Car review: Rolls Royce Phantom

Country Life takes a Rolls Royce Phantom for a spin up to Scotland.

An eminent QC named Patrick Back once told me the story of how, after being captured by the Japanese during the Second World War, he was being marched up to the Burma railway. As they paused briefly for a drink of water, he spotted another group of prisoners of war, already working on the tracks and all dreadfully thin. One emaciated figure called out to him: ‘Back, is that you? I was at school with you in the same house: C2.’ Rather lost for words, Patrick asked him: ‘What’s it like here?’ ‘Not great,’ came the reply. ‘But it’s better than Marlborough.’

For me, the only thing more quintessentially British than a quip made in the grimmest of circumstances is a Rolls-Royce. Prior to September, when The Editor and I took a trip to the Findhorn in Moray, I’d never driven one-and probably never will again. But if you get the chance to experience one for yourself, I urge you to take it.

Our annual pilgrimage to the river is a triumph of hope over expectation. Every year, we pray that it will rain torrents. Almost inevitably, it doesn’t, and 2013 was, sadly, as dry as sandpaper. There were a mere five fish between five rods over six days hard work and our spirits were flagging by the end. Not even David, Grahams of Inverness’s resident sage, could improve things with his riffled hitches and micro-flies. But the car we drove there and back in was, by contrast, a complete triumph.

Each year, we give a different one a try. We’ve had 4x4s galore, a few Porsches and a smattering of Bentleys-all very smart. But never before have we had so much attention as we received in the Roller. ‘Do you mind if we take a photo?’ asked a couple shyly at Gaydon on the M40. ‘Is that a Phantom? It’s beautiful-my favourite,’ confided a fellow traveller at Tebay. And, from Perspicacious of Perth Services, came ‘Is that yours?’ If there were a Rolls-Royce salmon fly, it would be unproductive-the fish would open their mouths all right, but to gawp, rather than gulp.

I’m more commonly to be found behind the wheel of a seven-year-old diesel Golf, so you can imagine my surprise when a Lycra-clad gentleman (shades of Sir Bradley Wiggins), dripping sweat on a moorland hill, actually saluted us as we passed. The only negative reaction came from a chap not long out of his teens driving an aged Peugeot hatchback through the Cairn-gorms. He gave me the most violent two-fingered salute I’ve ever had as we swept past and I’ve received quite a few in my time!

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I can’t tell you much of how fast, how long or how efficient. I know next to nothing about hi-fi and Wi-Fi. Unusually, for a car we’d been given to review, there was no press pack and no information sheet-not even an instruction manual, in fact. But this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it meant we could spend happy hours pressing all the mystery buttons and seeing what happened.

One causes the clock to revolve within the walnut, revealing a satnav. Others revealed televisions and extra control panels galore. But the best by far was the button that caused the Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament to disappear beneath a chrome trapdoor. The closest The Editor got to catching anything all week was the attention of three children in the back of an Audi on the M6, who were mesmerised as it popped up and down, seemingly at random.

What’s not to like? Not much, is the answer. There are headlights, which should be round, rather than slitted like a letterbox. Then, there’s the fuel economy (or lack thereof), the size of the boot and the fact that the shag-pile carpeting is so thick that you can lose small change in it. And there’s bad news for our admiring fellow travellers a dream car it may be, but with an eye-watering price tag of £300,000, it’s likely to stay out of reach unless you’re sitting on a winning lottery ticket.

It is for this reason that, frankly, it doesn’t matter how many paint options there are (44,000), how quickly it gets to 60mph (5.7 seconds) or that it does less than 13 miles per gallon around town. If you can afford this car, you won’t care. And you certainly won’t be losing much less looking for small change in the carpet.

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