Trust me when I tell you: you don't know true anxiety until you're driving a car worth one million dollars – the only one of its kind in the entire country – down a busy suburban road with trams, pedestrians, and a rogue Camry driver veering dangerously close to its exquisite paintwork.
The weight of responsibility I felt in this situation could only possibly be outdone by the kerb weight of the car I was driving: the 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Extended.
In fact, as tested, the car I spent a day navigating down some of Melbourne's most congested and potholed roads clocked in at $992,784 before on-road costs were even factored in.
While my job lands me in some pretty fancy cars, it's safe to say I've never come close to the realm of what is arguably the world's most iconic (and expensive) luxury carmaker.
So, when the call came to spend a day with the Ghost Extended, I said yes without hesitation, despite immediately developing sweaty palms at the thought.
Although it looks like a gentle giant, there’s a booming 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 engine under the bonnet capable of producing a peak of 420kW and 850Nm.
I'd count those impressive outputs as my first surprise in what became a day of unexpected revelations about a car I'd long presumed would be old-worldy, stuffy and incredibly intimidating to drive.
|2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Extended|
|Engine||6.75-litre V12 twin-turbo|
|Power and torque||420kW @ 5000rpm, 850Nm @ 1600rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined||15.3–15.7L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty||4 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Bentley Flying Spur, Mercedes-Maybach S-Class|
|Price as tested||$992,784 before on-road costs|
The surprises continued upon collection, upstairs at the Rolls-Royce dealership on Melbourne's Swan Street – an airy, light-filled space occupied by a small handful of classic and new Rollers and one man: Christopher Hope, Brand Manager of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Melbourne and the sole dealership salesperson.
Chris was possibly the biggest surprise of all: a beautifully outfitted lover of finer things who immediately told me to "relax and breathe", and proceeded to share anecdotes about how he'd matched leather seats to designer handbag colours, offered strangers on the street the chance to sit in the back seat, or asked prospective buyers to take their shoes off to feel the lambswool floor mats under their toes (more on that later).
Stuffy and old-worldy, this was not. Immediately put at ease by Chris's apparent imperviousness to the sheer value of the vehicles around us, I started to relax into the Rolls-Royce ownership experience (it's a tough gig, but someone's gotta endure it).
“It starts the morning of, at about 8am, I send a text message that says ‘no more sleeps’," he excitedly told me of the handover process.
From there, owners come into the showroom, where they're met with a glass of whiskey or a freshly made coffee and an enticing floor-to-ceiling curtain hiding their new arrival.
In the case of the Ghost Extended offered to CarAdvice, the process kicked off roughly eight months prior, when a buyer contacted Chris during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak and placed an order for an example "with everything".
The car on test was in a shade of Bohemian Red, with a cashmere grey and black interior, 21-inch twin-spoke part-polished wheels and chrome-plated visible exhausts.
Inside, the new car smell is subtle, like the faint scent of extremely good-quality leather and $100 bills (I'm only kidding about that second one).
The interior is a visual feast, and it's hard to know what to highlight. Perhaps the dedicated champagne fridge in the rear? The 'starliner' roof complete with shooting stars? The doors that self-close with the touch of a button?
For me, the biggest drawcard was the lambswool floor mats – the softest, most wildly impractical display of luxury I've seen in a car in some time.
Out among the general public, the Ghost Extended certainly attracted some special reactions.
Hilariously, we chose to conduct some of our filming and test driving in one of Melbourne's most affluent suburbs, meaning the reactions tended to lean more towards "Oh, my granddad has one of those!" rather than "Wow!".
We did, however, experience a particularly special moment when a seven-year-old said in hushed tones to his group of school friends: "Look. That's a Rolls-Royce".
Out on the road, I expected myself to feel very chastened and awed behind the wheel, but what I didn't expect was the general reverence the Ghost Extended attracted from other drivers.
From admiration to avoidance – it seemed few were immune to the universal allure of a very, very expensive car. And few dared to come close to it, lest they scrape it and be $10,000 out of pocket.
Another surprise came courtesy of the gearstick, which is actually a thoroughly modern gear-selector stalk on the steering wheel, much like the ones on Mercedes-Benz cars.
Unlike Mercedes's version, however, the Rolls maintains the old fashioned column shift action of pulling the selector towards you between detents, so you can't accidentally pop the car into neutral if you go to indicate on the wrong side.
The Ghost was already a large car, but the extended wheelbase has brought it to just over 5.7m in length. I was surprised to find its size didn't feel all that mammoth on the road. This was thanks in part to excellent cameras and parking sensors, which can act as your eyes and zero in on kerbs or tight parking spots, but also thanks to the surprisingly light steering.
In fact, I could have used a bit more steering feel and feedback at lower speeds, as I found it difficult to gauge the level of input required to take corners – something that improved at freeway speeds, with the all-wheel steering adding another layer of dynamism above 80km/h.
A 13.6m turning circle will see most U-turns become three-point turns, and plenty of parking spaces will be immediately ruled out – although a parking assistant can handle that particular chore for you if you so wish.
Ride comfort is exemplary – speed bumps are all but cancelled out, and it genuinely feels as though there's a layer of cloud between you and the road at all times.
Out on the freeway, it's as though the world is on mute. While you can hear the faint whooshing noise of passing cars, everything else is demurred – from the vibration of the engine, to tyre noise, to even the exhaust when you accelerate.
Gone, too, is the tell-tale rumble or growl of a V12 engine – something prospective buyers could see as a downside. The potential brawn is more of a well-kept secret between car and owner than a show of head-turning bravado.
Although you can feel all that accessible power lingering under the surface, the way it’s delivered through the eight-speed auto is so even, linear and silent, you can transition from 60km/h to 100km/h without any perceptible gearshifts.
This ability to shut out the intrusions of the outside world, paired with a surprisingly functional, user-friendly dashboard, can have you forgetting you're driving a car with a serious reputation and price tag.
And finally, while I loved the lambswool carpet as a passenger, as a driver it proved slippery and caused the heel of my boot to slide a few times when accelerating and braking.
After a morning of around-town driving in plenty of traffic, the car's trip computer was showing an average real-world fuel-consumption figure of 20.0L/100km. That might sound high, but consider this is a huge car and the quoted consumption on a combined cycle of driving is 15.3–15.7L/100km.
I'd imagine a bit more time in the car, with some freeway driving in the mix, could have brought that real-world figure more in line with the quoted number.
For many, the appeal of a Ghost Extended will lie in the back seat, where the longer wheelbase has apparently provided the most leg room of any four-seat sedan on sale, according to the carmaker.
It's certainly palatial back there, with so much leg room you'll struggle to reach the touchscreens mounted on the back of the front seats if you wish to watch TV or enjoy a DVD.
If I'm nitpicking, I did find getting in and out of the back seat was slightly challenging due to a lower roof line, and the starliner roof can have it feeling a little dark. Additionally, if you decide to fully recline your seat, taller occupants might find their feet hit the seats in front when elevated on the footrest.
Still, it's a pretty marvellous place to be – and what I'd imagine a first-class airplane cabin must feel like.
Automated sun blinds can shut out the outside world, massage seats can lull you into a peaceful slumber, and there are fold-out picnic tables in case you need somewhere to place your champagne flute.
No matter how unpredictable your driver may be, you're unlikely to be unsettled by their swerves or slammed brakes, with the car maintaining its balance and equilibrium beautifully and refusing to transfer much instability into the cabin.
Naturally, the boot on the Ghost is truly capacious at 500L (although I highly doubt its owners do their own Bunnings runs).
For me, much of the 'surprise and delight' factor came from finding out the Ghost Extended had all the 'normal' features you'd expect on other cars. There are ISOFIX points on the rear seats, an easy-to-use active cruise-control system with lane-keep assist, a clear head-up display, and even wireless Apple CarPlay.
BMW owners will find the infotainment system familiar, as the Rolls uses a slightly tweaked version of its parent company's interface, but a stunning sound system is a standout – offering a crispness and clarity that allows you to enjoy the various layers in a single song.
Buyers also receive a four-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which includes service, maintenance and roadside assistance from the date of first retail or registration (whichever is earlier).
Service intervals aren't followed, but rather Rolls-Royce employs condition-based servicing, with sensors in each car transmitting live information to dealerships so services can be scheduled as required.
Additionally, Rolls-Royce Teleservices will rescue you if you are stranded or in an accident. Owners are also granted access to Whispers, an app that connects them with fellow owners, provides access to exclusive events and online shopping experiences, and lets them "liaise securely with fellow Rolls-Royce patrons, the Chief Executive and members of the Board of Rolls-Royce".
It's all part of an unfathomably extravagant, rarefied lifestyle few of us are able to imagine, let alone experience. It all feels very far away from the realms of reality.