The Rolls-Royce Ghost takes the high-end luxury brand into fresh territory.
It’s the latest chapter in a familiar story: A big automotive conglomerate assumes control of an historic British brand and sets it on the road to recapturing its former glory.
For Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover, the (former) benefactor in question was the Ford Motor Company. In the case of Bentley, it’s the ongoing support of the Volkswagen Group that keeps iconic cars such as the Bentley Continental GT and Flying Spur powering along.
As for Rolls-Royce, it’s the business savvy and engineering might of BMW that has kept the stately and exclusive automobiles at the very forefront of the ultra-luxury segment. Since 2003, when the brand was transferred from Volkswagen to BMW, the line has included just one model—the Phantom and its four different variations.
But all that has changed with the introduction of a brand new model, the Rolls Royce Ghost, a smaller and less expensive sedan that’s designed to extend the reach of Rolls-Royce by bringing new customers into the showroom. Now, to be clear, these new customers will still be very well-heeled; while the cheapest model in the Phantom range (the regular-wheelbase sedan) starts at US$380,000, the Ghost tips the scales at a plenty lofty US$245,000.
Upon first glance of the technical specifications, this may seem like a lot of cash to fork over for a car that is based on the BMW 760Li. But closer inspection reveals that the Rolls-Royce Ghost is a breed apart—a car that gives its owner a good measure of technical excellence combined with a whole lot of pampering.
Let’s start with the exterior design. When parked next to the Phantom, the Ghost appears to be a 3/4-scale model; while the Ghost is a very large saloon, the Phantom is absolutely massive by comparison. This doesn’t mean to suggest that the new Rolls makes any less of a statement because the Ghost bears a clear, familial resemblance from the prominent front grille on back.
The Ghost is larger than the 760Li, with a wheelbase 85 mm longer and an overall length greater by 187 mm. This makes the Rolls appear to dwarf pretty much anything else on the road today (except a Phantom), but the incorporation of the classic coach doors and some very nice character lines give the car a surprisingly lithe appearance.
Another touch that adds even more sleekness to the design of the Ghost: An optional metallic hood treatment that echoes that of the Phantom. In this case, though, the hood is covered in a special paint rather than extremely high-maintenance stainless steel. Nineteen-inch wheels are standard equipment (20-inch numbers are optional), adding to the car’s proportionally correct presence.
Here’s the thing about the Ghost, though—it doesn’t drive like one of the biggest cars on the road either. Although you’d be hard-pressed to call it a true driver’s saloon and, in fact, it’s not even as engaging as a BMW 7 Series, the Rolls did nevertheless surprise with its composure in the corners.
Our test drive through Orange County saw us take to a number of freeways, including one where yours truly (almost) incurred the wrath of the California Highway Patrol for traveling at 84 mph in a 65 zone. (Here’s the power of the Ghost, though—an admiring glance from the local constabulary was followed by a quick warning and I was off scot-free.)
We eventually ended up at an abandoned airfield where the Ghost was put through a mild gymkhana-style exercise designed to showcase its technical highlights. First on the docket was the car’s anti-roll stabilisation feature and air suspension on all four corners. Some low-speed carving around pylons proved that the Rolls had some deftness to it, although there’s no question that the ride was on the cushy side.
The next exercise involved setting the active cruise control to 60 mph and negotiating a wide, arcing turn; the system’s “curve speed limiter” function automatically lowered the Ghost’s speed to about 52 mph and then accelerated up to 60 again as soon as the car was headed straight again. No muss, no fuss.
If there’s one area in which the Ghost does not seem like your father’s Rolls-Royce, it’s in the performance off the line. Nestled under the hood of this sleek saloon is a variation of the twin-turbo V12 petrol engine from the BMW 760Li with parts borrowed from the 750’s V8.
While the 760Li powerplant displaces 6.0 litres, the Rolls version grows to 6.6 litres. Horsepower and torque are increased as well; the former moves from 400 kW to 420 kW, while torque is up from 750 Nm to 780 Nm. The result is a saloon that—despite its considerable heft (2,470 kg)—can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in under five seconds flat.
This exercise is aided and abetted by a very slick 8-speed automatic transmission from ZF that performs its task in a nearly seamless manner, making the most of the low-end torque and keeping the Ghost rolling right up to its electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h.
To sum up, this Rolls is a surprisingly fast car that will see you exceeding posted speed limits with so little drama, extra attention must be paid to the instrument panel (see the above encounter with the long arm of the law for proof.)
While representatives from Rolls-Royce hasten to point out that the Ghost is meant to be driven and not merely enjoyed from the back seat, the transmission adds further clues as to the true nature of this car: There are no shift paddles on the steering column and no option to use a lever in the centre console to manually select a gear—this is a fully automatic ‘box in the classic sense.
And to make the driving experience that much easier, there are a number of optional driver aids available for this Roller.
Cameras mounted on all four corners of the car help when easing into traffic at a blind junction and provide a 360-degree view to aid parallel parking in a tight space. A night vision camera in the front grille employs infrared technology to detect pedestrians or other moving objects up to 300 metres away. Adaptive high beams automatically dim when another camera detects an oncoming vehicle. The active cruise control system will automatically bring the Ghost to a dead stop if the car ahead does the same. And a heads-up display relays only the information the driver chooses, such as speed and navigation directions.
But a car such as the Rolls-Royce Ghost is not meant to be admired for its acceleration, handling or technical advances, but rather for how it makes you feel like P Diddy when you’re behind the wheel.
Luxury features that come standard on the car (in most markets) include deep-pile carpeting, violin key switches, chrome door handles, chrome vents with organ-stop plunger controls and a four-zone automatic climate control system. The Ghost also has the flashier, traditional Rolls touches: the retractable Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, power-operated coach doors, 16-speaker Lexicon audio system and gauge set with a power reserve meter in place of the more common tachometer.
As to the options list…well, as they say, you’re only limited by your imagination. But some of the niceties currently found in the sales brochure include a panoramic sunroof and lambs wool floor mats, as well as veneered picnic tables and a cool box with champagne flutes for rear-seat passengers. Currently, there are 12 exterior paint schemes for the Ghost, but don’t let that stop you from ordering yours with zebra stripes in any colour under the rainbow.
For all the many luxury features contained within the passenger cabin, much of the appeal of the Ghost comes down to two factors: the look and feel of the wood and leather. Everywhere you glance, you see consistent gaps between different elements of the interior, immaculate stitching, carefully chosen grain patterns and surfaces that demand to be touched just for the sake of it.
There’s no question about it: If you happen to have the capital required to own a 2010 Rolls-Royce Ghost, you have very definitely arrived.