that close at the push of a button, remain.
What doesn't stay is the Phantom VII's "reasonable" price. Stroll into a Rolls-Royce dealership in 2018 and expect to see no price stickers less than $522,635, up $104,810 from the previous Phantom's base price, on VIII models. For Rolls-Royce, this is more than a car, it's the thesis for future generations of sedans, coupes, convertibles, and soon to come SUV. It's a far cry from the electric and autonomous Next 100 Concept, proving to doomsday preachers that old luxury with a twist of modernity has a place in the next chapter of Rolls-Royce's story. Rolls is leaving itself vulnerable if a modernized Bentley flagship comes through and happens to resonate with luxury buyers better, but if Bentley mucks it up, at least Rolls-Royce is offering refuge.