For some automotive writers who probably considered themselves lucky, their first encounter with the new Rolls-Royce Ghost was on a lavish press launch in California. But what is the point of travelling halfway across the world to drive a car on unfamiliar roads patrolled by policemen whose notion of safe speeds is radically more restrictive than our own? None, I venture.
All the better, then, that I managed instead to drive this British car in Britain. I collected it from the glass-fronted, impossibly elegant factory by the Goodwood race circuit in Sussex, and set off on favourite roads subject to regular rules of engagement. And it poured.
Dark clouds, driving rain and a black Ghost making its ghostly way across the South Downs. All a bystander may have seen of the spectral presence were the glint of bright metal details and the sharply focused light sources at each end. Not much would be heard, either, beyond the swish of tyre on wet road. Seldom has a car been more aptly named.
Yet great forces were at work. This might be the new ‘small’, as in less vast, Rolls-Royce, but the Ghost is still substantially heftier than the BMW 7-series with which it shares some hidden genetic code. And it might be less expensive than the Phantom, at £195,840, provided you keep the option catalogue’s covers firmly shut, but the interior imparts no less a sense of occasion.
What you might not expect, though, is that the Ghost is significantly more rapid. Maybe this is not supposed to matter in a Rolls-Royce, in which adequate pace is all that is required and in which undue haste might be deemed unseemly, but the ability to reach 62mph from a standstill in 4.9 seconds can’t be ignored. After all, no Rolls-Royce has ever done this before.
Of course, it doesn’t smoke its tyres or emit a percussive V8 beat or pound through the gearchanges or anything so exhibitionist. What happens, instead, is this. Suppose you are ambling at maybe 50mph. You depress the accelerator pedal to the floor. A small increase in mechanical activity is detectable in the distance as the nose rises, the tail squats, the ‘reserve power’ meter heads towards zero and you hurtle forwards as if in a speedboat riding a bow wave. There have doubtless been downshifts within the eight-speed automatic transmission, but their existence is lost within the seamless surge of energy production.
All very dignified, then. Some high-end cars flaunt their technology with menus and modes and myriad ways of regaining manual control of the functions you have paid the carmaker to automate. But not here: the transmission has neither Sport nor manual modes, just a slender lever on the steering column with a minimum of positions. The suspension has adaptive dampers and active anti-roll bars, so the damping is always right for the way the Ghost is driven and the body stays level in corners, but you can’t tell the Ghost that you know better how it should conduct itself.
I love this intelligent simplicity. It calls to mind my Naim Nait 2 stereo amplifier, which has no bass and treble controls and doesn’t need them, because such is the perfection of its circuitry that it always sounds right. There’s more of this in the heating and air-conditioning. In usual Rolls-Royce fashion, there is a pair of horizontal thumbwheels either side of the centre console, one pair each for left and right sides of the cabin. Each pair uses the upper wheel to adjust the temperature of the upper part of the cabin, the lower wheel for the lower part. Output through the polished chrome fascia vents is metered by pull-out chrome knobs like organ stops. It works perfectly.
Compared with the Phantom, the Ghost is a touch calmer in the way it looks. It still gives the impression of an imperious presence somehow powering out of the ground, but for the first time the radiator grille – which is convex, not flat – is set into the surrounding bodywork. The rear doors are still rear-hinged to allow a grand entrance or exit, but the rear seat isn’t set as far back into the rear pillars as it is in the Phantom, so there’s a little less of the Chesterfield effect. As for the wood, the leather, the craftsmanship, the sound system, the commanding driving position, the space… well, just take these as read.
The most remarkable thing, though, is this. Given that the Ghost weighs two-and-a-half tonnes, it’s unfeasibly entertaining to drive. Obviously, the 6.6-litre, twin-turbocharged, 570bhp V12 has much to do with this (an engine significantly more powerful than the Phantom’s normally aspirated unit), but it’s also the way such a large car feels so agile and wieldy when you're pressing on. It steers precisely with a credible weight to the action, it never floats or wallows, yet it soaks up bumps as if it is remaking the road as it goes. Only the worst surface disintegration generates a distant shudder somewhere beneath.
Here is a car we thought we might never see, a truly rapid and sporting Rolls-Royce. Had the company still been conjoined with Bentley, such a car would most likely have worn the latter badge. But it isn’t. So it will be very interesting to see how the new, and similarly sized, Bentley Mulsanne compares with the Ghost when we try it in a few weeks’ time.
Text: John Simister
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