“Small things make perfection, but perfection is no small thing.” Sir Henry Royce uttered this simple but unassailable truth nearly a century ago, and that philosophy still guides the design, execution and style of the vehicles that bear his name in the 21st Century.

The epitome of the Rolls-Royce stable circa 2023 is the Phantom, which since 1925 has been the ultimate expression of the brand. The eighth generation of the Phantom — written ‘VIII’ — debuted in 2017, and the 2023 model has minor changes that qualify it as the Series II version. Those changes are mostly cosmetic and include a subtle change to the grille that makes the “RR” Badge of Honour and Spirit of Ecstasy mascot more prominent when viewed from the front. That grille is also now illuminated, borrowing a feature that debuted on the Ghost model. And echoing the Starlight Headliner in the cabin, the headlights feature finely laser-cut bezel starlights.

There are no interior changes, except for a slightly thicker steering wheel. And there is a selection of new wheel options. These include a 3D milled stainless-steel wheel with triangular facets in a fully- or partly-polished finish; and a disc wheel produced in both polished stainless steel and black lacquer. These latter wheels pay homage to Rolls-Royce motorcars of the ’20s.

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

The vast majority of Rolls-Royce Phantoms will be one-offs, as the emphasis for owners is to select their own unique materials and designs for the cabin Photo by Sam Cobb

Also new for 2023 for all new Rolls-Royce models is the debut of an owner’s app (and, no, you can’t download it on the App Store). The “private-members’ application” is called Whisper, and it provides navigation information, direct contact with a dealership, and the vehicle’s real-time location, security status, and current ‘health’ condition.

What hasn’t changed from that 2017 model is the mechanical underpinnings of this elegant vehicle. Power — to the tune of 563 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque — comes from a twin-turbo 6.75-litre V12, unique to the Phantom and a variant of BMW’s N74 engine. That prodigious power is transferred to the wheels through an eight-speed automatic with satellite assistance, that latter bit of tech-wizardry linking the gearbox to a GPS which analyses the Phantom’s location and speed to optimize shift timing.

The Phantom was the first Rolls-Royce to be based on the modular Architecture of Luxury platform, an all-aluminum spaceframe chassis also used in the Cullinan SUV. Chassis enhancements include independent air suspension, power-assisted ventilated disc brakes with four-channel ABS, brake-energy regeneration, dynamic brake control, dynamic stability control including dynamic traction control and cornering brake control, and active rear-axle steering.

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

All of this sounds very impressive, but it is only in driving the Phantom that the almost other-worldly appeal of a Rolls-Royce is realized. I had that opportunity during BMW’s recent Test Fest in Palm Springs. Before my driving impressions, a side note: a day prior to rolling in this Roller, I drove both iterations of the all-new BMW 7 series — gas and all-electric versions — and I made a mental note that these new luxury sedans were starting to encroach on Rolls-Royce territory when it came to road presence and overall stateliness. Then I saw the Phantom parked next to the new 7, and realized as much as the new Bimmer rightfully represents the top tier of that brand in terms of grandeur, the Phantom makes it look like an entry-level sedan. The Rolls-Royce really does have that much elan and substance.

My chaperone during the ride was Gerry Spahn, head of communications for Americas Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, and I was surprised when he suggested we head off the wide boulevards of Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, and Palm Desert in favour of twisty Highway 74, a windy stretch of ribbon that climbs up to Thomas Mountain with incredible views of the Coachella Valley far below. Tentatively steering into the first switchback, I began to realize why.

This is a big car — nearly six metres long and weighing in at over 2,500 kilograms — yet there was not a hint of oversteer, body roll, or instability. And it was very difficult to feel the shifts of that eight-speed gearbox. “Go a little faster into the next one,” Gerry suggested. Did I mention the price of this particular 2023 Phantom is $651,450 in U.S. dollars?

Gripping that thicker steering wheel tighter and looking over the guardrail to the valley floor below, I eased the throttle down, and when I entered the next tight corner, only lifted a little. Doing so employed that regenerative braking, and the Phantom glided through the apex; before I knew it, I was back on the throttle and heading towards the next curve. I used the reprieve of the straightaway to take a quick sideways glance toward the passenger side, and saw Gerry was grinning. I realized I was, too. I couldn’t get over how light the nose felt, despite it feeling so far away from the driver’s seat.

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

Also smile-spawning was the acceleration of this vehicle. Not so much how quickly that big V12 gets the Phantom spiriting along, but how smoothly and how seamlessly it delivers that power. It’s the closest to the ‘EV’ feeling of acceleration I’ve ever experienced in a gasoline car (which makes me wonder in wild anticipation how the all-electric Spectre will feel when it is unveiled next year).

My drive in the Phantom was over far too soon, as Gerry had a line of journalist awaiting our return, but as brief as the ride was the driving impressions of the vehicle stayed with me a long time.

I’ll wrap up here with a few other things that also stayed with me, these from speaking with Gerry during the drive.

first drive: 2023 rolls-royce phantom xiii series ii

2023 Rolls-Royce Phantom Photo by Sam Cobb

Guess the average age of a Rolls-Royce buyer? I figured the mid-50s or into the 60s, but according to Gerry, it’s the mid-40s. “It used to be that young successful people would buy a supercar,” he explained. “But now, with the introduction of a vehicle like the Ghost, they are buying a Rolls-Royce.”

He added that a huge appeal of a vehicle like the Phantom is the Rolls-Royce Bespoke Collective, which allows customers to create their own unique vehicle from a blank canvas. That includes colours inside and out, cabin materials — Gerry said silk is big right now — and all manner of special requests. The eighth-generation Phantom was designed with that in mind.

And finally, the Phantom comes with a very limited number of self-driving aids, and according to Gerry, there is no rush to integrate semi-autonomous systems into Rolls-Royce vehicles. Conversely, one of the big talking points during the BMW 7 Series tech debrief the day before was the upgraded self-driving software. So why wouldn’t one of the most desirable and highly engineered vehicles on the planet have the most up-to-date self-driving tech onboard, particularly as such systems are already within the BMW Group family?

“Rolls-Royce owners like to drive their cars,” Gerry said.

I get it.

Andrew McCredie

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