New Rolls-Royce Phantom test mule spied

After 11 years on sale, the Chichester-based brand finally starts work on replacing the iconic Rolls-Royce Phantom

Images of a curious-looking Rolls-Royce Phantom suggest BMW is beginning the mammoth task of replacing the current Phantom limousine in earnest. The current Phantom has been on sale since 2003, and received a minor cosmetic update when it morphed into the Phantom ‘Series II’ in 2012.

This black car is sporting two air intakes on the front bumper not familiar to the current Phantom. This hints that Rolls-Royce is testing a tweaked powertrain, fitted under the body of the existing Phantom.

Our suspicions are backed up by the fact this car appears to have a lower ride height than we’re used to for the car – suggesting either a change in suspension set-up – or the extra weight of a battery hybrid system.

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Though the Rolls-Royce 102EX concept car – an all-electric three-tonne Phantom with a 124-mile range – never spawned a production variant, it’s possible that BMW’s plug-in hybrid tech will feature in the next Phantom’s life cycle. Although well-heeled buyers hardly need the fuel savings, being seen to reduce the 2,560kg weight and improve the 19.1mpg fuel consumption and 347g/km CO2 emissions of the outgoing car is something BMW needs to be seen to be doing to keep the much-loved Phantom relevant.

Rolls-Royce boss Torsten Muller-Otvos has said that he sees plug-in hybrid technology being perfect for the brand. It doesn’t come with the compromises of a fully electric car – the limited range – but allows for silent progress in city centres and huge amounts of torque. Muller-Otvos is also aware of plans to make city centres completely zero emissions in future, and won’t want Rolls-Royce models to be excluded – an electric mode, solves the problem.

Don’t expect to see a flurry of Phantom test mules hitting the street, however. Given the car’s long shelf-life and the fact it was only revised two years ago, the next-gen Phantom won’t appear until 2018 at the earliest. Before then, Rolls-Royce is concentrating on a new Drophead convertible version of the Wraith coupe, said to be in the pipeline for a 2016 arrival.

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