Motoring: The Independent Road Test: A ragtop fit for Cleopatra: The Rolls-Royce Corniche, the world's most expensive convertible, is certain to turn heads but, with the top down, Phil Llewellin was left feeling all at sea

VISIONS of Cleopatra's barge filled the mind's eye while driving the latest Rolls-Royce Corniche. The world's most expensive convertible lacks such pleasing features as flute-tootling slaves and a poop of beaten gold, but is in a class of its own as a status symbol.

Ferraris and Lamborghinis are low enough to be lost in traffic. Rolls- Royce limousines can be mistaken for stretched Granadas. But there is no mistaking a Corniche as it wafts along with the hood down and its occupants - presumably rich and famous - pretending to ignore the hoi polloi.

Ironically, this is one of the few ragtops that looks better with the lid closed. The hood stands about a foot high when lowered, and its cover hogs a lot of luggage space when not in use. The top goes up and down at the touch of a button, of course, but fitting or removing the big, ugly cover involves fiddling with no fewer than 14 fasteners.

This is Fred Flintstone engineering. Operating a Mercedes hood, which folds away beneath a neat, flush-fitting steel panel, calls for nothing more inconvenient than pressing a button for 25 seconds.

The lack of something as basic as an adjustable steering wheel cannot be excused in a car that costs pounds 62,000 more than its Silver Spirit sibling. The central locking requires enough keys to make you walk with a limp, but does not secure the beautiful leather-and-walnut interior's several stowage spaces. Here, again, Mercedes-Benz is light years ahead.

The good news is that the Corniche features major improvements that run right across the Rolls-Royce and Bentley ranges. Foreign customers can study pages of facts and figures, but the company refuses to quote the car's output in Britain. A little detective work revealed it to be 241bhp, low in relation to the 6.75-litre V8's size. But the engine has been revitalised to provide 20 per cent more mid-range muscle.

Crisper acceleration for overtaking, a more responsive automatic transmission and modifications to the suspension make the Corniche a significantly nicer drive than its predecessor. Unfortunately, the huge Goodyear Eagle tyres squeal badly at even low cornering speeds.

Agility is not a word that springs to mind, but this big car passes the acid test of feeling smaller than it really is, both on the open road and in urban traffic. And I can't recall anything other than a Phantom VI limousine commanding more respect at junctions. Other drivers invariably stopped and waved me across after mentally tugging the forelock. That happened four times in as many minutes while negotiating one little town.

Big reductions in exhaust emissions are to be welcomed, but I am unable to endorse Rolls-Royce's boast that fuel economy has been improved by up to 18 per cent. Official figures support the claim, but real-world conditions tell a different story. Earlier this year I averaged 15.7mpg in the previous model, despite taking advantage of the 80mph limit on French motorways. The newcomer's figure was only 14.6mpg. People who can afford a Rolls-Royce may not be concerned about fuel bills, but an owner who values his or her time does not appreciate making frequent visits to the pumps.

The reference to Cleopatra's barge is appropriate in more ways than one. There is something quite nautical about the inevitable wind noise and the muted squeaks, creaks, judders and shudders that accompany progress on anything other than the smoothest road surfaces.

'Must try harder' is the verdict, because a status symbol that costs so much and bears a name synonymous with excellence should embody perfection. But few cars have made me feel quite so relaxed and confident. People buy a Rolls-Royce because they want a Rolls-Royce. It's as simple as that.

(Photograph omitted)

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Life and Style
The reindeer pen at the attraction
lifeLaurence Llewelyn-Bowen's 'Magical Journey' and other winter blunderlands
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

    £30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

    Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

    Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

    Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible