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

Deposit-holding customers got a taste of the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan in London, as six of them appeared on demonstration duty

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 Cullinan

Rolls-Royce SUV will be called the Cullinan (but we already knew that)

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

Rolls-Royce has announced today that its new ‘high-sided vehicle’ will be badged the Cullinan.

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, as the forthcoming Rolls has been dubbed the Cullinan for years now. Even Rolls-Royce itself has previously referred to it as ‘Project Cullinan’.

Whatever – the reveal is edging slowly closer. It’s three years since Rolls-Royce announced it was working on a ‘high-sided car’ (why can’t we call it an SUV?), and we’ll finally see it in the metal at next month’s Geneva Motor Show.

“The name Cullinan has been hiding in plain sight since we revealed it as the project name some years ago,” explained Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. “It is the most fitting name for our extraordinary new product. Cullinan is a motor car of such clarity of purpose, such flawless quality and preciousness, and such presence that it recalibrates the scale and possibility of true luxury. Just like the Cullinan Diamond, the largest flawless diamond ever found, it emerges when it is perfect and exists above all others.”

The Cullinan will share a scaleable aluminium spaceframe with the new Rolls-Royce Phantom. In preparation for the new SUV (sorry, HSV), Rolls-Royce is priming its Goodwood factory. The Cullinan is expected to boost the firm’s global sales to around 7,000 a year – up from 4,011 in 2016.

Along with the latest announcement about the Cullinan name, the brand has revealed a series of new teaser shots. In them, we can clearly see the brand’s trademark radiator grille, slightly boxy dimensions and backwards-opening ‘coach doors’ like other models in the range. Oh, and it’s huge – more than 5.5 metres long, reportedly, and there’s even talk of a long-wheelbase version.

Power will come from the brand’s tried-and-tested V12 petrol engine, plus a hybrid version is mooted for further down the line. Air suspension will provide a comfortable ride and, in a first for the brand, the Cullinan will feature a four-wheel-drive powertrain.

Prices are yet to be announced, but we doubt you’re going to get any change from £300,000.

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You can buy this gold Rolls-Royce for just 14 Bitcoin

You can buy this gold Rolls-Royce for just 14 Bitcoin

You can buy this gold Rolls-Royce for just 14 Bitcoin

As the price of Bitcoin surges, one entrepreneurial Rolls-Royce owner is selling his flashy gold motor – and only accepting the virtual currency to buy it.

The Rolls-Royce Ghost is currently advertised on Auto Trader with an asking price of £117,995. As the price of Bitcoin continues to shoot up, that equates to around 14 Bitcoin.

The luxury Roller is powered by a 6.6-litre twin-turbocharged V12 engine. It features a fridge with champagne flutes as well as a personalised plate and a television.

The vehicle’s owner, based in Greater Manchester, said: “Why not trade in Bitcoin? I treat it in exactly the same way as normal currency these days. It’s safe, convenient and incredibly valuable right now so, to me, it makes sense to trade my car this way. It’s the future.”

But Auto Trader insists that it’s not looking to encourage sellers to accept Bitcoin for their used motors.

“With the meteoric rise in popularity and value of Bitcoin in recent years, it comes as no surprise that sellers are now attempting to trade this way,” said Auto Trader’s editorial director, Erin Baker. “It’s a huge trend and currently holds a high value. That said, Auto Trader won’t be releasing a ‘search by Bitcoin’ function anytime soon.

“Our focus is very much on our ‘search by monthly payment’ product that launches next month for car buyers.”

What is Bitcoin?

An unknown computer whizz created the virtual currency in 2009. It’s created by computer code, with the total value of all Bitcoins now exceeding £124 billion.

Critics point out that its almost entirely unregulated, with no individual government backing the currency and no requirement for Bitcoin users to use their real name.

Although business are slowly beginning to accept the currency in certain parts of the world, JP Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon suggested it’s only fit for use by drug dealers, murderers and people living in places such as North Korea.

The dramatic rise in Bitcoin’s use has been attributed to increasing demand in China, where authorities warn it is used to channel money out of the country.

In pictures: the gold Rolls-Royce you can buy with Bitcoin

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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.

More Rolls-Royce on Motoring Research:


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Instagram star’s amazing Ferrari collection

He’s a racing driver, an entrepreneur, an Instagram star, and he also happens to have a rather impressive collection of exotic cars. We delve inside Josh Cartu’s garage.

Born in Canada, but now residing in Hungary, Cartu created several successful media and software companies. This has allowed him to indulge his many hobbies, such as skydiving, rallying, drifting, and most importantly collecting cars. Josh has given us his own words on why he owns the cars he does, and what makes them special to him.

Ferrari 458 Speciale Aperta

Every car collection needs a mid-engined V8 Ferrari, so what better place to start than with the ultimate version of the 458 sports car? The Speciale was a hardcore limited-edition model, with extra power and a more aggressive bodykit. ‘Aperta’ means ‘open’ in Italian – hence the convertible roof. Just 499 examples were built, all with a 597hp version of the naturally-aspirated 4.5-litre V8.

But what does the man himself think about having the Speciale Aperta in his collection? “This was a very special car because it’s super-limited,” explains Josh, “and it was the first love Ferrari showed me for being a passionate client and racing driver.” He also reckons that they “made an instant classic” and that best part is “that noise!!” Two exclamation marks needed.

With a wealth of cars, and a high-flying lifestyle, Josh has proven to be a hit on Instagram. Over 417,000 followers keep tabs on his latest photos, which cover both his road and race car collection. He’s also amassed over 13,000 followers on Twitter, with updates on his next exploits drawing in a crowd.

Ferrari 488 Spider

What’s better than one open-top, mid-engined Ferrari? Another one, of course. In fact, make that another two, as Cartu has the 488 Spider in duplicate. Replacing the 458 was a hard task, but a turbocharged 3.9-litre V8 with 661hp is the key attraction. The 0-62mph dash takes just 3.0 seconds in the Spider, with a potential top speed of over 200mph.

Describing the 488 Spider as “the best all around Ferrari” is high praise, with Josh reckoning that the folding metal roof allows it to be “two cars in one”. So why did he happen to buy two of them? Simply because he “put too much mileage” on the first car he bought.

Mr Cartu is clearly a fan of open-air motoring, not least because of the Ferraris mentioned already. Josh is also the owner of a BAC Mono – the extreme single-seater road car that owes more to motorsport than it does to street machinery. However, he did have an unfortunate accident while driving his BAC Mono in one of the tunnels beneath Budapest, where he lives.

Ferrari 488 Challenge

If you want to go racing against other gentleman drivers in identical Ferrari racing cars, you need to get yourself into the Ferrari Challenge. Held annually since 1993, this special single-make series gained a race version of Ferrari’s latest mid-engined sports car at the end of 2016. The 488 Challenge has the same turbocharged 3.9-litre V8 engine as the road car, but with a fully stripped-out interior and gigantic rear wing for downforce.

Why buy a 488 Challenge? Josh explains: “There are two options for racing in the Ferrari Challenge: 1) you can rent a car from a serious team like AFCorse or Kessel or 2) you can buy your own. I bought my own because I wanted to develop more of a connection with it and customise it more than I would if it were a regular rental. Most importantly, I don’t like anyone else driving my cars!”

Josh is currently competing in the European Ferrari Challenge series, alongside his brother, and the first round of 2017 was held at the Valencia circuit. In the Pirelli Trophy competition, aimed at professional drivers, Josh placed 6th and 4th respectively in the two races held.

Ferrari F12tdf

It’s not all mid-engined machinery in Cartu’s garage. The F12tdf – standing for Tour de France – features a 6.3-litre V12 mounted in the front of the car. Sending almost 770hp to the rear wheels, the F12tdf can hit 0-62mph in just 2.9 seconds, while top speed is 211mph. Limited to 799 units, the F12tdf cost £339,000 when new, with the price hike going towards the carbon fibre add-ons and lightweight technology.

So what exactly was it that attracted Cartu to the F12tdf? “Power and noise” are the two big things apparently, enough to make the F12tdf currently his “all-time favourite” car. Josh does believe that “if you don’t have the skills” the F12tdf can be something of a handful, but that it can “make mincemeat” out of the old Ferrari 599 GTO.

Being named after a famous road race – the Tour de France, where Ferrari proved successful during the 1960s – it seems right that Josh Cartu would own one. Having entered both the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio races, Cartu is no stranger to road racing, and has used his F12tdf in Ferrari Cavalcade events for owners.

Ferrari GTC4Lusso

Replacing the FF, the GTC4Lusso has a complicated name, which suits the complex mechanics beneath its shooting-brake body. A 6.3-litre V12, making 681hp, is connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Uniquely for a Ferrari, the GTC4Lusso has all-wheel-drive, helping control the power on offer for everyday use.

With a garage full of extreme sports cars, Cartu rates the GTC4Lusso as an “absolute no-brainer” of a choice. The “comfort and convenience” it offers, along with the “ability to drive on ice and snow” clearly make the GTC4Lusso a winner for Josh. He also claims that as “it’s not a Porsche” the rear seats are actually big enough for grown adults.

When he’s not driving around in the luxury of his GTC4Lusso, Cartu likes to engage in more extreme pastimes, such as flying to the edge of space. In 2015, Josh took a flight in a Russian MiG-29, travelling to an altitude of 20km above the earth. That’s high enough to be able to see the curvature of the planet. The flight also included aerobatics, with manoeuvres pulling up to 9G at times. Just a little more than what the GTC4Lusso can manage!

LaFerrari Aperta

How do you make the LaFerrari more extreme? By producing an even more limited edition version, with a removable carbon fibre roof for open-air thrills. It makes hearing the 789hp version of the 6.3-litre V12 engine even easier, whilst the 161hp KERS hybrid system remains unchanged. With only 209 examples produced, for sale to special chosen Ferrari customers only, the LaFerrari Aperta sold out rather rapidly. Such was the lure of 217mph with no roof.

Why would you need to buy a LaFerrari Aperta? To quote Mr Cartu “Need I explain?” given that this is the “best car the human race has ever produced for ANY money”. Strong words indeed. Josh clearly feels quite a connection with the Aperta, stating that he is “honoured and privileged to be the custodian of such an awesome piece of history”.

What makes the LaFerrari Aperta a “piece of history” is that it forms part of the 70th anniversary celebrations planned by Ferrari. To mark seven decades of production, along with the Aperta, the Maranello firm is also releasing a range of special liveries inspired by famous Ferrari colour schemes. We imagine Cartu may well add a 70th anniversary car to his collection.

Rolls-Royce Phantom EWB

Although the previous slides have featured nothing but Maranello’s finest, Cartu’s garage does not only contain Italian machinery. Alongside the Ferraris is a Rolls-Royce Phantom – perhaps the ultimate in automotive luxury. However, this isn’t just any Phantom, it’s the EWB, or Extended Wheelbase. This adds an extra 250mm in length to create more interior space, but keeps the same 454hp 6.7-litre V12 engine.

With a garage full of supercars, what does a gigantic luxury saloon bring to the party? According to Cartu, after 6pm it becomes his “favourite car in the world” as it means he can give the keys to his driver and lounge in the spacious rear. Even though he admits it may appear “somewhat ostentatious” he has racked up “over 100,000km” in his time with the Phantom. He also admits that he “placed an order immediately” for the forthcoming new Phantom, having been given a sneak preview.

Cartu hasn’t only used the Phantom EWB for cruising around town. It has also been part of his Gumball 3000 Rally entry, under the name of Team Wolfpack. Nicknamed the Phantom Menace, it’s certainly makes a statement with this bold livery. Cartu’s Team Wolfpack won the Best Team Award at the 2014 Gumball, which journeyed from Miami to Ibiza.