Some of the best car brands in the world are 60 years behind in terms of design principles. It's true – one can draw continuity between this latest 2020 Rolls-Royce Ghost and Australian architecture from the 1960s.
It wasn't until then, give or take a decade behind the rest of the world, did Australia truly revel in what design-types call 'minimalism'. Paring back design for design's sake, and removing all unnecessary detail in order to achieve pure, uncluttered form.
Clean design. Rolls-Royce calls this 'Post Opulence'.
To quote the brand itself: "Named 'Post Opulence' internally, it is characterised by the reduction and substance. Design must be limited, intelligent and unobtrusive".
"In service to this, exceptional materials must be selected and celebrated."
It honestly feels like I'm reading through one of my architecture-related university textbooks. Rolls-Royce claims to be following the same path that our local architecture legends trod in the 1960s, be it Seidler, Woolley or Dysart – for good reason.
The previous-generation Goodwood Ghost, as Rolls-Royce refers to it, is the best-selling Rolls-Royce model to date. It has surpassed all expectations, and truly resonated with a newer, younger, big-money crowd.
This generation of Rolls-Royce owner actually drives their car, too, not just clicking for Jeeves. As a result, many layers of driver-focused technologies, some of Rolls-Royce's most advanced, too, were distilled into the automotive product with the best name ever.
This Ghost is all-new, with only a handful of items carrying over from the last generation. One of which is the Spirit of Ecstasy, or crudely put, the silver flying lady at the front. The others were the umbrellas, as found in the doors.
Platform purists out there will also be relieved to know that the Ghost no longer features the same underpinnings as a BMW 7 Series. In order to push it further, the brand admitted that it needed to break free of the constraints that plebeian, high-volume vehicles have.
So, understanding the brief: more tech, more advancements, but less of everything else. Quite the conundrum.
Rolls-Royce has shown restraint with the Ghost's design, and follows the rhetoric as found in my architecture handbooks. You'll notice it's devoid of body gaps from the front, across the roof, and to the back. It's an incredibly pure structure, like a flat-roofed Pettit and Sevitt project home from the mid-century period.
As a result of being artfully minimal in terms of design, the Ghost sports a wonderfully clean datum. One that has no issue providing order to the few small design forays there are, such as huge 21-inch wheels or ornamental badging.
Its exterior looks seemingly precision-milled from a single large hunk of metal. We all know that's not the case, however, but it does take four skilled craftsmen, welding the body simultaneously, in order to get the effect you see here.
It's these celebrations of craft, a lust for a reduction in the superfluous, that drives the Ghost's exterior styling effort. Ironically, it saddens me to see this hard work undone by the inclusion of an illuminated grille.
Rolls-Royce states it features a subtle glow, but regardless, it remains a huge, prominent, shiny design element that ostentatiously lights up. This one part of its design seemingly got stuck at opulence, and failed to evolve past that. It's not all perfect, even up at this pricepoint. Which, for the record, kicks off at $628,000.
Of all five local press cars, none were even remotely close to that price. Many had options, some of which are entirely unique, that pushed prices up past the $750,000 mark, all before on-roads.
|2020 Rolls-Royce Ghost|
|Engine||6.75-litre V12 twin-turbo|
|Power and torque||420kW @ 5000rpm, 850Nm @ 1600rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||15.2L/100km|
|Boot volume (seats up / down)||495L / 1495L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty||4 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Bentley Flying Spur, Mercedes-Maybach S-Class|
|Price as tested||$750,000+|
We'll focus on the big lump under the bonnet before discussing other tricks, like the brand's world-first integration of damper-on-damper suspension technology.
The engine is a new version of its 6.75-litre V12 twin-turbo powertrain. You'll find this wonderful engine in both the new-generation Phantom and Cullinan SUV. Power comes in at 420kW, but its majestic feel is provided by a huge torque figure of 850Nm that's offered from a pip over idle at 1600rpm. Zero to 100km/h takes 4.8sec, for your information.
Despite being a brute powertrain, it interestingly comes across as subdued. We're up over 2.5 tonnes here, which is big, and has a part to play in taming the forced-induction V12. The interface between the powertrain and your foot is one of exceptionally long travel, which is quite amusing to oscillate.
You find yourself instantly intrigued by its stretchy nature. After toeing deeper into its throw, you find its torque beginning to bubble up. Even flattening the deep-pile lambswool carpet with the pedal itself doesn't seem to rile it up.
It instead builds power skilfully to the tone of a slight grumble and a touch of driveline whirr. It remains dignified, no matter how large your threat and how big the stick. That is, until you press the small oval-edged button dubbed 'low' on the column gear shifter.
This kicks its calibration in the guts, and provides a much more eager response. In this mode, it'll kick down hard and give you a toasty reception. One reminiscent of standing up to hugs and kisses at dinner, due to work-life balance or lack thereof.
On the topic of tone, Rolls-Royce actually spent time tuning some back into the cabin. Upon reaching for noise-vibration-harshness (NVH) nirvana, its team of engineers were in fact spooked. The transcendent experience of riding in a car devoid of all noise was actually disconcerting and not enlightening.
The levels of isolation achieved were uncomfortable, due to occupants being subjected to clear movement; however, with no sound reference to hook things together. As a result, it needed to tune noise back in.
Not multiple noises, just one. On this new journey of creating uniform tonality, engineers identified three key offenders. To combat it, its driveshafts were re-engineered, the rear boot area stealthily ported into the cabin, and seats suspended on dampers.
The result is a single uniform pitch that provides enough sound to create comfort. I appreciate and understand the details here, but our roads are so bloody awful, they need not have bothered for Australia. They're noisy enough alone – so poor that no car could filter them out.
What helps out further with our rather poor conditions is both the Rolls-Royce Ghost's 'planar' and 'flag bearer' technologies.
The first introduces a damping unit on the upper suspension arm. This suspension component is already dealing with forces managed by the vehicle's suspension itself, so consider it a moving part that doesn't cop raw effort. This is not a Rolls-Royce-unique feature, as any car with A-arm suspension functions this way.
What Rolls-Royce has done, however, is provide this additional suspension component with damping. Its aim is to further dissipate the force going through the vehicle's suspension as a kind of helper.
The engineering boss at Rolls-Royce requested that we load up a car mid-corner, and bury the throttle, to see this technology's result. By result, he meant lack thereof. Upon trialling this, you're greeted with stability as it propels forward.
This system is complemented by another, which uses both a camera and GPS system to educate the Ghost on what's ahead. The camera understands terrain and adjusts suspension according to what it sees, and the GPS system speaks to the automatic gearbox to prepare it for the same thing.
It all culminates in a car that manages your expectations, even if they're subconscious. It feels oddly well-prepared for the situation ahead, and that's because it actually is.
Again referencing the 'low' button, activating this mode goes ahead and speeds up communication between both systems and the car itself. This function is used by the car to better decipher your current mood. If engaged, expect kick-down and that you're in a hurry, perhaps.
Simply put, what ride quality it offers is incomparable to much else. It flowed over torn bits of road with a quality superior to what you'd find in an old Citroen DS with hydropneumatic suspension – still the benchmark in certain circles. It goes as far as to better that, and offer a much wider breadth of ability.
I say that as the launch drive saw us partaking in a quick prowl up a fine driving road. Pushing the envelope does result in safe understeer, but it's unlikely any owners will experience such a thing.
There's no hiding the Ghost's size, despite the final acts of rear-wheel steering and all-wheel drive each trying to steal the show. Both of these systems help manoeuvrability, but none can truly shake the might of its structure.
Another factor that doesn't promote diminutiveness is the steering. The first 90 degrees of input feel wishy-washy and light, whereas the next 45 degrees come across as heavy and cumbersome. That's something for old mate driver to worry about, however.
Soaking up the in-motion experience should also be conducted from the rear seat of such a car, despite Rolls-Royce claiming Ghost owners all drive their cars*.
* on occasion.
There will be times where its owner will request a driver, and rightfully so, given you can opt for a champagne cooler with two chill settings – vintage and non-vintage. To my surprise, our car was uniquely equipped with an occasional third seat, as well as said wine cooler, too.
How's that for duality? Three kids across the back nine-to-five, two adults eight-till-late, with the possibility of a cheeky pre-dinner bevvy retained, despite your family count.
In my case, however, there were no alcoholic beverages nor my wife riding alongside, either. Just an ex-supercar driver as my chauffeur, who gave me a taste of the high life. The experience in the back is blissful. Our car was equipped with the 'rear theatre configuration', which adds a pair of large fold-out monitors and motorised picnic tables, too.
Riding as a passenger also gives you more headspace to soak up the huge sound from the Rolls-Royce bespoke audio package. As a keen audio buff, I was elated to find levels of quality in line with the brand itself. Tony Iommi's velvety guitar licks from Paranoid came through crisp and proud, as did the bright synth from Rush's Moving Pictures.
By far the best listening experience I've had in a car – one that is best enjoyed sitting still. Regardless of the level of engagement that remains in the back seat, I'm still not surprised that Australians choose to drive Rolls-Royces.
You may notice that I didn't bother touching on the quality of the cabin. This is because, as you expect, everything shiny is made from metal, and everything else is expensive-looking, which has been the status quo for many years now.
What's more important is how the all-new Ghost is now remarkable to steer, as well as spectacular to relax in.