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In the world of art, the Baroque period is often characterized as Renaissance with the volume turned up to 11. In the same vein, the Rolls-Royce Phantom is a luxury sedan with levels of opulence, prestige and grandiosity dialed up to the maximum degree.

Its imposing exterior imparts elegance and aggression in equal measures. Looking much like the fa├žade of an ancient Greek temple (the two are also similar in scale), an oversized grille highlights the front of the Phantom. It is crowned by Rolls-Royce's distinctive Spirit of Ecstasy badge, which can be retracted at the touch of a button to protect it against thieves, souvenir-seekers and disgruntled 99 percenters.

Inside, the hand-built cabin is every bit as decadent and over-the-top as one would expect. Between 15 and 18 hides are used in each Phantom and every one is checked by hand for blemishes before laser equipment is used to assist in laying out the pattern pieces. The interior of the Phantom is made up of 450 pieces of leather, which are cut by a computer-guided knife.

About six times a year, the manager of the interior wood trim meets the supplier to select personally the veneers for the Phantom. This painstaking process ensures that the highest quality veneers of the correct color and grain characteristics are chosen.

The navigation system was redesigned for the latest model year and now boasts an enlarged 8.8-inch display screen. It features 3D maps with landscape topography, guided tours and enhanced points of interest, as well as composite route planning. Front, rear and top-view camera systems are standard to facilitate parking the large-as-a-barge Phantom.

Unique cabin touches include reverse-hinged rear "suicide doors," pop-out umbrellas hidden in the doors, hydraulic motors to close the rear doors and a "power reserve dial" instead of tachometer, which indicates how much of the engine's output is left available to the driver.

In keeping with Rolls-Royce tradition, the Phantom uses an enormous naturally-aspirated twelve-cylinder engine. It displaces 6.75 liters and produces 453 horsepower at 5350 rpm and 531 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm. New for the latest model is an eight-speed automatic transmission, which helps the rear-drive Phantom waft from zero-to-60 mph in under six second despite the sedan's massive 5,800-pound curb weight. Fuel economy is about what one would expect - 11 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway.

Key competitors

The Rolls-Royce Phantom is a true uber-premium sedan, complete with ample size, power and luxury. It has no true competitors, but buyers may want to consider the Bentley Mulsanne, Aston Martin Rapide S, Porsche Panamera Turbo S Maserati Quattroporte or Mercedes-AMG S65.

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