Rolls-Royce Phantom. The Ultimate Test

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I’m driving the only example of the recently facelifted Rolls-Royce Phantom that exists in the Middle East through the strange No Man’s Land between the UAE and Oman. I’m two hours into a journey that according to the sign we’ve just passed that read ‘Salalah 1281km’ is going to take a rather long time indeed. But I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a journey to remember, all we need to do is get into Oman.The journey hasn’t had the best of starts, my intial plan to leave Dubai at the crack of dawn was thwarted by problems with the Phantom’s paperwork, traffic and general poor organisation on my part.

I feel a little flustered piloting the Phantom along the road-work laden streets en route to pick up snapper Thanos. It’s not the smallest of cars and I don’t really wanted to ding the expensive bodywork before I’ve even left. Eventually, we head out on the E44 towards Hatta – a journey that I’ve done countless times before and is absolutely chock full of speed cameras. It’s also rather unremarkable except for the new roundabout that’s undergoing construction a few hundred metres from Big Red – and is it just me, or is that getting smaller?

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But once we get our passports stamped into Oman – after relinquishing a few dollars for the priviledge – we leave the madness of the UAE behind and settle into a comfortable fast cruise towards Muscat, the kilometres passing under the Phantom’s wheels at a significant rate.

The run to Muscat isn’t what I’d expected. Coming from the UAE where any journey between towns entails a boring arrow-straight blast through the desert, the coastal road to Muscat is heavily populated. You can’t go for more than 10kms before hitting yet another small village – complete with petrol stations, bakeries and takeaway restaurants. We make a mental to stop here on the run back.

We head towards Muscat and our first overnight stop at The Chedi. I was expecting an oasis in the middle of nowhere, so was surprised to find it’s a stone’s throw away from some heavily populated residential areas of Muscat. Still, it provides a cool haven of calm whilst we wait for the sun to drop and the rush hour traffic of Muscat to die down.

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After a leisurely snooze by the pool we head into town. I’m struck at how stretched out Muscat is, the capital city is squeezed into a narrow area flanked on one side by the Gulf of Oman and the Hajjar mountains on the other. It’s a much busier, more frantic place that I’d expected. The old city is crammed full of cars and any parking spaces that do make themselves known are way too small for the near six-metre length of the Phantom.

Although it’s only a few hours away from Dubai, Muscat feels extremely different. It’s not trying to show off too much, and the locals seem a little more down to earth – we spot loads walking along the seafront enjoying the evening – something you’ll rarely see in the UAE.

I’ve always admired the Phantom, but prefer the styling of the smaller Drophead and Coupe versions – the imposing Buckingham Palace grille just didn’t look right to me. But the new softer grille borrowed from the coupe does wonders to the big saloon’s looks.

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After a hearty breakfast the next morning – we’ve got a seriously long drive ahead – we check out at around 8:30. Plenty of time for the 1000km run down to Salalah. Not so, says the hotel receptionist – many people leave at 3:30am to avoid the traffic. We needn’t have worried. What little traffic exists is soon dispatched with and within five minutes we’re enjoying the wide four-lane highway that bucks and kinks its way through the mountains. Speed cameras line the route and from bitter experience I know fire at 140kph, so I haveto keep one eye on the speedo to keep my wallet someway in credit. Great scenery down here – big mountain vistas stretch as far as the eye can see. Population outcrops are a little more spread out as we head ever southwards.

Somewhat bizarrely in today’s ever-connected world, the Phantom doesn’t come with an iPod connection as standard. Stupidly, I’d left my iTrip behind. Thanos searches every nook, cranny and cubby hole of the Phantom’s vast interior but the best he can come up with is three phono jacks that hook up to the dual TV screens in the back. Not ideal, but at least we’d have some tunes. All we need is a cable – we dip into the last vestige of humanity at Nizwa, but come away empty handed.

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The radio – which had proved an amusing distraction earlier as we listened to a self-help guru imparting advice on how to stop procrastinating and tells us that the secret to becoming a millionaire is to write lists, we assume with ‘rob a bank’ as point No. 1 – falls silent as the road turns into a two lane track that cuts through the desert.

We try to console ourselves by looking out the window to admire the view – however, there isn’t one. This is not a desert of Lawrence of Arabia style proportions. It’s not even a desert of Hatta road qualities – here it’s stark, desolate and flat. The road’s not much cop either – just one lane in each direction with no central reservation. Anything with four-wheels treats the 120kph speed limit with contempt. This is not much of a problem as the big Phantom is just as comfortable cruising at 160kph as it is at 100kph. The issue is when approaching a slow moving truck that’s travelling at 80kph – though plenty of times, their speed is half that.

Categories: Road


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