Rolls – Why Bother?

By Bruce McCulloch

12.04.2007

For those of you who follow the high-end market, you might recall the fact that Rolls Royce released a special edition of their flagship Phantom saloon a couple of weeks ago at the Middle East motor show in Dubai. The new edition– coined the “Phantom Tungsten” – of the already amazing Phantom saloon promises a new level of exclusivity for Rolls Royce customers, and with just 20 planned, it’s hard to argue with the premise of exclusivity.

Aside from the regular goodies of approximately 10,000 paint shades to choose from, a 6.75 litre 12-cylinder with over 400bhp and top-notch craftsmanship, the Tungsten offers a good dose of specialty items which are exclusive to this monster of a car. Aside from it’s paint colour – which as the name suggests, is ‘Xirallic’ Tungsten – the vehicle’s exterior comes equipped with: a brushed aluminum bonnet; seven-spoke 21 inch forged aluminum alloys and a set of chrome-plated, stainless steel exhaust pipes which help to complete the stylistic fashion statement which this car is.


Rolls Royce Phantom Tungsten

Mind you, the interior additions are no less impressive. Inside, the car is bespoke with supple grey leather which contrasts with navy blue hides and naturally, features straight-grained East Indian rosewood veneer to further appeal to the car’s expected clientele. And if that wasn’t enough, the roof of the vehicle emulates a star-lit sky with a headliner which features some 800 fiber-optic lights.

Suffice to say, it’s all highly impressive. One could even argue that there is in fact no way to travel in better luxury; implying that that this new Phantom Tungsten is at the top of the motoring heap. I don’t think so, though – not even the least bit. Now, don’t get me wrong, I highly respect this vehicle’s prime craftsmanship, unique sense of style and praised motoring heritage, but I happen to think the Phantom is not at the top of the heap. Nor do I think the respective Bentley models – the Arnage and the Flying Spur – or, any of the Maybach range is deserving of such a title.

Quite frankly, I think the times have the changed and many of these highly regarded luxury saloons aren’t quite as superior to other automobiles as they once were. For instance, if you look back into the 1970’s, vehicles such as Rollers and Bentley were pretty much unparalleled. Sure, some of the higher-end luxury Mercedes-Benz models were indeed more technologically advanced, but they still lacked that sense of honour and prestige. If you were to buy a Rolls Royce back in the hey-day, you were undoubtedly getting something that was unmatched; unmatched in terms of history, in terms of craftsmanship and most certainly in terms of customization.

Now-a-days, I’m not sure. I’m not so sure if the modern range of Bentley is all that special, all that sophisticated. And if you look at the situation through the eyes of the consumer, it’s little wonder why. With the high-end market demand literally increasing by the day, what is instantly noticeable is that even lesser manufacturers are having to go all-out to impress customers. Thus meaning, many of these high-end luxury barges are now equipped with most everything any customer could want.

Look at it this way – the Phantom Tungsten’s trades off the casual one-piece rear-seat bench in turn for two fully power-operated and controlled seat units. And naturally, the same can be said for the entire Maybach range. Problem is, those once highly-unique separated seats are no longer, well, unique. Should you demand to travel in such comfort, look no further than the Mercedes-Benz S550 which offers a package for this exact specification at $2,920. And if the Japanese are more your style, don’t fret, because the Lexus offers a package for $3,620 on their flagship LS which not only boasts the power operation, but seats which also offer power headrests, memory, and even side airbags.

Additionally, you might be surprised to find that a Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG offers absolutely no less than a Bentley Flying Spur. For example, a Mercedes-Benz S offers “Keyless Go” as standard, but on the Flying Spur it is merely an option. And the Bentley is not available with “Night View” (a night vision system), distronic cruise control, active ventilated front seats, or ambient interior lighting. Now, I’m not saying that the Bentley is inferior to a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, I am, however, saying that the Bentley is not in any way more sophisticated or special.

And when it comes to toddling around town, a vast array of questions come to the fore. Yes, the Rolls Royce is a comfy car and it’s quiet, but is it really any better than the garden-variety high-end luxury saloon? I think not, and English journalists Quentin Wilson said the exact thing when testing the Phantom some years ago. He said that though the Phantom is quiet, it’s not quieter than a Lexus LS, nor any smoother than a Jaguar XK.

And if quality is a major concern of yours, then I’m sorry, but I cannot completely agree that any of these prestige badges are superior to that of other luxury manufacturers. In my experience with the Bentley range, I have come to the conclusion that a Flying Spur is not in any way better-built than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or a Lexus LS. I feel that the Bentley, while indeed impressively built, still lacks the finely tailored shut lines of a Lexus LS, and the general interior build of a Mercedes-Benz S-class.


Mercedes-Benz S65 (top); Lexus LS600h (bottom)

And if great power and speed is of high priority to you, then, once again, I’m sorry to say, most of the “regular” luxury vehicles are more or less on par:

Cylinders/HP/lb-ft of torque:

Mainstream Luxury:

Lexus LS600h: 8/438 (total output)/ NA
Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG: 12/604/738
Mercedes-Benz S600: 8/510/612
Audi S8: 10/450/398
BMW 760i: 12/438/44

Exclusive Luxury:

Rolls Royce Phantom: 12/453/531
Maybach 62S: 12/604/738
Bentley Flying Spur: 12/560/479
Bentley Arnage T: 8/450/640

Evidently, the exclusive luxury group has the slight favour in terms of power, but because they weigh as much as iron boats, their performance notably suffers. Mind you, that’s not to say they are slow by any means, but more handicapped as the mainstream luxury is most always lighter. So if performance is a top priority, the mainstream gives nothing to the exclusive posh brands.

And need I say, these things don’t come without a price. Should you want a Flying Spur, be prepared to pay $169,990 (USD), should you want a Phantom you’ll need to dig up $333,350 and should you want a Maybach 52S, you’ll need to cough up $377,000 (422k for the 62S!!)

The others, you ask? Well, you can have an Audi S8 for “just” $93,300, a Lexus LS600h for $104,000 and at the height of the pike, $194,775 for a Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG. True, it’s still eye-wateringly expensive, but undercuts the most expensive car here – the Maybach 62S – by some 230k.

In fairness, I must admit that, by and large, high-end brands such as Rolls Royce and Bentley do have a notable advantage over such brands as Audi and Lexus. That advantage being – as you probably guessed – their exclusivity, heritage and status cue in automotive history. This is indeed where brands such as Roller and Bentley are pretty much unmatched. Thus meaning in the eyes of some, the particular aura of allure that they flaunt is beyond reproach. It must be said, for a wealthy entrepreneur, few things will garnish you as much attention, and you’ll even be able to go to the pub and say: “I’ve got a Roller, how about you?” And in that right alone, brands such as Rolls and Bentley are the clear choice – assuming you can afford the premium – for most.

Me, you ask? Badge-bragging has never been a hobby of mine – so I’ll take one of the “lesser” vehicles and pocket the cash. Don’t get me wrong, I think vehicles such as the Phantom are truly wonderful, but I seriously question the real value of the purchase of one.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant.net – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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7 Comments

  1. The average Rolls-Royce in the 70’s was not a good quality car. It was also not a technologicaly advanced car. To claim otherwise is just fantasy. The cars broke down all the time and they overheated with regularity.

  2. Rolls stayed with drum brakes instead of going to discs way too long. They didn’t get a decent air-con system for the cars until the 1980’s. Their sale was really the best thing that could have happened to them, because they were not long for the market otherwise.

  3. But…Thats.Unholly thinking….

  4. Putting aside Rolls, I think the Bentley GT is a good value for the money, no matter what you put it up against.

  5. I agree with you, Bruce McCulloch, but the Rolls and the Bentley both have the status to command those high prices over their worthy competition.

  6. I have a difficult time matching value to the price of a Rolls, but I can see how the lower-priced Bentley is worth it.

  7. I don’t even like the way the Rolls-Royce looks, so it’s all academic. If I’m going to spend that much money on a car, then damn, I’m buying something that I like to look at, know what I mean?

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