The first few minutes are as intimidating as hell. We unload our Rs 4 crore ride from the transporter at a fuel station outside Udaipur and drive straight into a typically manic Indian highway scene. Picture this. Battered old Tatas and Leylands scrap fender-to-fender, two-wheelers and rickshaws dive through gaps in traffic, and the road is lined with an assortment of sump-gouging potholes. Then, just to spice things up, cattle lie sprawled across the road like they’ve been cut-pasted out of some idyllic pastoral scene, their expressions displaying an enhanced state of calm. Into this idyllic scene slips the Phantom Coupé, as inconspicuous as Darth Vader at a ‘bhangra’ festival.
The first shock is just how serene everything feels from the inside.
And it’s not “wow this is good.” It’s more like, “Is this V12 really turning over, and did we really just float over those huge bumps?” But no time for that now, as the barge-like nose of the Phantom slips its mooring and glides into the traffic on the Udaipur bypass.
Now, as all of you must know, driving in a straight line here and maintaining lane discipline is well-nigh impossible. In fact, it is downright dangerous. So, since slaloming is the only way forward, I slalom the Phantom Coupé, as ridiculous as that sounds. And then, when we get to Udaipur, the traffic gets even worse. This is an all-new type of excitement.
Still, we have a date to keep with an old lady and so we push on and make for the idyllic lake Pichola, dotted with some of the most exquisite palaces built both in and around the lake. Finally, our Phantom Coupé feels right at home, driving along the massive lakeside Shiv Niwas Palace and up the cobblestone drive. It’s the very same road a lot of the palace Rolls-Royces must have driven up in the past, and that really does give us a bit of a kick. “Wait till you see the Rollses we have,” says the curator of the car museum who’s come to see our Phantom. And truly Mewar’s collection of Rolls-Royces is beautifully maintained, but the black Phantom II is just something else.
The next day we hit the road early. And by the road I mean the road — National Highway 76. In stark contrast to the roads we encountered the previous day, this national highway tells you just how good our roads can be. Immediately, this feels like a different world. Two perfectly paved strips of tarmac separated by a wide median, a pair of perfectly marked lanes, service lanes on each side, Armco barriers at dangerous points on the road and at places where hillocks have been dynamited to help straighten the road, and barriers to protect cars from mini-landslides. And this is pre-Lokpal! The best part however is that, at this early hour of the morning, there’s almost no one here. It’s just us and a couple of furry tailed jackals.
Time to move my mental gear lever from cruise to drive, and to see if this Coupé can put a smile on my face. Now the Phantom is no lightweight skiff and won’t feel as chuckable as a go-kart. How can it at two-and-a-half tonnes? Still, this shorter wheelbase Coupé has a stiffer chassis, more feel in the steering rack, and, something that shouts BMW engineering — 50:50 front- rear weight distribution! BMW owns Rolls-Royce after all.
Time to lean on it then, but just a little bit. For a start, the ride is so flat and the car is so silent that there’s almost no sensation of speed, even at 120kph. The flying lady on the bonnet parts the air, you have a great view of the road from your high perch behind the wheel and with the power reserve gauge hovering near 100 percent, and I gently wake the 6.75-litre 453bhp V12 from its slumber. At first, it’s as if nothing’s happened. Then I feel the gentle weight transfer and notice that the speedometer has secretly moved past 140kph. Rolls calls this seemingly effortless increase in speed ‘waftability’, and the speed continues to build as I go to three-fourth throttle. The steering is very light and friction-free, but it is also really direct. It’s possible to place the car very accurately at speed and stability on these fat tyres and the big air springs is fantastic.
However, there’s plenty of damping in the manner in which the brakes function and, as you can expect, the Rolls rolls a bit as well. And the harder you corner it, the more it rolls.
I quickly discover that the best way to enjoy this car is to carry plenty of speed into a corner, get the nose pointing in the right direction and then allow it to glide through. And this is the perfect road on which to do that. We fly past some low hills, as the road curls lazily through them, and then get onto some long straights where we can really stretch the Phantom’s legs. Some sections are in fact so traffic- free we see 200kph on the speedo every once in a while. And even then the Phantom Coupé feels serene and calm. The Rolls also has an ‘S’ or Sport button that quickens up the gearshifts, and I try it once or twice. But it feels wrong, a hurried and strained Rolls is no Rolls. At least to me.
After approximately half an hour of fantastic high-speed motoring, we bid farewell to billiard-table smooth NH76 and turn towards the hill-station of Mount Abu. The Rolls cleaves the air with its snow plough-like chin, the huge Victorian sofas on the inside are as plush and as comfortable as anything I’ve ever sat on, and the build of the car is so strong it seems tough enough to see out the 22nd century. Further up we do encounter a few rough bits of road, but the Coupé steamrolls over them so effectively, you half-expect to look back and see the potholes smoothened out.
Then comes approximately 26km of Mt Abu ghat road. Now taking a Phantom up a narrow one-lane ghat, with buses hurtling down at you is not something you take lightly. But I’m so comfortable in the Coupé by this time, it feels perfectly normal. Of course the shorter-in-length Coupé is more manageable around tight corners, and it does help that other drivers give you a wide berth when they see you coming at them. But the real surprise is just how agile and balanced the Coupé feels when you begin to guide it from apex-to-apex. It really does drive well and has a nice balance to it. I get into a smooth rhythm behind the wheel, the Phantom shoots up the winding road, and there’s even enough grunt on hand to overtake, without trying too hard of course.
It has the street presence of an aircraft carrier, is super-comfortable, super-refined and surprisingly nice to drive over long distances. This is the ultimate personal indulgence, bar none. And finally, a Rolls you’ll love to drive, especially over roads as good as these.