Aimed at a class above mere S-Classes and Audi A8s, the Rolls-Royce Ghost revels in superlatives. It's incredibly luxurious, but is it worth taking the big step up in cost to get one?
In the Metal:
Believe it or not, this is the toned-down Rolls-Royce. All such judgements are relative of course, but quite apart from being physically smaller and more discrete than the massive Cullinan or Phantom, the new Ghost has been designed for an era of 'Post-Opulence.' What that means is that Rolls-Royce has been speaking to its customers and asking them what they want. And what they want is greater subtlety, less ostentation, not so much bling. They want all that a Rolls can give them, but in a package that doesn't shout quite so loud as the other cars in the range.
Which is what Rolls-Royce has given them. The designers have pared back the styling, either making panels, or items such as the famed grille, out of one seamless piece, or making it look as if it's seamless. The detailing is subtle and gentle, not in-your-face. OK, so it's a Rolls-Royce, and one with a backlit stainless-steel grille at that, so clearly if you're driving one, no-one is going to be in any doubt about the size of your... er, wallet. But taken within the pantheon of such displays of wealth, we'd go so far as to agree that the new Ghost is a little less heavy on the sauce than others.
That philosophy extends to the interior. Don't bling it up with lots of screens and infotainment devices, said owners. We get enough of that at work, and we want this car to be a haven, a refuge. So the cabin is relatively pared-back and simple. There is no Bentley-style rotating dash centre here, just the one screen, and digital instruments that mimic the look of classic dials, nothing more. The gear selector is not a chunk of crystal, it's a neat stalk on the column. The air vents are solid metal, with organ-style push/pulls, the air conditioning controls hefty pieces of chrome and tactile plastic, easily worked out and adjusted. No complication. No distraction. All relaxation. Even the dash and door panels have been made to look as if they're one piece, so there's no visual noise in the cabin.
No noise-noise either. Rolls has gone to extraordinary lengths to banish unwanted sounds, even using four different grades of sound deadening in the doors. There's no active noise-cancelling system (not right for a Rolls, we are told), but it is incredibly quiet in there. Underneath, the bits that the old Ghost borrowed from the BMW 7 Series are gone, replaced by the same aluminium spaceframe, the 'Architecture of Luxury' as found under the Phantom and Cullinan. The suspension is by air springs, with adaptive dampers, a camera system that reads the lumps in the road ahead (Rolls calls it the 'Flagbearer' system) and a new mass damper built into the suspension, which quashes unwanted vertical and lateral movement.
The twin-turbocharged 6.75-litre V12 petrol engine is carried over from the previous Ghost, and also shared with the Phantom and Cullinan. Here it has 571hp, which is rather academic as you tend to - unsurprisingly - drive on the 850Nm of torque, developed from barely above idle. This mighty engine does a good impression of a turbine jet engine, so smooth and free from vibration is it, yet it can pick the massive static Ghost up and hurl it to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds.
The simplicity of the controls means that you just point and squirt. The four-wheel drive (new to the Ghost) parcels out the power and torque, while the rear-wheel steering works out if the car needs to feel more agile or more stable, and adjusts accordingly. The eight-speed automatic gearbox takes instructions from the satnav as to what the road ahead is like, and so picks the appropriate gear ahead of time.
You are unaware, mostly, of all this effort going on below the surface. Like a swan on a placid lake, there's furious paddling going on below, but all above is serene. You, at first, guide the Ghost gently with its big, thin-rimmed steering wheel, and use gentle throttle openings. Then, after a while, you realise you don't need to and start to press a little harder. In spite of its bulk, and its stately demeanour, the Ghost is actually a car that enjoys having you fling it about a bit, and responds to such inputs with feedback and verve.
There is surprising feel and weight to the steering, once you push it past a small dead patch at dead centre, and once you have lock on, this vast limo of a car shrinks around you to almost hot-hatch proportions. If you'd told me I'd be happily door-handling something this big and this expensive along a twisty country road... But I did. And both I and car enjoyed the experience. It is a remarkably wieldy thing.
Sadly, deft though the Rolls engineers are, they can't quite work their way around the laws of physics and sharp short-wave thumps can occasionally make themselves felt. What is remarkable is the way that the Ghost refuses to bottom-out, to thump into surface obstacles, or to need more than one vertical movement to deal with any road surface. It is serene, but somehow not detached, that slim streak of fun still evident to the driver.
Of course, the default setting is relaxed. Lean back in the buttery leather seats, watch the fibre-optic astral display in the 'Starlight' headliner and find that you've suddenly arrived on the Cote D'Azur, hours before you thought you might, and without noticing the journey having passed.
What you get for your Money:
It is difficult in the extreme to talk about value for money, simply because that's just not a deciding factor for anyone buying one of these. Indeed, there are those who can easily afford the more regal Phantom, but go for the Ghost simply because it fits better into their lives.
Rolls-Royce does not provide an Irish price list, but you're talking Lotto win cash to bring one in here. Worth it? An arguable topic for discussion. You can find luxury and refinement aplenty at lower price points, but you won't find the same obsessive attention to detail. Take the Ghost nameplate on the dashboard. It's backlit, on a star field meant to mimic the famous roof lining. But it's not just lit, it's a panel of piano black lacquer, drilled by laser to the point where light can peep through, but when the light is switched off, you can't see a hole from the outside. Not only that, but each millimetric hole is drilled (by laser, let's not forget) to a different depth, so that each 'star' has a different brightness, just as it would do in the real night sky.
That's what you're buying with this car. Not a car, not really. An expression of craftsmanship and the engineer's art. What value can you place on that?
Rolls-Royce, more than a century ago, decided that it would make the finest cars in the world. In the years that followed, that was occasionally more boast than reality, but with the Ghost you could argue that it's perilously close. It has more refinement than a luxury hotel, is as quick as a BMW M-car and can be, under the right circumstances, as much fun as a hot hatch. It is a remarkable achievement.