Competitively priced, good-looking and with plenty of legroom, the new ‘baby’ Rolls continues a grand tradition
By Andrew Frankel
When I read the specification sheet of the Rolls-Royce Ghost and heard its creators talk with such pride of its twin turbo, 6.6-litre V12 engine with 563bhp I started to worry. And when I heard the proud boast that it would reach 60mph from rest in 4.7sec, rendering every other Rolls made, including the current Phantom and its coupé and drophead siblings, sluggards by comparison I worried some more.
But then I drove it and worried no longer. The best news I can bring you about the new and far from baby Roller is that, for all its raw speed, it has not a single sporting bone in its body. It is stately and majestic, quiet and comfortable. In short, it is a Rolls-Royce.
Not that this will stop the sniping. When Bentley introduced the Continental GT there was no shortage of people in the media who sneered that it was only a sexed-up Volkswagen Phaeton, despite the fact that the two shared not a single significant dimension and, of all the things you could see inside, only the gearshift paddles were the same. Well, I expect they’ll be sharpening their pens again for the Ghost. Under the skin it too owes a lot to product from its parent company – in this case the BMW 7-series – but it also has a unique length, width, height and wheelbase. Like the Continental it uses a powerplant supplied by its owner, but also tuned to its own ends. And inside you’ll need insider knowledge before you spot the one visible component from the 7-series: this time it’s the interior mirror.
We should not be delayed by this. The startling success of the Bentley Continental range – at least until markets turned south in 2008 – proved beyond a doubt that, while journalists may fret over such matters, customers are not burdened by them. What they will see in the Ghost is an opportunity to own a sleek and beautiful Rolls-Royce with more presence and a greater sense of occasion than an entire garage full of lesser machines. And, in greater numbers than for a long time, they will be able to afford it. At £170,000 the Ghost is not cheap, but when you consider you can spend over £150,000 on an excellent but still mass-produced S-class Mercedes, perhaps it’s not so expensive either.
And it is very, very pretty. Park it next to a Phantom and its older sister looks ungainly and ostentatious, a wealth statement first, a means of transport second. But despite being designed by the same man, the Ghost is not like this: it has presence but also taste.
Inside, however, I prefer the Phantom’s flatter surfaces, more airy cabin, higher driving position and cleaner dash. Although the quality of the Ghost interior seems at least to Phantom standards – and the functionality a couple of generations better – there are too many buttons, switches and controls to master. In cars like this, less should always be more.
But it still offers a very authentic, atmospheric perch from which to watch the world go past. The massive V12 – which could apparently have had up to 800bhp had Rolls felt it necessary – idles as all Rolls motors should: quietly, smoothly but not quite inaudibly. It is the job of a Lexus limousine to remove you entirely from the car’s machinations, not one made by Rolls.
Drive is selected via a column stalk and the Ghost glides forward at the slightest squeeze of throttle without a discernible rise or fall in engine note.
Ultimately it doesn’t ride as well as a Phantom, but only because nothing in my experience ever has. Most of the time the Ghost feels suspended a few inches above the ground just like its older stablemate, yet small but sharp imperfections like expansion joints can cause a shudder to eddy through the superstructure where in a Phantom there would be barely a ripple. It’s more of an observation than a complaint, but it’s there.
Of course if you were so inelegant as to stamp on the accelerator, the Ghost will respond with its full and considerable force, but here it is at its least attractive. The eight-speed gearbox leaps down a couple of cogs while the V12, hitherto as discreet as a Swiss banker, lets out a loud and not particularly sonorous battle cry I’m not sure you’d find that welcome in a sports car let alone one sporting the Spirit of Ecstacy.
Better by far to use the throttle more thoughtfully: the car will work out your intentions without further prompting, and let the engine’s mighty torque bowl you effortlessly down the street. I have no problem with a Rolls being fast, it just must never be loud.
Similarly I welcome the fact that its steering is precise and its body well controlled, and care not at all that grip is limited and its handling balance doggedly nose-led. In one such as this, what it does is of no importance relative to how it feels, and the fact that the Ghost is soft without being flabby, accurate without feeling in the least agile shows how well its engineers have understood what its priorities should be.
The Ghost is so good you might even start to question the point of the uglier, slower and more expensive Phantom. I presumed the larger car would continue to deserve its place by dint of being so much more spacious inside, but this is not the case. The Phantom is 44mm longer but it’s the Ghost that offers fractionally greater real legroom (unless you start brandishing the chequebook and order a long-wheelbase Phantom) and, while there’s less headroom, I’m 6ft 4ins and can sit in the back of the Ghost with my head nowhere near the roof lining.
But despite this similarity, conceptually they remain two surprisingly different cars. It may not be a representative sample, but I know two people who own Phantoms and love them with such zeal that nothing could tempt them away, not even a Ghost. If anything, they might have both. And having spent many hours in both over the past few days, I can see why. The Ghost is more accomplished, and given its relative youth it would be a surprise were it any other way. But even if the exterior of the Phantom is, as Jeeves might say, ‘a trifle sudden’ the interior is peerless, an exquisite haven of calm and tranquillity, a sumptuous yet effortlessly tasteful home from home. And I couldn’t care less that it’s so much slower than the Ghost – such considerations don’t even merit a place on the scoreboard of what should make a Rolls-Royce great.
When cars are killed off, we surrender to a future of mass transit solutions and the final history of Rolls is written, it is the Phantom that will be recalled as the greater, more important car. But here and now the Ghost is a fabulous addition to the range and I look forward to all those derivatives we know to exist and about which Rolls will not talk – the coupé, convertible and long-wheelbase versions – with an ever-growing conviction that the future of our most fabled marque could not be in better hands.
Engine: twin turbo V12 6592cc
Power/Torque: 563bhp at 5250rpm, 575lb ft at 1500rpm
Gearbox: eight-speed ZF gearbox
Tyres: Goodyear EMT 255/50, f and r: 8.5 x 19ins
Fuel/CO2: 20.8mpg, 317g per km
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 4.7sec
Suspension: multi-link at both ends with air springs and active ARBS
Brakes: Ventilated discs all round, f: 410mm/16.1ins, r: 402mm/15.8ins
Top Speed: 155mph