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WraithTheTrain

Rolls-Royce vs. the sleeper train: a race from London to Edinburgh

WraithTheTrain

The Caledonian Sleeper is a reminder of the golden age of long-distance travel. A time before cheap flights and high-speed rail lines, when the journey was almost as important as the destination.

It all sounds so delightful, with the operator promising a nightcap in the onboard bar, a menu filled with fine Scottish produce, a cosy cabin and breakfast in bed as the sun rises over the Scottish countryside.

We arrived at the less evocative Euston Station and made our way to the platform where the train was ready for its 23:50 departure. Only we weren’t there to board the train, we were there to race it.

The challenge: to arrive at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station before the Caledonian Sleeper rolled into the platform. Sounds simple, but the photo finish highlights that it was anything but.

The most powerful Rolls-Royce in history

Our choice of wheels for this unlikely race was a Rolls-Royce Wraith, the most powerful Roller in history. We can think of few cars that offer such an enticing blend of pace, comfort and presence. It also meant that we could offer no excuses if we lost. We had the reputation of the motor car in our hands.

Whichever way you look at it, the Rolls-Royce Wraith is a formidable car. It arrived in a sealed lorry in factory-fresh condition, as befits a car with a mere 830 miles on the clock. After a brief handover and introduction to some of the controls, we were left in charge of this £306,438 behemoth.

Yes, that’s right, including taxes and options, this Wraith had a price tag north of £300k. By a considerable margin, this was the most expensive car I had ever driven on a public road. No pressure, then.

Suddenly the thought of weaving this 5,269mm-long sports coupe through London looked like a daunting prospect. I didn’t want to hear what kerbing a 21-inch alloy wheel sounds like. Or the thwack of a Rolls-Royce door mirror on the side of a London bus. Maybe a Volkswagen Up would have been a better option?

Who am I trying to kid? This was to be an epic adventure and I was intent of enjoying every single minute of my time in the Wraith. Opportunities like this don’t come along that often.

Rolls-Royce Wraith at Euston

Parking restrictions around Euston Station meant that we had to leave the Wraith around the corner and coordinate our departure time accordingly. Having synchronised our watches to match the time of the station clock, we sat waiting in a backroad, engine running, adrenaline pumping.

Seriously, this mattered. We wanted to make this sleepless night count. We simply had to beat the train.

London to Northampton

It’s at this point that we should provide some context. The Caledonian Sleeper would go via Watford, Carlisle and Carstairs, before arriving in Edinburgh at 07:22. That’s a journey time of seven hours and 32 minutes. By mimicking the route of the train, which essentially meant taking the M1, M6, A74 and A702, we could – theoretically – arrive at Waverley Station at 06:53.

Easy victory for the car, then? Throw into the equation a number of stops for coffee, fuel and driver changes, along with the inevitable roadworks and average speed cameras and things start to get more interesting. Throughout the journey, the excellent sat nav predicted an arrival time around the 07:00 mark.

To give us the best chance possible, we brimmed the tank before leaving Euston and loaded the car with snacks and supplies. We knew we couldn’t beat the train to Watford, but we hoped to be in Carlisle by 05:15, the time the train was set to arrive.

Within a couple of miles of departure, we were faced with a road closure and lost time. Even at midnight, London is bustling with people and traffic, making progress slow and frustrating. That said, we considered the 20 minutes it took to reach the M1 to be a minor victory, even if we were 20 miles behind the train.

Worse was to come, as a series of roadworks made for slow progress up the M1. To compound the misery, the sat nav and overhead gantries warned of road closures on the M6 and M42. Having a 6.6-litre V12 producing 623hp at your disposal is pretty pointless when you have the adaptive cruise control set to 50mph, or you’re stuck following a lorry through a diversion.

Never mind, all we could do was enjoy some Haribos under the cover of our optional Starlight headliner.

Rolls-Royce Wraith on M6

Northampton to Tebay

At 1am we did our first driver-change at a near-empty Northampton Services, at which point it started raining. An hour later we hit the M6 Toll, still faced with warnings about road closures and diversions. Credit to the BMW-sourced sat nav system, which includes real-time traffic information. On both the journey north and the return leg, it did a brilliant job of predicting congestion and suggesting alternative routes. When a time-saving diversion wasn’t available, it would report that taking an alternative route wasn’t recommended. To say the system would make a difference between success or failure would be to overplay things, but it certainly helped matters.

It felt like we had been travelling at a steady 50mph since Luton, but even after a slow and unexpected crawl along the A5 towards Telford, we had somehow managed to emerge with an ETA of 06:47, around 30 minutes ahead of the train. Curiously, by the time we reached Lancaster Services at 04:15, that arrival time had slipped to 07:02. We didn’t think 20 minutes was sufficient wiggle time to allow for further delays and a struggle to get into Edinburgh.

We reached Cumbria at 04:28, still with some 153 miles to go. Ten miles later, the Rolls-Royce Connect app was displaying a fuel range of 156 miles, presenting us with our first real choice of the night. Do we go for broke and risk not filling up before Edinburgh, or play it safe and give the Wraith a much-needed drink?

Perhaps fearing the embarrassment of breaking down on the outskirts of the city, we opted for the latter and filled up with super unleaded at Tebay Services. The time was 04:50.

Rolls-Royce Wraith at Tebay

Carlisle and the A74(M)

By now it was just starting to get light and by 05:13 we were skirting around Carlisle. About the same time the train, which we had left behind in London, would be preparing to leave the station, before making one last stop at Carstairs. Here it would split in two, one part heading to Glasgow, the other part continuing to Edinburgh, where it would taste victory or suffer defeat. We had hoped to have been further ahead of the train, but everything was now pointing towards a photo finish.

At precisely 05:22 we crossed the border into Scotland and were presented with a glorious and awe-inspiring sunrise. A thin veil of mist sat like a carpet of cotton wool over the lowlands, while the hills and mountains were draped in a sky of pink and orange. We commented that some people would get up very early to witness such a spectacle. Others wouldn’t even go to bed…

This was now the most enjoyable and exciting leg of the journey. Fuelled by caffeine and sugary sweets, the tiredness and fatigue of a few hours earlier had made way for a determination to get the job done. If England’s motorway network had done its level best to give the train an easy victory, Scotland was clearly taking the side of the car. The A74(M) must surely be one of the most remarkable stretches of motorway in the UK, a stark contrast to the misery of the M6 and M1.

Rolls-Royce Wraith on A74(M)

We were enjoying playing sling-shot with the Wraith’s comically quick pace, as highlighted by its 0-60mph time of 4.4 seconds. You’d expect a V12 supercar to behave in such a way, but nothing can prepare you for the experience of accelerating in a 2.3-tonne Roller.

As befits a Rolls-Royce, the soundtrack is more muted than other V12s, but there’s enough of a burble to add to the theatre. Assuming you can live with the inevitable impact it has on the fuel economy (and if you’ve paid £300k for the car, you probably can), you’ll never tire of going quickly in a Wraith. It’s nothing short of sensational.

Abington to Edinburgh

Our final driver-change took place at the Abington Services, conveniently positioned at the junction with the A702, our route into the city. After a quick stop and having made the decision not to order one last coffee, we ventured back into the car park to see the Caledonian Sleeper thundering past on its way to Carstairs. If we needed any further motivation to press on, this was it. For the first time we broke into a fast walk and jumped aboard the Wraith. This was going to the wire.

Not that performing a swift launch procedure in the Wraith is particularly easy. We never really came to terms with the huge ’suicide’ doors, as they are too showy for our tastes. A two-tone Wraith is hardly discreet, but opening the doors simply smacks of showing off, especially if you take advantage of the electric door closing. The Wraith won’t move until you’ve put your seat belt on and reversing remains a game of chance, even with the optional camera system.

The A702 presents a delightfully twisty and smooth route into Edinburgh. For the first time on the journey, we were asking the Wraith to break into a sweat. We were still expected to win by around 20 minutes, but the sat nav was warning of roadworks and delays heading into the city. And by now, Scotland was beginning to wake up, meaning we no longer had the roads all to ourselves.

The pair of us were properly fired up now, greeting every 30mph and slow-moving vehicle with disdain. We weren’t about to be beaten on the final 40-mile stretch.

Rolls-Royce Wraith in Scotland

A local bus and a delivery truck were dispatched with consummate ease and fears that the Wraith would be too big to chuck around the bends of the A702 were soon dispelled. The air suspension is little sort of a revelation, seamlessly morphing between supreme motorway comfort and tight cornering prowess. There’s barely a hint of body-roll as you take the bends at some unlikely speeds.

The Wraith also manages to disguise its pace with alarming ease, making it all too easy to enter a corner at a stupid speed. Keeping an eye on your speed using the optional head-up display is highly recommended, if you want to maintain a clean licence.

We’d also prefer to make use of a pair of paddle-shifters, which aren’t available on the Wraith. Given the Wraith is supposed to be the most driver-focused Rolls-Royce in the range, having a greater level of interaction with the overall experience wouldn’t be a bad thing. On a number of occasions we found ourselves reaching for a non-existent left paddle, hoping to use some engine braking before entering a corner.

Rolls-Royce Wraith sat nav

Of course, Rolls-Royce will point to the Wraith’s ability to use GPS to select the ideal gear in which to be in for each corner and motorway slip road. Truly impressive technology, but it only serves to remove the feeling of control. That said, for the most part you’re unlikely to know which gear you’re in, such is the efficiency of the eight-speed transmission. Up and down changes are – for the most part – impossible to detect.

The A702 was brilliant. A well-driven Seat Mii and the quickest cherry picker in the world worked like a pair of pilot boats, guiding the good ship Wraith into port. Thanks to them, we hit the outskirts of Edinburgh at 06:49 and had a full 30 minutes at our disposal. With just 2.5 miles to go, victory was within our grasp.

Rolls-Royce Wraith and cherry picker

But then it struck me. What if the train arrived early? For the entire night, we had been racing the invisible enemy, keeping one eye on the Wraith’s glorious analogue clock and the other on the sat nav’s ETA. But we weren’t racing against the clock, we were racing against the train. I

t would be a hollow victory to arrive before 07:22, only to see the train already sat by the platform. In fact, we couldn’t even class it as a victory. Our stress levels were rising.

Into Edinburgh…

Stress then made way for mild panic as the sat nav led us to the wrong destination. Whether by an input error or by using the wrong information, we were left around a mile from Waverley Station. How on earth would we explain defeat?

Thanks to a passer-by, we were pointed in the general direction of the station, so we set off once again. The relief associated with seeing the station for the first time was palpable, but there was nowhere to park. We had prepared for such a scenario, agreeing that one of us would stay with the car while the other would make a run for it. Apologies to the people of Edinburgh who had to witness the sight of a sleep-deprived zombie frantically searching for the right platform.

My heart sank when a station porter told me the train was already in and sat on platform two. I made a run for it, knowing there were still six minutes before the train was expected to arrive. Panicking, I asked a second porter, who pointed me towards the other end of the station, but did raise my spirits by telling me the train hadn’t arrived yet. By now it was 07:18 and I was running like a madman across the station…

I arrived at the platform out of breath but hopefully not out of luck. I frantically looked around for clues, feeling a tad dazed and confused. Then I looked behind me, to see a train coming into view. Could it be the Caledonian Sleeper? Could it really have been that close?

Caledonian Sleeper

You bet it was. We had only gone and done it. Even taking into account the train’s early arrival time, we had beaten the train by a matter of seconds. The 413 miles and a night without sleep had been worth it. Rolls-Royce Wraith: one, Caledonian Sleeper: nil.

Victory could have gone either way. Had we ordered a coffee at Abington, we would have lost. Had we been delayed by the blanket of fog we encountered on the journey home, we would have lost. Had we not followed the world’s fastest cherry picker into Edinburgh, we would have lost. Had I not asked the second porter, we would have lost. It was nip and tuck stuff. All of our overnight decisions, no matter how small, had made a difference.

A perfect blend of performance and luxury?

The journey home was a less frantic and in many ways a more enjoyable experience. Free of clock-watching, we were able to revel in the supreme majesty of the Rolls-Royce Wraith.

Sure, for the best part of £235,000 before options, you’d have every right to expect the Wraith to be brilliant, but for the way in which it blends performance with luxury, this thing has no peers. That such a large and heavy thing can be so rewarding to drive on a twisty road is nothing short of a miracle.

Rolls-Royce Wraith on the road

The steering is wonderfully accurate, the ride is exceptional and the pace is intoxicating. Rolls-Royce has also done a brilliant job of disguising the inevitable requirements of a digital age in such an analogue and old-school cabin. There’s more than a hint of BMW ownership, notably the iDrive infotainment screen and safety ‘chimes’, but this feels every inch a Rolls-Royce, right down to the thin-rimmed steering wheel, soft leather, proper wood and dashboard dials.

We even managed to achieve a combined 22.2mpg over 1,400 miles of driving, which – while not exactly frugal – is perfectly respectable for a V12-engined car so adept at racing trains across the country.

Rolls-Royce Wraith in Edinburgh

As for the reaction of other motorists, it was universally positive. People would wander up, ready to congratulate us on such a fine purchase. No fewer than three people described the Wraith as ‘gorgeous’ and, perhaps surprisingly, everyone gave the Starlight roof lining the thumbs up.

Finding faults is an exercise in nitpicking, although a constant door issue, with a rather alarming message advising ’doors not secured against opening whilst the vehicle is in motion’, was a little disappointing, not least because it was accompanied by a sound not too dissimilar to sniper rifle each time we moved off from a standstill.

Smooth braking can be a bit hit and miss, too, making the entry to roundabouts a tad frustrating. It’s also relatively hard to drive slowly, with the throttle seemingly set to nothing…nothing…everything. You need to have your wits about you when tackling tight streets and parking spaces. Thank goodness for parking sensors and 360-degree cameras.

But for pure theatre and a sense of occasion, the Rolls-Royce Wraith nails it. Thanks to its devastating pace and ability to find the quickest route through the Midlands, the reputation of the car is intact.

For all kinds of reasons, this had been a drive to remember. Personally, it was my first drive in a Rolls-Royce and I’ve emerged with a huge amount of admiration for the Wraith, not least because it was the real star of the #WraithTheTrain adventure. Sure, we could have achieved the same result in any car, but few would have done it with such an overwhelming sense of occasion and style.

Epic night, epic drive, epic car. And sleep is so overrated.

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

This incredible golden 1961 Rolls-Royce was customized by George Barris

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

Hot rodder and customizer George Barris created numerous special cars over the years, but this 1961 Rolls-Royce may be one of his most ostentatious. 

Built for actress and Hollywood socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Sedanca de Ville was made to fit with the rest of her extravagant lifestyle. 

Forgotten about for two decades, the car is one of the lots appearing this week at the Artcurial Retromobile 2020 sale in Paris, France.

Living the Hollywood dream

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

Originally born in Budapest, Hungary, Zsa Zsa Gabor first found fame in Vienna, Austria during the 1930s. She would later move to the United States in 1941, going on to star in more than thirty Hollywood movies and countless television shows. 

Gabor was also known for being married nine times during her life. This included marriages to George Hilton, founder of the Hilton Hotels empire, and British actor George Sanders. 

Her successful acting career, plus a string of lucrative divorces, endowed Gabor with a huge amount of wealth. This included purchasing a gigantic mansion in Bel Air, once owned by Elvis Presley.

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

With such a flamboyant lifestyle, Gabor’s interests also extended to the finest automobiles available. She was gifted the rare long-wheelbase Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II in 1970, before handing it over to George Barris for customization in 1978.

Barris had established himself as the man to go to for motoring extravagance, having made iconic cars for use on screen. The original Batmobile, the Munster Koach, and the Oldsmobile used in Mannix were all Barris creations.

Chicago-born Barris was also happy to build special cars for celebrities, including John Wayne, Elvis Presley, and Dean Martin. For Zsa Zsa there was clearly only one person to turn to. 

All that glitters (really) is gold

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

The most obvious part of the transformation by Barris is the elaborate golden exterior paint scheme. The two-tone color scheme features pinstriping and other special detailing, including a stylized ‘Zsa Zsa’ inscription on the rear doors. 

Barris also had the famed glass-etcher, Robb Rich, add hand-crafted details to the windows of the Rolls, featuring flowers and butterflies. Lift-out panels over the front of the cabin allow open-top driving, with white wall tires and wire wheels adding classic style.

Along with the golden paint, the Rolls-Royce does have genuine 24-carat gold plating on the exterior and interior trim. The large front grille and Spirit of Ecstasy emblem are finished in gold, plus the door handles and licence plate surround. 

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

Inside is just as dramatic and as luxurious as could be expected. Although Gabor was known for driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, the layout of the Sedanca de Ville suggests she was intending to be chauffeured in this car. 

Up front is a bench seat finished in brown leather, with the dashboard wearing acres of wood trim. However, the spacious rear cabin has just two exquisitely upholstered seats, with folding tables hiding a hairbrush and comb. 

Barris was suitably proud of his finished creation, with the car going on display at the 1978 Auto Expo in Los Angeles. 

Holding on to what’s golden

Artcurial George Barris Custom Rolls Royce

The car would later vanish for more than two decades, eventually being located in a barn in the Netherlands. A sale in 2014 would see the car emerge into the spotlight again, getting it ready for the Artcurial sale this year. 

Less than 300 examples of the V-8 Silver Cloud II LWB were produced, meaning examples are rare to begin with. A version customized by an automotive icon, and owned by a Hollywood legend, makes this car even more exclusive. 

Artcurial has estimated an auction value of between $89,000 to $155,000 (£67,000 to £117,000) for the Sedanca de Ville. Friday, February 7th will show if someone is willing to commit to the extravagance of this Rolls-Royce.

Torsten Muller-Otvos, Chief Executive, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

‘Controversial’ SUV helps Rolls-Royce sales surge 25 percent

Torsten Muller-Otvos, Chief Executive, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV hasn’t found favour with everyone, but it’s hitting the mark where it matters – amongst Rolls-Royce customers.

The introduction of the Cullinan has lifted 2019 Rolls-Royce sales by 25 percent over 2018, to the highest in its 116-year history.

Rolls-Royce sold 5,152 new cars last year. Which isn’t bad when you think even the cheapest costs upwards of £235,000.

The Cullinan costs from £256,000 and pretty much every customer adds extras on top of that, pushing the transaction price even higher.

The Million Stitch Rolls-Royce Phantom

“This performance is of an altogether different magnitude to any previous year’s sales success,” said Rolls-Royce Motor Cars CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos.

However, he admits he doesn’t actually want sales to rise much higher. “We are conscious of our key promise to our customers, to keep our brand rare and exclusive.”

Demand, he said, “is expected to stabilise in 2020”.

Rolls-Royce top countries

Rolls-Royce Phantom

Rolls-Royce sells its cars in 50 markets worldwide, from 135 global retailers.

North America is the biggest market for Rolls-Royce, taking one in three cars built. China is next, followed by Europe.

Record sales were also achieved in Russia, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Qatar and South Korea.

New retailers opened in Brisbane and Shangnai – and, in 2020, a new Rolls-Royce flagship dealership in Berkeley Street, London, is due to open.

It is more than twice the size of Rolls-Royce’s previous London dealer.

While all focus was on the Cullinan in 2019, production of another Rolls-Royce, the Ghost, actually stopped.

Don’t worry though, adds the firm. The best-selling Rolls-Royce in the history of the marque, launched back in 2009, will be coming back. The new Ghost is due in mid-2020, ahead of sales beginning in the winter.

In the meantime, let’s see how long it takes for the Cullinan to become the ‘new’ best-selling Rolls-Royce…

Rebel Rolls: new Cullinan for those who ‘take risks and break rules’

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge

Rolls-Royce has announced a Black Badge version of its Cullinan SUV, with more power and menacing styling.

For starters, almost everything is black. The paint is made from multiple layers of lacquer, with 10 processes of hand polishing. Rolls-Royce calls it ‘the most comprehensive surface finish process ever applied to a solid paint colour’. Spot the contrasting, hand-painted coachline, too.

The Spirit of Ecstacy mascot is finished in high-gloss black chrome, as is the mounting plate for the first time. It’s ‘the darkest Black Badge yet’, says Rolls.

Most chrome surfaces are also darkened, including the enormous grille surround, boot handle, lower air intakes and exhaust pipes. The grille slats remain polished, however.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge

New and exclusive for the Black Badge are the 22-inch forged alloy wheels, which have a diamond-turned surface. The brake calipers are painted red.

Inside the Cullinan Black Badge is what Rolls-Royce calls a ‘technical carbon veneer’, apparently inspired by urban architecture. Shaping, lacquering and curing the material is a 21-day process.

Black Badge, bright cabin

The cabin of the Black Badges is where owners often choose contrasting colours. In the car seen here, it’s new Forge Yellow. The interior is softly lit by the now-traditional starlight headliner.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge

While the Black Badge offers more oomph, performance is implied rather than highlighted in a Rolls-Royce. The 6.75-litre V12’s output rises to 600hp and 663lb ft of torque. 

“Black Badge reflects the desires of a distinct group of Rolls-Royce clients: men and women who take risks, break rules and build success on their own terms,” said Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce.

“The time has come for Rolls-Royce’s boldest and darkest expression of Black Badge yet. The King of the Night, Black Badge Cullinan.”

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Rolls-Royce’s £37,000 champagne cooler is the ultimate car accessory

The Rolls-Royce Champagne Chest

Rolls-Royce has entered the world of car-based merchandise –  not by selling baseball caps or aftershave, but with a carbon fibre, oak and stainless steel champagne chest.

It’s a cool bit of kit, as you’d hope for £37,000. The Rolls-Royce of picnic hampers, if you will. A single button-press opens the chest up to reveal champagne flutes for four guests.

The lid turns into a serving tray made of Tudor oak, with a laser-cut stainless steel inlay. Four cotton napkins are also displayed, complete with embroidered ‘RR’ monograms. 

The Rolls-Royce Champagne Chest

While the chest comes exquisitely appointed as standard, this is Rolls-Royce. So you can have it modified to your exact colour choice. Presumably, if you try your luck at keeping Cava inside, it’ll snap shut on you automatically. 

The illuminated central bay shows off the hand-blown crystal glasses, which are tactically arranged to look like inlets on a Rolls-Royce engine. A shame there are only four, then, rather than 12.

The Rolls-Royce Champagne Chest

The sides of the chest pop out to reveal two ‘Hotspur Red’ leather hammocks, suitable for cradling anything from caviar to canapés. There are also two mother-of-pearl spoons with anodised aluminium handles.

Thermal champagne coolers keep your bubbly chilled, and they, like the chest, are made from aluminium and carbon fibre.

The Rolls-Royce Champagne Chest

“The Champagne Chest by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is a contemporary and sociable addition to the Accessories Collection,” said Gavin Hartley of Rolls-Royce.

“The approach is that of designing a Rolls-Royce motor car; the finest materials are married with pinnacle engineering to provide an experience like no other. The Champagne Chest is crafted for those that seek a heightened sense of occasion in an elegant, entertaining manner.”

The Rolls-Royce Chest

Black Badge to the Black Mountains: Rolls-Royce vs. Britain’s best road

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge

I was tempted to stay in bed. With the wind and rain crashing against the bedroom window and the radio reporting “atrocious driving conditions”, the thought of venturing out from beneath the duvet was about as appealing as a spot of early morning root canal surgery.

But it’s not every day you have a Wraith Black Badge parked outside your house, even if a Cullinan would have been a more suitable Rolls-Royce for a courageous battle against Storm Erik, or whatever the most recent bout of bad weather was called.

I have a history with the Wraith. In 2015, I drove through the night from London to Edinburgh in a race against the overnight sleeper train, but this was before Rolls-Royce launched the performance-enhanced Black Badge.

This was to be a different kind of fight. The plan was to tackle the A4069 – also known as the Black Mountain Pass – considered, by some, to be Britain’s best road. It sounded like a good idea on paper, but Erik was in town to play party-pooper, and he wasn’t about to let the fastest and most potent Rolls-Royce enjoy the freedom of mid-Wales.

Wake up to money

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge Flying Lady

In the meantime, there was the small matter of a short schlep along the A30 and up the M5 for a 7am rendezvous with Bradley and his camera equipment. I click the button on the thickset key fob to awaken the Wraith from her sleep – the door handles illuminate and the slimline LED headlights cast enough light on the surroundings to prompt the local birds into a pre-dawn chorus.

The vampish Flying Lady, dressed in black on Black Badge models, emerges from her sanctum atop the noir-like grille to take up a position akin to a figurehead on the bow of a ship. A rather apt analogy, given the prevailing weather conditions. It’s just as well the Wraith features a steering wheel the size of a helm.

Once inside, safe from the continuing wind and rain, the electric suicide door shuts with a reassuring thud, plunging the cabin into near silence. Few, if any, cars cocoon you from the outside world quite like a Rolls-Royce – the ambient lighting, starlight headliner and lambswool foot mats can give hygge a run for its money in terms of cosiness.

With the 6.6-litre V12 engine ticking over and the heated seat set to the max, I spend the first five minutes searching in vain for a USB port. The Wraith – a car that dates back to the 2013 Geneva Motor Show – might be the last word in performance luxury, but from a connectivity point of view, it is being left behind.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge interior

Six years is a long time in the automotive world, so while newer luxury and premium cars boast multiple USB ports, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Wraith Black Badge has to make do with DAB and Bluetooth. Sensing that Bradley will require some juice for his camera gear, I stop off to buy a USB adapter for the cigar lighter socket.

It’s one of two cigar lighters in the Wraith, which are complemented by a pair of ashtrays – old-school features in a thoroughly old-school cabin. An unashamedly analogue cabin that’s dripping in old money charm – anything digital is either hidden away or cleverly disguised.

It’s funny: while premium carmakers go to obsessive lengths to garnish their cabins with the latest touchscreen infotainment systems, digital displays and climate controls that allow you to set the temperature to the nearest half-a-degree, Rolls-Royce steadfastly refuses to conform.

The blowers can be set to soft, medium, high or max, while the temperature is controlled by a set of traditional rotary controls. The art deco dials, complete with dim lighting, remain one of my favourite features of the car.

Severn heaven

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge at Severn Bridge

Ninety minutes later, I’m sat in the dark alongside the River Severn, between the two bridges, waiting for the arrival of Bradley. Both the car and I have enjoyed a stress-free drive on the M5 – the Wraith’s power reserve rarely dropping below 90 percent, while I’m no less comfortable than I was beneath my duvet.

The rain has stopped (for a while), but the night sky has made way for ominous looking clouds on the other side of the river with the wind strong enough to make opening the Wraith’s Swiss bank vault-like doors feel like a morning workout.

None of this discourages us from setting the sat-nav to Llandovery – the northern gateway to the A4069.

The skies seem to get darker the further west we head, and by the time we’re bypassing Merthyr Tydfil, we’re facing a two-pronged attack by Welsh rain and commuter traffic. The wipers are unable to cope with the conditions, and soon we’re slowing to a steady crawl.

Maybe we should have headed south. With the strong winds and a 6.6-litre V12 at our disposal, we could have made the south of France for lunch and be back in time for tea. Instead, we’re facing the wrath of Storm Erik in what is now a two-tone Andalusian White and grubby Wraith.

We press on, with any attempts at a rapid exit from a roundabout greeted by wheelspin, a flashing traction control light and the profound fear of having to call the Rolls-Royce press office with tales of an unfortunate encounter with the crash barrier.

Chasing waterfalls

Crossing into the Brecon Beacons, we catch our first sight of the snow that blanketed much of the country just a week earlier. Fan Fawr appears to be enjoying its role of a water fountain, sending torrents of rainwater towards the A470. We watch as the waterfalls are taken by the wind, with the water transported vertically up the peak.

Only a fool would take a £340,000 (including options) 624hp Wraith into mid-Wales in conditions such as these, we ponder as we watch a legion of squaddies clamber out of a Defender for some exhausting manoeuvres in the wet.

Turning left off the A470 towards Sennybridge, we’re greeted by what can only be described as carnage. Rocks, stones and even the occasional brick have been strewn across the road by the water gushing out of the fields, with the monotony of the debris broken only by the pools of standing water.

The driving conditions are as atrocious as the weatherman warned at stupid o’clock this morning. The road is passable – just – but when you’re using the centre of the road to wade through standing water, you just have to pray that you’re not going to be greeted by a Suzuki Vitara hurtling round the bend. Suzukis appear to be as common as sheep in this part of the world.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge petrol station

We needed fuel. This is a regular occurrence in a car that’ll do 19.3mpg on a combined cycle. Hypermiling in a Wraith isn’t recommended, especially in mid-Wales where petrol stations don’t appear as frequently as sheep… or Suzukis.

It’s as though the engineers at Rolls-Royce had this in mind when they configured the display to tell you that you’re using a reserve tank, rather than the usual ‘low fuel’ alert. Nothing focuses your mind on dwindling reserves of fuel quite like the word ‘reserve’.

The first stab at refuelling ends in failure, partly because there was no super unleaded on offer, but also because I was unwilling to risk the 21-inch carbon-alloy composite alloy wheels between a high kerb and a badly parked Countryman.

Did I mention that each wheel costs £5,000? This figure is never far from your mind when you’re driving a Wraith Black Badge – get a width restriction wrong, and you’ll be parting with the equivalent of a family hatchback to put things right. Call me risk-averse, but I rather fancied handing the car back with a full quota of unblemished alloys.

Fortunately, the next petrol station was a little more Wraith-ready, and as I brimmed the tank, a chap filling his Rover 420 made an admiring comment about the car. I can’t tell you precisely what he said, because it was difficult to hear above the sound of the wind and rain lashing the Oil4Wales filling station.

Needless to say, I made some humble remark about it not being my car, although he would have guessed this from the sight of my £30 hoodie and Converse.

Following the road less travelled

Rolls-Royce Wraith dials

Age-wise, I hit the Rolls-Royce audience profile squarely on the nose, but I’m far removed from the demographic. The Black Badge press material from 2016 makes for interesting and mildly amusing reading – at times it’s like a series of Instagram updates from a social media influencer.

“Today’s generation of young, self-empowered, self-confident rule-breakers are just as uncompromising and unapologetic in their choice of living and lifestyle as their predecessors. They follow the road less travelled, live the unconventional life, darkly obsessed by their own pursuits and accomplishments from which they derive a pure adrenaline rush.”

Today’s road less travelled with its promise of a pure adrenalin rush was now just a few miles away, but these self-confident rule-breakers needed breakfast.

Llandovery was in the midst of playing host to its own natural disaster movie. We’re greeted by the sight and sounds of metal bins crashing into the sides of parked cars and recycling boxes being carried across the road by the wind.

The sight of the aftermath of a JCB used to steal a cash machine from the local Co-op only added to the sense of it looking like a scene from Llandovery Has Fallen. Gerard Butler was nowhere to be seen, so we headed for the sanctuary of the Old Printing Office cafe for crumpets.

“Just passing through?” enquired the lady behind the till. Glancing out of the window at the weather when I outlined our plans, she told us that Jeremy Clarkson and James May had stayed in the hotel opposite. I suspect they weren’t in town for the crumpets.

Waze and making waves

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge Llandovery

Venturing back to the Wraith – and with no sign of Gerard Butler – we dodge low-flying bric-a-brac and follow a faded red E36 BMW 316i towards the A40. The chap behind the wheel – who you just know has owned the car from new – is forced into an emergency stop as a green recycling bin makes a break for freedom. Llandovery was falling, and we needed to get out of town.

The A4069 starts on the western fringe of Llandovery and snakes its way south before ending in Brynamman just 20 miles later. You can split it into three sections, with the speed limit getting progressively slower the further south you go.

From Llandovery to Llangadog it’s a typical British A-road – the surface is good, the lanes are wider, and the hedges mask a succession of farms and fields. It is, if you like, an appetiser for the main event.

It’s not without incident. Appearing over the brow of a hill – never easy when you have the full length of the Wraith’s bonnet pointing at the sky – half the road is blocked by a fallen tree. Bradley promptly alerts other users via the medium of Waze, as I begin to question what we’re letting ourselves in for.

Spirit of Ecstasy in Wales

At Llangadog, there’s a sharp left between the Castle Hotel and a village shop, where the elongated bonnet becomes a bit of a hindrance. Fortunately, the vampish Spirit of Ecstasy is on hand to perform the role of navigator.

Once past the signs for Bethlehem – turn right at the football pitch if you’re in the midst of a different pilgrimage – the road becomes a whole lot more technical, and the speed limit drops to 50mph.

Today, 20mph almost seems optimistic, let alone the dizzy heights of 50mph. The road hugs the River Sawdde, which at times looks ready to turn the A4069 into a tributary. At 1,948mm wide, the Wraith is narrower than a Range Rover, but it barely fits along its side of the road.

Having a steering wheel the size of the London Eye adds to the exaggerated sense of girth, while the £5k wheels are never far from your mind. It’s fun – up to a point – but the Wraith is feeling like a duck out of water. I fully intended to keep it that way.

Black Mountain Pass

Black Badge vs Black Mountains

Eventually, the road emerges from the trees, before a cattle grid signals the beginning of stage three – the Black Mountain Pass. It’s a breathtaking view, although it’s hard to distinguish between the gushing waterfalls and the snow still hanging on from a week earlier.

One thing is clear – even in the gloom of the mid-Wales weather – is the stretch of glistening tarmac clinging on to the edge of the hillside. After a couple of double bends, the road passing over a narrow bridge and heads up towards its most photographed corner.

Before then, there’s the small matter of maintaining traction as the Wraith struggles to gets its power down. With 620lb ft of torque, the Black Badge makes light work of hauling itself up towards the summit, but today, enthusiastic bursts of acceleration are greeted with wheelspin in first, second and third.

A 40mph limit was introduced years ago, but today, the series of signs serve only to ruin the landscape. Quite why so many lollipops are required is anyone’s guess, but the view would look a lot tastier without them.

I can’t resist trying a little antisocial driving on the famous hairpin, but the traction control acts like a sleeping policeman, telling me to behave and ruining the momentum ahead of the continued climb past and beyond Herbert’s Quarry.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge 21-inch wheels

Once you reach the top, the views become even more spectacular, and the A4069 teases you with a vision of the road of your dreams. Think of the best Scalextric layouts you created as a kid and exchange the living room carpet for moorland, and you’re halfway there.

I could do with some Magnatraction today. The road is coated in stones and pedals, which act like ball bearings, robbing the 285/35 Continental tyres of grip. The road feels too narrow and twisty for the 2.4-tonne Wraith and is arguably better suited to cars like the Elise, GT86 and 205 GTI. Not that they’d be out in this weather.

For such a big car, the Wraith Black Badge is surprisingly agile, but asking it to tackle a series of double bends with vigour is akin to asking the Royal Albert Hall to appear on Strictly Come Dancing.

More than just a novelty act

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge A4069

One could argue that the Wraith is also too quick for this kind of road. It’ll sprint to 62mph in 4.8 seconds, but it actually feels faster in real life. Planting your right foot in the lambswool results in the back of the car squatting down on its haunches, like a big cat ready to pounce.

Quick as a flash, you’ve hit the speed limit, regardless of what road you’re travelling on. It’s an intoxicating and addictive experience, especially when the electronic aids are forced to work overtime to keep the car on the straight and narrow.

At times, the Wraith can feel a little out of control, like a tiger on a loose leash. It’s as though the engineers wanted to give the ‘wealth-creating entrepreneur’ (Rolls-Royce’s words) a feeling of control and power. The Wraith’s rapid acceleration might be a novelty, but I suspect this is one novelty that will never wear off.

Once at Brynamman, we turn around to repeat the journey in the opposite direction. By now, the low cloud that had capped the peaks like tufts of cotton wool have dispersed, but the rain is getting heavier.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge in Wales

Any hopes of capturing video are quite literally blown away by the strong winds, while the near-horizontal rain hitting your face like tiny needles is making photography a challenge.

I decide to call it quits when the Wraith is sent aquaplaning towards the side of the road only for the tyres to miraculously and mercifully find some grip before the Rolls-Royce becomes an expensive moorland ornament. It took a lot longer for my heart rate to return to normal.

Paddles required

Heading back to Llandovery, I discuss the Wraith’s place in the world of driver-focused performance cars with Bradley, and in particular this Black Badge version.

Up here, on the A4069, particularly in these conditions, the Wraith would struggle to find friends. It lacks the precision and deftness of touch that is required to get the best out of the Black Mountain Pass.

It’s over-engineered for this particular task. Even with the blanket speed restriction removed, the Wraith would be too quick between the corners – you’d be forever scrubbing the speed long before you reach a bend.

A pair of steering wheel paddles would undoubtedly add to the sense of involvement, but paddles of the seafaring variety may have been more appropriate today.

But ask a group of road testers which car they’d like to venture home in and there’d be a queue of people ready to grab the keys to the Rolls-Royce. There is just so much to love about the car, and its talents extend to far more than just supreme luxury and craftsmanship.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge in the rain

The steering is so direct and positive, the brakes appear good to enough to stop the earth from spinning, and the way in which the air suspension is configured to be soft enough to smooth out the worst of Britain’s roads yet supple enough to remain fluid when cornering is as beguiling as it is bewildering.

Meanwhile, the driving position is bewitching. You sit low-slung behind the massive wheel, with the view ahead enhanced by the narrow windscreen, head-up display and Spirit of Ecstasy. It makes it surprisingly easy to plot a path along the road ahead, with the precise steering giving you the confidence to tackle long and sweeping corners at speed.

And then, when you hit the motorways again, the Wraith Black Badge seamlessly morphs into a long distance cruiser of the highest order, matched only by other cars from within the Rolls-Royce stable.

I was only half joking when I told Bradley I was contemplating a trip to Inverness after I’d dropped him off near Bristol. Even the M6 on a Friday evening would feel pleasant in a Wraith.

River deep, mountain high

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge Abergwesyn Pass

Meanwhile, there was still time for one last excursion. With glimpses of blue sky in the distance, I noticed that we were just 13 miles from Llanwrtyd Wells – the smallest town in Britain.

Not an interesting fact in the context of the Wraith, but the town lies a few miles away from the Abergwesyn Pass, arguably one of the most scenic roads in Wales, if not the entire country. It’s an opportunity that’s too good to miss.

Just before noon, we find ourselves nestled between Cefn Coch and Pen Carreg-Dan, staring at a view that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Skyfall. It’s a humbling and life-affirming experience; both literally and metaphorically, the Abergwesyn Pass feels like a world away from the rest of civilisation.

Moving on, a trio of fast-running fords are crossed with a little trepidation – and a little help from the raised suspension function – before the Wraith makes light work of the Devil’s Staircase, although it struggled for grip on the switchbacks.

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge driving through ford

For the next 90 minutes, we have the entire road to ourselves, stopping many times to allow Bradley to grab photos as we make our way past the Llyn Brianne reservoir and back down into Llandovery.

It was on the Abergwesyn Pass and the subsequent roads that the Wraith Black Badge really shone. As a relaxed, effortless and refined Grand Tourer, it’s almost without equal, with enough precision to ensure it doesn’t feel out of place on a B-road.

The V12 engine generates enough noise through the sports exhaust to make it sound interesting, with Rolls-Royce allowing a subtle hint of the soundtrack to enter the cabin. But as impressive is the way in which it settles to a quiet hum – at times, all you can hear is the sound of tyres on the wet road.

A national treasure

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge

With Bradley safely deposited at his Corsa, I made my way back down the M5, contemplating a final verdict for the Wraith Black Badge.

You’d expect a car costing the best part of £240,000 before VAT and options to be great, but you can’t really judge a Rolls-Royce against other vehicles. A Rolls-Royce is more like a feat of engineering that should be placed alongside historic buildings, aircraft and landmarks. A national treasure, if you like.

Driving a Wraith Black Badge is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime, and while I wouldn’t recommend heading for the Welsh hills during a storm, it’s incredibly reassuring to know that it can handle such conditions with aplomb.

I’m not entirely convinced that the A4069 is Britain’s best road – the 40mph limit has put paid to that – but the Wraith Black Badge is one of the world’s best cars. Long may it rain.

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Rolls-Royce Cullinan in London

Six new Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUVs arrive in London

Rolls-Royce Cullinan in London

The Rolls-Royce of SUVs has made a splash in London, with no less than six Cullinans descending on the H.R. Owen showroom for deposit-holders to experience.

The Cullinan is the most important Rolls-Royce to launch since the re-introduction of the Phantom – the first car developed under BMW ownership – in 2003.

The SUV market has shown no signs of slowing down and, as such, the Cullinan is tasked with going in at the top and setting the standard.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan in London

In spite of being engineered to be able to tackle the world’s harshest environments, London’s congested roads might be the greatest challenge many Cullinans will face. 

Future customers were able to experience the Cullinan’s ‘magic carpet ride’, traversing London in ‘the tranquillity of the most luxurious interior of any SUV on sale today’.

All things considered, a high-riding view, insulated from the hustle and bustle of London in Rolls-standard comfort, sounds pretty good to us. The car’s ‘Effortless everywhere’ ad tagline doesn’t just mean the Sahara or Arctic Circle, after all.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan in London

There’s something weirdly right about seeing the Cullinan in London. A car that’s as stately and cathedral-like as its surroundings, if not more.

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Aurus Senat

The Aurus Senat is Russia’s answer to a Rolls-Royce

Aurus Senat

When is a Rolls-Royce Phantom just a little too subtle? When you’re the president of Russia, for starters. Vladimir Putin has been enjoying the services of his Aurus Senat limousine for a few months now, but this height of Russian automotive luxury will soon be available to all.

Aurus (not to be confused with Toyota’s now-discontinued family hatch, the Auris) is a new marque set up and run by Russia’s snappily-titled Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engine Institute.

Aurus Senat

Its new car is no pale imitation of the Roller, either, with a stately front end and confident profile, plus interior design and technology to rival the very best.

A digital instrument cluster, up-to-the-minute infotainment and swathes of wood, metal and leather maintain the best standards of luxury. You also get reclining rear seats, a fridge, fold-out tables and crystal drinking glasses.

Under the bonnet, things get a little mad. There are two engine options: a V8 and a V12. The V8 is a 4.4-litre attached to a hybrid system, good for 590hp. The V12 displaces 6.6 litres and puts out a titanic 848hp. That might seem excessive but you’ll need it if you’ve opted for the 21.7-foot long-wheelbase Senat. That’s a full two feet longer than an Extended Wheelbase Phantom.

Aurus Senat

Unlike the big Rolls, power is sent to all four wheels rather than just the rears. It does get quite snowy in Moscow, after all.

If you’re chomping at the bit to get hold of an Aurus Senat, you’ll have to wait until next year. No, it isn’t Russia-only: the car is confirmed for international markets. As for the price? We’ve no hard numbers yet, although a 20% saving versus an equivalent Rolls-Royce or Bentley was allegedly targeted.

Fingers crossed we get to do a twin test…

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Phantom to the Opera

Phantom to the Opera: an incredible Rolls-Royce road trip

Phantom to the OperaPhantom to the Opera. It started with a neat headline and idle office banter. Three months later, I’m holding tickets to the tomorrow night’s show at the Vienna State Opera in one hand and the key to a £450,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom in the other. An epic, race-against-time road trip awaits.

The plan is to start outside London’s Royal Opera House at 19:00. We’ll set the sat nav for Vienna, 920 miles away, aiming to arrive for the 19:30 performance of Madama Butterfly. Taking into account the CET hour-change, that’s 23-and-a-half hours to drive across Western Europe, shooting a video en route.

Watch: Rolls-Royce Phantom… to the opera!

Still, if any car suits a non-stop, cross-continental jaunt, it’s the new 2018 Phantom. Rolls-Royce’s V12 flagship blasts effortlessly to 62mph in 5.3 seconds and has a limited top speed of 155mph (more on the latter shortly). This two-tone Black Sapphire over Silverlake blue example also boasts massage seats, in-car TVs and a champagne fridge – ready-stocked with a pre-show tipple. By tomorrow evening, we’ll have earned it. TP

Drivers: Tim Pitt (TP) and Andrew Brady (AB)

19:00 – Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Phantom to the Opera

This isn’t ideal. Our journey hasn’t even begun and already I’ve been driving for two hours. That’s how long it’s taken to crawl from home (Croydon) to our rendezvous point in Covent Garden. Even in central London, the Phantom turns heads and gets cameraphones clicking. However, the serenity inside the cabin is offset by my mild panic at piloting such a large, conspicuous vehicle through tight, pedestrian-packed streets. Get this wrong and social media stardom beckons…

I arrive at the opera house and pull up outside for an opening photo. I’m not supposed to park here, but the door staff give an appreciative nod. The Phantom is that sort of car. Then, co-driver Andrew and photographer Bradley jump aboard and we’re off, aiming the Spirit of Ecstasy south-east towards the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone – and Europe beyond.

Phantom to the Opera

The sat nav says we should arrive in Vienna in time for breakfast, but that’s assuming no toilet breaks, fuel fill-ups or filming. And frankly, as we rejoin the tail-end of London’s rush hour, it’s already starting to look ambitious. Cruising past Canary Wharf, I admire the Phantom’s reflection in one of many glassy, new-build apartments. You wouldn’t call it beautiful, but it’s imposing, imperious and quite unlike anything else. TP

21:53 – Channel Tunnel terminal, Folkestone

Phantom to the Opera

 

With fingertip-light steering and a titanic 664lb ft of torque from 1,600rpm, the Rolls-Royce will waft gamely around town, but high-speed cruising is its raison d’être. Lucky, as we have many hundreds of motorway miles to go.

We escape London via the A13 and briefly join the M25 before filtering onto the M20 towards Folkestone. As the sun droops below the horizon, the Phantom’s Starlight Headliner – a night-sky of LEDs dotted across the roof lining – bathes the cabin in a cool white glow. Its dashboard is a curious mix of old-school wood-n-leather (highly polished mahogany here) and modern tech. BMW drivers may spot the Rolls-rebranded iDrive interface, but it remains one of the best media systems available.

Phantom to the Opera

 

Arriving at Folkestone, we’re promptly pulled aside by police with guns. Amazingly, the spectacle of three dishevelled hacks in a half-million-pound car has aroused their suspicions. I produce our papers and show them various emails about the trip. Eventually, we’re waved on to our next challenge: boarding the train.

As any Le Shuttle veterans will know, the train carriages have vicious kerbs either side that can spell disaster for wide cars with pricey alloy wheels. Thankfully, with buttocks clenched and Andrew walking backwards in front of the car to guide me, I avoid any scars to the Phantom’s forged and polished 22s. Thirty-five minutes later, we’re in France and, after a brief blat up the coast into Belgium, it’s time for a driver-change. TP

12:18 – Ghent, Belgium

Phantom to the Opera

Tim says “it’s time for a driver-change”. In truth, I’m itching for a go. If memory serves me correctly, Ghent isn’t that far from the German border – and we know what that means: derestricted Autobahn.

Unfortunately, my brain has condensed Europe into a smaller area than it really is. We’re a good 100 miles from crossing into Germany, meaning I have to endure a couple of hours of tedious Belgium motorways before reaching the land of liberal speed limits. Fortunately, we have coffee and Pepsi Max on board – and, as I usually swerve caffeine, it’s doing an excellent job of keeping me awake.

There’s a surprising amount of traffic for the time of night. Not cars, but an inside lane full of lorries. With two-lane motorway the norm in Belgium, you have to keep your wits about you in case one decides to dart in front for a sluggardly overtake.

Phantom to the Opera

With Tim now snoring in the back, Bradley passes me a pack of Haribo and cranks up the cheesy Spotify playlist as we cross into Germany. After dicing with a bit of traffic, the road ahead clears and the sat-nav informs me the stretch of Autobahn we’re on is about as straight as it comes. I accelerate, passing 100mph easily, while 110mph and 120mph also pass by without a fuss. Things start to happen quickly at around 130mph – with the Rolls’ ‘Power Reserve’ dial showing zero percent – but I’m confident that I don’t need to lift just yet. We pass 140mph, and soon hit the 155mph limiter.

Tim’s none-the-wiser as I hit the brakes in time for a slight bend. While the Phantom generally feels planted, you do feel its 2,560kg mass as it tip-toes around at three-figure speeds.

After a few hours of cruising at a pace that’d cost you your licence in the UK, Bradley’s joined Tim in the land of nod. This would be the perfect opportunity to practise my chauffeur skills, but I can feel my eyelids getting heavier. Best wake Tim up. AB

04:36 – Frankfurt, Germany

Phantom to the Opera

 

I’ve never slept so soundly in a car. Cocooned in the rear of the Rolls, heated seat reclined and electric footrest raised, I’ve snoozed through half of Germany. Given that Andrew was bouncing off the limiter and blasting out 90s Europop, that’s some feat.

We pull into a services near Frankfurt, where bleary-eyed truckers eye us with a mixture of bemusement and mild hostility. I take the wheel and we’re back on Autobahn 3, which stretches 483 miles from Holland to Austria. Even at 4am, the road is packed with trucks bound for Eastern Europe, so I settle for a steady 100mph cruise, marvelling at the complete absence of wind noise – despite the Phantom’s bluff-fronted shape.

Phantom to the Opera

Then it starts to rain: a mighty wipers-on-full downpour that creates a sea of spray. To make matters worse, roadworks have reduced the road to two narrow lanes, with frequent chicanes that weave between cones. Squeezing past trucks, I’m acutely conscious of our 2,018mm width, but the Phantom feels sure-footed and stable, with mighty, confidence-inspiring brakes.

I’d forgotten just how big Germany is: the A3 seems never-ending. Still, as the sky finally clears and dawn, um… dawns, I’m enjoying the drive again. There’s something sublime about a V12, and the Phantom’s 6.75-litre engine is one of best. Butter-smooth and quietly omnipotent, it makes even 20.3mpg thirst seem palatable. TP

06:45 – Regensberg, Germany

Phantom to the Opera

 

Like Tim, I’m amazed how well I slept in the back of the Phantom. He’s in quite a grump when I wake up – clearly having missed the flat-out Autobahn experience I enjoyed earlier.

We pull over and I’m informed that it’s my turn again. Still slightly frazzled, I take the wheel, and the sat nav announces that it’s found a better route by diverting us off the motorway. That’s convenient, as Tim’s also left me with less than a quarter of a tank of fuel and there are few services on this stretch of Autobahn.

We fill up (€115, having covered around 300 miles since last refuelling), and it’s time to be woken up by pleasant Bavarian scenery. I revel in the opportunity to drive the car along some different roads – even if it does feel massive off the motorway.

Phantom to the Opera

Reluctantly, we’re soon diverted back onto the A3 in time for the Austrian border. You need a vignette to drive in Austria: essentially a toll sticker to make it clear to police that you’ve paid the compulsory road tax (even for tourists). Fortunately, there’s a convenient shop on the border, happy to take €9 in exchange for a 10-day pass.
Admin out of the way, and it feels like we’re on the home leg. Signs for ‘Wien’ (Vienna) appear as the motorway gets hilly and twisty. We’re quite happy to obey the lower speed limits.

We soon notice that we’ve picked up the attention of two lads in an old Skoda Octavia. This in itself isn’t unusual: the Phantom gets loads of looks wherever we go. But the driver of this car keeps overtaking us then slowing down and moving to the inside lane so we can overtake them. Bradley holds a sign to the window displaying our #PhantomToTheOpera social media hashtag for the trip. Moments later, the passenger has found us on Instagram and sent us a picture of the Rolls. AB

12:24 – Vienna, Austria

Phantom to the Opera

I’m enjoying driving the Phantom, so I rebuff Tim’s offer to take over for the drive into the centre of Vienna. We’re also way ahead of schedule, meaning I can take a much-welcome inside lane approach to tackling city traffic (a shock to the system after miles and miles of Autobahn).

As cities go, Vienna isn’t too daunting. Which is good because, as we’ve already mentioned a few times, the Phantom does feel as big as a bus, even with cameras giving a 360-degree view of the car from within the cabin. We’re soon at our destination, the Vienna State Opera, and it’s a bit more beguiling than its London counterpart. It’s also incredibly busy outside, with selfie-stick-waving tourists weaving in and out of traffic. Getting photos might be difficult.

We find a quiet road in front of the Opera House, intended primarily for buses and visitors to a nearby upmarket hotel. It’s perfect for photos, though, so we do laps of said hotel while Bradley runs around taking pictures and filming video. He’s soon joined by someone who we presume must be Vienna’s top supercar spotter, keen to see the Phantom. A video is uploaded to Instagram within hours. AB

19:30 – Madama Butterfly, Vienna State Opera

Phantom to the Opera

We’re far enough ahead of schedule to check into our hotel, shower and sample the local cuisine – delicious Wiener Schnitzel, washed down with a locally-brewed beer – before the show starts.

I’ve never been a huge of opera and, after four bombastic hours of Puccini, my opinion hasn’t shifted. However, the Vienna State Opera is a suitably magnificent venue and I’m happy simply to be here, not least because we were still in London 24 hours ago.

Like a visit to the opera, any journey in the Phantom feels like a special occasion. Objectively, this most luxurious of luxury cars doesn’t do anything an Audi A8 or Mercedes-Benz S-Class can’t. Yet nothing matches the Rolls-Royce for presence, comfort and glorious indulgence.

A 920-mile drive back from Vienna to London tomorrow morning? Bring it on. TP

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Rolls-Royce Phantom

New Rolls-Royce Phantom: meet the world’s most luxurious car

Rolls-Royce PhantomPotential plutocrat? Budding billionaire? We’ve found the car for you. The 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom promises to be the most comfortable, opulent and downright indulgent way to waft from board meeting to private jet. So what’s new?

‘Phantom’ is the longest-running model name in motoring. The first Phantom was launched in 1925 as the successor to the Silver Ghost. This is the eighth-generation car (“motor car” in R-R speak) and its design draws heavily on the 2003 Phantom VII – the first Rolls developed under BMW.

Looking leaner

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See the new Phantom in the metal though, as we did at the world debut in London, and it looks leaner and more muscular. It’s even – dare we say it? – subtly sporty. Rolls’ traditional ‘Pantheon’ grille is integrated into the bodywork for the first time, framed by more curvaceous headlights with frosted glass internals.

The Phantom is still huge, of course (even 22-inch alloys look slightly lost in those wheelarches), but its side-profile is more dynamic, with a sweeping roofline and tapering tail. Bountiful quantities of hand-polished stainless steel adorn the grille, door handles and window-surrounds, making the car sparkle under studio lights.

Ideal for state occasionsRolls-Royce Phantom

Underpinning the new Phantom is a new aluminium spaceframe. This, the company says, will be “scalable to the size and weight requirements of different future Rolls-Royce models, including those with different propulsion, traction and control systems.” Reading between the lines, that includes the forthcoming four-wheel-drive Cullinan SUV. It’s also 30 percent stiffer than the outgoing Phantom’s chassis.

The engine is new, too: a 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 that develops 571 horsepower and a mighty 664 lb ft of torque at 1,700 rpm. With an eight-speed automatic gearbox linked to the sat nav for anticipatory shifts, Rolls promises “near-silence” in the cabin and the “calm low-speed progress associated with state occasions.” All you need are a set of flags for the front wings.

No performance figures have been quoted yet, but expect a marked improvement on the old car (sorry, “motor car”), which managed 0-62 mph in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 149 mph. Adequate, then.

A mobile art galleryRolls-Royce Phantom

Open the Phantom’s huge, heavy doors – rear-hinged at the rear, as before – and you’re greeted with the pièce de résistance. “The Gallery” runs the full-width of the dashboard and is a glass-fronted, hermetically-sealed space where owners can “curate” their own bespoke artworks.

Two examples were displayed at the Phantom reveal. “Immortal Beauty” by Nymphenburg is an intricate display of porcelain flowers, while “Digital Soul” by Thorsten Franck is the map of an owner’s DNA recreated in 24-carat gold. We’d question the impact the latter would have on resale value, though…

Naturally, most Phantom owners will be sat in the back, where they can enjoy the largest version yet of R-R’s twinkling Starlight Headliner, heated side and centre armrests, plus a drinks cabinet stocked with whisky glasses and champagne flutes. 

If you have to ask…Rolls-Royce Phantom

Deliveries of the new Rolls-Royce Phantom start in 2018, so get saving now.

Predictably, there’s no word yet on prices, but around £350,000 ($460,000 in the United States) seems likely. Beyond that, with the number of bespoke options available, the only the limit is your bank balance. Time to dream big.


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