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THE NEW PHANTOM - THE CAR THAT BEATS THE REST - 18 July 2003

I went to the Rolls-Royce factory near Chichester last week for lunch and a whistle-top tour of the plant. Then came the big shock - I was handed the keys to a spanking new £250,000 Phantom and told: 'Take her away.'

The Phantom is almost 20ft in length and knowing the value of the car - and the fact that it was the only press model - does make one extra careful. It's the same vehicle that Jeremy Clarkson raved about on top Gear and which Car Magazine - the most critical of all motoring publications - said was: 'Like no other.' In a special shoot-out against the Maybach and the Bentley Arnage T it was decreed to deliver the greatest luxury and refinement and the most truly special driving experience.

This is the key to the car - yes it looks imperial, almost majestic, but not everyone likes the front end. Too in your face, say the critics.

You must drive this car to appreciate just what a superb machine it is. It is so composed at low speeds, it moves everywhere with great delicacy and it's almost like a stately home on wheels such is its presence and the lovely subtle cabin. Press your foot on the accelerator though and there is a superlative moment to enjoy.

The Phantom will blast to 62mph in just 5.7 seconds and, for a vehicle with a gross weight of 6,710lbs, this is nothing short of miraculous. The top speed is limited to 149mph - it could do more than 200mph if not restricted - and purring under the bonnet is a 6.75-litre V12 with direct injection and an awesome output of 453bhp. Such is the torque band that all the power is where you most need it, making the car deceptively fast and wonderfully smooth.

The engine has been developed only for the Phantom and will not be used in any other model made by BMW. It will also average more than 25mpg on the extra urban cycle and almost 18mpg on the combined.

Sure, it's made in Germany and, like the enormous body shell, shipped to the Goodwood Estate for assembly but the car is about as British as you can get. And it attracts enormous attention - the A27 had seen nothing the like of it when I headed off to Portsmouth in the Phantom. Dozens gawped, waved, gave the thumbs-up and we even raised a huge smile from a smart driver who succeeded in overtaking us, punching his fist through the roof as he went past!

Personally, I have never driven such a stunningly fine car and I test about 300 different vehicles a year and have been since 1975. That's how good the Phantom is.

Richard Gibbon - Motoring Correspondent