2009.5 Rolls-Royce Phantom: First Drive
The Rolls-Royce Phantom extended-wheelbase sedan starts at around half-a-million dollars — $450,000, to be precise, but what's $50 grand, right? — and is 20 feet of attention-grabbing luxuriousness that can be customized to suit your stylistic whims. That was predictable; what I was not expecting was that this big sedan would be so easy to drive.
Because the Phantom costs as much as a very nice house, you feel a little trepidation when first starting out in it. That feeling quickly fades when you discover how easily it floats down the road, the suspension managing impacts before they disturb you.
The Phantom is also quite agile for its size. Turning the thin-rimmed steering wheel produces an immediate change in your path, and the steering system's overall precision gives you confidence when guiding it.
Though the Phantom's V-12 engine makes 453 hp, it doesn't put regular luxury cars to shame; you can get plenty of horsepower in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or a BMW 7 Series. The V-12 does make the nearly three-ton Phantom feel relatively swift, though, and its power delivery is impressively smooth and quiet; you rarely hear the engine.
The cabin is a study in elegance and hand-craftsmanship that's rarely seen in cars today. Rolls-Royce gives customers free rein to customize the leather and wood trim used in the Phantom — the automaker says you can even supply your own tree to be used for the wood trim if you'd like — and it offers a number of options you don't see in everyday cars, like a safe in the trunk, a beverage cabinet and power-operated curtains.
Rolls-Royce sells a very limited number of cars in the U.S. The automaker's sales have taken a hit like the rest of the market — down 16 percent this year, according to Automotive News estimates — but that's better than the overall market's drop of 37 percent. I guess consumers with the means to buy a car this expensive always have money to spend, recession or not.
Cars.com photos by Ian Merritt