They are selling more of them than ever before, but they still aren't quite as common as muck. The production forecast for 2014 is just shy of 4000 units, which is a vast total in Rolls-Royce terms, but still makes the brand far more exclusive than, say, Ferrari.
With the March Forbes wealth survey showing there are 1645 billionaires in the world, BMW seems to have made a good decision to take on the Rolls-Royce brand, which it bought in 1998.
Backing from the big German means the catch cry of "world's best car" has a more solid ring to it than it did through the 1980s and 1990s. The cars are better built, packed with technology and more effectively marketed than the tiny independent car maker could manage.
Yet the interiors – designed and crafted in Britain – carry all the ambience of the classic models. (Assembly and finishing is all done at the Goodwood plant in England's south.)
For those who don't follow the very top of the market, there are now two Rolls-Royce series. The range starts with the Ghost, from which the spectacular Wraith fastback coupe has been spun off.
The premium model is the Phantom, first seen in 2003, and now in its Series II form. This is built in two-door hardtop, two-door convertible, standard sedan and extended wheelbase variants.
Ours was the standard Phantom sedan, priced from $809,000, plus options and on-road costs. The drive-away price, with various tasteful inclusions (monogrammed headrests, special wheels, sunroof, fridge, rear theatre set-up, and a few other things) was $982,888.30.
Though some will find it hard to imagine, that's a bit of a bargain. A couple of years ago it would have been closer to $1.2 million, but there has been a bit of a price realignment. Of course, they don't discount in this part of the market. They pass on currency fluctuations. The Phantom is not only dearer than the Ghost, it is considerably rarer, accounting for only 20 per cent of production.
So what do you get for you $800K-plus? An absolutely formidable car, imposing in every sense.
The overall length is 5842mm, almost a full metre longer than a Commodore. The width is 1990mm, while the height is 1638mm, making it taller than some SUVs.
The 2649kg kerb weight is outrageous compared with most things, though ever so slightly lower than the Bentley Mulsanne we tested recently.
Ironically, the biggest Bentley has a V8 engine and the smallest one can be had with a 12. With Rolls, it's twelves all-round, with the Phantom maintaining the traditional 6.75-litre capacity, while the Ghost has 6.6 litres but twin turbos.
The Phantom output is 338kW and 720Nm, enough to push all that weight to 100km/h in just 5.9 seconds.
Quiet and smooth
My first challenge was working out whether the engine was actually on, so quiet and smooth is the BMW-designed V12 when the Phantom's double-glazed windows are up.
There is no tacho, just a "power reserve" gauge. The real clue the engine has started is that the elegant analogue clock, mounted on a wooden panel, rotates out of the way to reveal a huge new central screen (which has its own a digital clock display, of course).
This considerably wider screen was a major undertaking because of the complexity of the dash, and is one of the bigger changes made with Phantom II.
Everything is a major undertaking when you make only about 750 examples of the one model series in a year.
That's the main reason the Phantom lacks some features – including keyless entry and start, and a blind-spot warning system – that are increasingly found on budget cars.
The standard car has elegant picnic tables in the rear. Option the theatre pack ($21,500), and screens fold out of these picnic tables. Superb leather and beautifully polished wood veneers abound.
Our car also had the Dynamic package ($24,800), aimed at those who do the driving rather than prefer to be driven.
This feature, new to Series II, includes sharper steering, slightly sportier handling and, to remind you of these heightened abilities, a thicker steering wheel (beautifully trimmed in leather of course).
Perhaps I was expecting too much when I threw it into a corner – it's big and tall and heavy and, even with the Dynamic pack, less sporty than the last Rolls I drove, the shorter, lower Ghost. But it is better than it was, and still pretty good for something that weighs as much as some trucks.
The switch to Series II also gave the car new adaptive LED headlights and altered front-end styling with reshaped lights and a revised version of the Parthenon grille.
The rear bumper was reshaped and a few interior changes also made. Equipment levels were raised and, perhaps most importantly, a new eight-speed auto replaced the previous six-speed.
The ride is as sumptuous as you'd expect, the body and trim shake and rattle free. The new automatic transmission goes about its business unobtrusively, the V12 propels this gentleman's club on wheels at a rapid rate when you need to merge, or simply have a bit of fun.
For those who like a high driving position, in a Phantom you are at eye level with a lot of people in SUVs. There is a rumoured Rolls uber-SUV in the works and, presumably, that will be taller again.
Another big ticket item on our car was the starlight headlining over the rear seats ($14,500). This is the flashest mood lighting in the car world. About 1600 tiny lights are inserted into the leather hood lining, giving a very good impression of the night sky.
Rolls claims that 450 craftsman hours are spent working on the body and interior of each Phantom, including applying more than 45 kilograms of paint to the aluminium bodywork.
There's a special trick you can only enjoy outside the car: the Rolls-Royce badges on the wheel trims always stay upright when you drive. From inside, though, you can push a button and watch the Flying Lady mascot disappear into the grille, away from harm. You can then pretend no one is going to notice your arrival.
Rolls-Royce Phantom II
Price: $809,000 excluding on-road costs ($930,840 as tested)
Engine: 6.75-litre V12 (petrol)
Power/torque: 338 kW/720 Nm
Fuel economy: 14.8 L/100 km (combined cycle)
Emissions: 347 grams per kilometre