nonsense once and for all. There are, of course, plenty of faster, leaner, and more beautiful saloons than the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph, a couple that are also better made, and many that don't corner like a big blancmange. But having just spent a weekend swanning around in Crewe's finest, they seem to me mere transport in comparison to this beautiful behemoth.
Rolls-Royces change roughly as often as the old Soviet administrations, but with a radical, rounded body (hints of the Silver Cloud), an all-new, BMW-designed V12 engine, and the traditional swathes of wood and leather, I would guess that, in product terms, they are on to a winner with the Seraph. As for justifying the pounds 155,000 price tag, well, that's where the unquantifiable Rolls-Royce magic comes in to it. (Although who knows what will happen to the magic a few years down the line when, for various convoluted reasons, Volkswagen, despite now owning the car company, will cede to BMW the right to use the Rolls-Royce name.)
The first morning spent with our testers in and around Battersea Park was a hoot, but what surprised me was how each new driver felt at ease piloting this barge in London traffic. Steering that requires just a finger (to leave others free for gesturing at the plebs, I presume), and buckets of horsepower for gliding through gaps, assists the Rolls greatly, as does the Range Rover-high visibility.
Naturally, family and friends - and just about anyone who'd ever met me - received visits. My mother claimed that someone saluted as we drove by. Later, I went to a McDonald's drive-through with friends and became briefly and embarrassingly stuck in its narrow path. I then suggested we all take our clothes off and go for a ride - supposedly the ultimate way to enjoy a Roller - but there were no takers.
I must have spent hours ogling the car from all angles, chuckling to myself as I found yet another gizmo (the self-closing boot!), evidence of the meticulous hand of a technician (the light greasing of the sliding walnut cover on the vanity mirrors), the picnic tables, or a delightful design touch such as the chrome embellishment to the wing mirrors. Eleven miles to the gallon should ensure plenty of time for contemplation at the pumps.
The Seraph's obscene luxury (at idle, the only sound is the bewilderingly sophisticated air-conditioning and, on the move, the leather creaking like a sailing ship), makes it the perfect car for traffic jams, while at speed, its ultra-absorbent suspension (quality control by the Princess and the Pea) soaks up sleeping policemen without a murmur. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this car for me was that at 130mph (on private land) I was flying with an ease and grace that, in a straight line at least, no Lamborghini, Ferrari or Aston Martin of my acquaintance could match. And that velvet power is addictive like no drug I've tried. As far as I'm concerned, the silver statue isn't a Spirit of Ecstasy, it's Tinkerbell, and that's magic dust she sprinkles
The verdict If you would like to take part in a test drive, write to The Independent Magazine, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you currently drive. Participants must be over 26 and have a clean driving licence.
Sarah West: 27, from Chelsea, London Helps run a photographic agency
"It's like a palace on wheels!" sighed Sarah. "But I imagine it's much more of a man's car than a woman's ... is that a bad thing to say?" The purple leather trim was deemed "a bit nouveau", but aside from that minor gripe, Sarah gave the Roller the biggest endorsement of the day. "I can't find a fault. I think it's absolutely gorgeous. I wouldn't mind if some nice young man came to pick me up in this. And I love the heated seats. They're not going to mass-produce them now or anything ghastly like that are they?"
John Hitchcox: 36, from Maida Vale, London
Co-founder and MD of the Manhattan Loft Corporation
"My problem is that I don't think my ego's big enough for this car," was John's initial reaction. "It's a little too staid, I'm not quite old enough for it yet, it's so un-me. Personally, I think Rolls are struggling a little bit nowadays because the kind of fearful CJ-type who used to own them doesn't exist so much in the Nineties. A Rolls doesn't appeal to the new entrepreneurs." John expressed reservations about the forest of wood inside the car, but praised the ride, the delicious "ssshlunk" of the doors, and the fact that the purple leather trim matched his shirt.
Laura Wenham: 30, from Wokingham. Dental nurse
Though dedicated to Minis to an almost certifiable degree, and despite the fact that she'd never sat in a Rolls before, of all our testers Laura (left in picture) was probably the most at ease behind the wheel. "You know that it's a heavy car, even though the steering is very light," she said. "It does drive so beautifully and smoothly. Obviously, there's no comparison with my Mini, though. A Mini has personality." "I like the deep carpets," commented Sharon, her friend and team-mate in the annual Italian Job Mini jamboree to northern Italy. "Yes, but you could put carpet like that in any car," sniffed Laura. "I wouldn't buy one, they're not very practical, a bit too big."
David Osborne: 64, from Middlesex
Branch secretary of the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club
As a life-long fan and current owner of a Rolls, David had already formed an opinion of the styling: "A Bentley grille would suit the rounded shape more. I'm not 100 per cent certain it looks quite right as a Rolls." He also felt that having a BMW engine was "a bit disappointing", and spotted cost-cutting in the rubber door seals. But once on the move David was transported into a Rolls reverie: "Lovely. It's definitely smoother than the old ones, the seats are nice and firm, but the brakes are softer, though you know they're still there."