The secret's out: just days after Rolls Royce announced it would be testing its new car platform on the road, our snappers have caught the next-generation Phantom saloon being put through its paces in disguise.
The super-luxury saloon isn't expected to arrive until 2018, which is the same year that we'll see the brand's first SUV (dubbed the Cullinan). Yet even though this is a very early production mule, it's clear to see the evolution of the Phantom's classic shape.
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It's unmistakably Rolls at the front, with the bluff nose, iconic grille design and LED headlamps. The bonnet is vast, appearing even longer than the current car, while the windscreen is a bit more steeply raked.
Side-on, it looks taller than you might expect, while the rear-hinged back doors remain. Look closely at the roof and you'll see the shark-fin antenna from the BMW 7 Series, while the rear window shape and bootlid profile is more sloping than ever.
The current Phantom has been on sale since 2003, with the Bentley Mulsanne rival receiving only a facelift and tech update in 2012. The long overdue replacement will bring with it advanced safety and entertainment tech from the latest 7 Series, but should retain the peerless Rolls interior quality.
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The MEB modular platform under the skin is an aluminium space-frame architecture, set to be shortened from this LWB Phantom for use in the SUV. BMW's expertise will likely bring carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) to help keep weight down further.
We still expect the Phantom to retain a traditional V12 engine layout, but there's not indication yet whether Rolls will follow the industry trend and introduce turbocharging. Engineers have previously hinted a plug-in hybrid powertrain will be offered, too.
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