By Dennis Simanaitis • Photos by Guy Spangenberg If you had any concern that the new Rolls-Royce would appear with too many BMW bits, rest easy. Based on a recent 300-mile drive through Central California, I can say that BMW's influence on the 2004 Rolls-Royce Phantom is uniformly of a positive nature, and subtle indeed. The new Phantom's massive Rolls-Royce grillework and rectangular headlights are less in-your-face than they appear in photos. There are, nonetheless, fairly imposing bits of planar sheet metal up front. The car's profile emphasizes its considerable wheelbase (140.6. in., only 2.2 in. less than a Mini's overall length), massive rolling stock (with essentially 21-in. wheels) and substantial C-pillars designed to give rear passengers a cosseted privacy. It goes without saying that considerable affluence is a requirement of ownership, with the Phantom's price of $320,000. Also, Rolls-Royce hopes that the car's rather aggressive character will find appeal with a younger, apparently rather aggressive, clientele. Certainly the Phantom is a pleasant place in which to motor around. Unlike other (new) Rolls-Royces of my memory, the Phantom has commendable head room. I'm long of torso, but even rear seating is acceptable. The rear "coach doors" are hinged aft, and one eschews the term "suicide" doors for any as intelligent as these. A rear door can be opened without opening its forward counterpart; both are automatically unopenable once the car reaches 2 1/2 mph. And should one be foolhardy enough to drive off with a rear door unsecured, the brakes automatically bring the car to a halt. Rear "coach doors" open aft to provide graceful entry. The point of the coach-door design is grace of entry and exit, the ability to walk in and out, not twist, turn and back-fill. It works. What's more, once seated you can close the door electrically; there's a button on the C-pillar. And each rear door holds another bit of elegance: a Rolls-Royce umbrella. The Phantom's driving position is commandingly elevated, some 2.4 in. higher than that of the Silver Seraph. The instrument panel offers many traditional Rolls-Royce cues including its luscious veneers, oversize round vents with traditional chrome push/pulls and a jewel-like clock, behind which in a pivoting panel resides the car's navigational display. Not an iota of BMW, even 7 Series BMW, is in sight (a modified, simplified iDrive control hides behind yet another pivoting veneer panel). A separate Start/Stop Engine button brings the 6749-cc V-12 into action. Though its aluminum block begins life in Bavaria, it has a longer stroke than any BMW variant and carries extensive differences in its cylinder heads and intake system. These are all calculated to enhance the Phantom's prodigious torque in the 1000-2000-rpm range. Peak torque of 531 lb.-ft. occurs at 3500; peak power is 453 bhp at 5350 rpm. This is sufficient (to coin a phrase) to accelerate the car to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and attain a top speed of 149 mph. The Phantom's instruments include one that's essentially a power-in-reserve meter, and it's difficult indeed to keep this needle in its low range for very long. Wind noise is beautifully controlled, seemingly at any speed. Tire noise, however, is an enigma to me. Indeed, I had the Lexus LS 430 in mind as my measure of exemplary isolation/road feel, and I found the Phantom's tire communication to be comparatively intrusive. This Rolls-Royce is the first production car to be fitted with Michelin PAX System run-flats. I'm still uncertain whether the Phantom's road feel is a wise choice or simply a byproduct of the car's tires. Either way, tire communication is less a detraction and more of a surprise. As another surprise, and, to my knowledge, another automotive first, the Rolls-Royce hubcap centers are weighted and mounted to revolve freely — they read RR, regardless of wheel rotation! Like other Rolls-Royces, this new Phantom instills a feeling of well being, of unflappable confidence in mobility. Let's celebrate it.