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Is the next-generation Ghost the ultimate ‘understated’ luxury limo?

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Ghost. It’s an appropriate name for the model that sits neither fully in the present nor in the future, at least so far as Rolls-Royce’s product planners are concerned.

On one hand, the arrival of this substantial limousine completes an overhaul for the line-up at Goodwood, which began with an all-new Rolls Royce Rolls-Royce Phantom in 2017, before the arrival in 2018 of the Rolls Royce Rolls-Royce Cullinan crossover (which, inevitably, set new sales records for the company). Now, in the Ghost, we have the Phantom’s not so junior, £250,000 understudy.

I pulled up next to a Brabus G700 and its driver was sat only slightly higher than I was. That’s how tall the Rolls’ driving position is.

The circle is complete, so to speak, and more fundamentally so than you might think. The new Ghost sits for the first time on the same bespoke aluminium ‘Architecture of Luxury’ that underpins its siblings, rather than an adapted BMW 7 Series platform, as was the case when its predecessor was introduced in 2009.

Unlike the Phantom and Cullinan, though, the Mk2 Ghost also points to the future of Rolls-Royce, if not in purely mechanical terms (the company is expected to introduce electric-only vehicles in the foreseeable future, whereas today’s test subject uses an unapologetic 6.75-litre V12 with not one iota of electrical assistance) then in terms of philosophy. Without a hint of irony, Rolls-Royce calls this new approach ‘Post Opulence’. What that means is something less ostentatious and more noble, the ‘antithesis of premium mediocracy’, albeit all within the traditional Rolls remit. Call it the acceptable face of extravagance.

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What we’ll now discover is whether Rolls-Royce has done enough to see off stiff competition, which includes Bentley and Maybach. Because whatever language you use to characterise your product, being the one who sets the standard is ultimately what really matters in the ultra-luxury class.

The Ghost range at a glance

Equipment grades and trim walk-ups aren’t concepts that Rolls-Royce acknowledges. Its ‘patrons’ expect their cars to be one of a kind; a motorised symbol of their tastes, values and accomplishments that won’t be seen anywhere else in the world.

As such, the level of personalisation that its Bespoke Collective offers is effectively limited only by your imagination, and the depths of your bank account.

Make no mistake: it’d be exceedingly easy to drop a six-figure sum customising a Ghost to your liking.

Price £249,600 Power 563bhp Torque 627lb ft 0-60mph 4.7sec 30-70mph in fourth na Fuel economy 18.0mpg CO2 emissions 347-358g/km 70-0mph 46.6m

DESIGN & STYLING

2 Rolls Royce Ghost 2021 road test review hero side

With some 5.55m separating the iconic and subtly backlit Pantheon grille from its tapered, almost coupé-like rear end, the Ghost is longer than not only a Range Rover but Rolls’ own Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV, too.

Of course, the flagship Rolls Royce Rolls-Royce Phantom is longer still; but with nearly 2.16m between its door mirrors, a height of 1.57m and a claimed kerb weight of 2490kg, it’s difficult to characterise the Ghost’s footprint as anything other than vast.

Pantheon grille is shrunk for the Ghost compared with the Phantom and feels laudably subtle, strange as that sounds. It also features 20 LEDs beneath the upper ledge that gently illuminate the vanes at night.

Compared with its Goodwood stablemates, however, the Rolls Royce Ghost wears its immense size with a degree more subtlety. It’s still conspicuously opulent (anything with a Flying Lady at its nose is bound to be), but its smaller frontal area and smooth, largely uninterrupted bodywork combine to lend it a discernible level of visual discretion – relatively speaking, of course.

Beneath that stately exterior lies Goodwood’s all-aluminium ‘Architecture of Luxury’, which replaces the old BMW platform the last Ghost was based on and finally puts to bed any criticisms about it being a reskinned BMW 7 Series.

Its configuration places the Ghost’s 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V12 behind the front axle line, in a bid to achieve a 50:50 weight distribution and hone its position as a Rolls-Royce that’s as enjoyable to drive as it is to be driven in. The immense motor makes 563bhp from 5000rpm and a mighty 627lb ft from as low as 1600rpm – all of which is deployed to the road through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive for the first time. Four-wheel steering is another new introduction for the second-generation Ghost.

Suspension is by way of double wishbones up front and multiple links at the rear, with adjustable air springs all round. A major but seemingly simple mechanical innovation comes in the form of the Ghost’s new upper wishbone damper. This is effectively a mass damper attached to the same joint as the upper control arm and is intended to further absorb suspension movement and vibration as the car rolls over finer lumps and bumps.

Along with a 12V active anti-roll bar at the rear axle, a camera system known as Flagbearer that scans the road ahead and preconditions the suspension accordingly, and Rolls-Royce’s satellite-assisted transmission, these systems combine to form what the firm refers to as its Planar Suspension System. We’ll discuss its effectiveness shortly.

INTERIOR

16 Rolls Royce Ghost 2021 road test review cabin

Climbing aboard the Rolls Royce Ghost is a process steeped in a sense of occasion and theatre. The door handles are fashioned from weighty-looking stainless steel that’s cool to the touch, and the doors themselves feel heavy as you gently pull them open.

You step over a low sill onto thick, woollen carpets, before sliding across effortlessly onto sumptuously upholstered and fairly high-set leather chairs. Those in the back can then swing the rear-hinged coach doors shut by pressing a button on the C-pillar, and similar controls on the centre console allow the driver and front-seat passenger to do the same. And once they’re closed, you’re left immersed in an environment that’s as beautifully appointed and luxurious as you’d hope to find in anything with four wheels.

‘Illuminated Fascia’ is the product of 10,000 hours of development work. Backlit Ghost lettering is surrounded by no fewer than 850 ‘stars’, lit by 152 LEDs

From the driver’s seat, the Ghost feels immensely spacious. Head and shoulder room are abundant, and a readily apparent sense of airiness was heightened further by the crisp white upholstery of our test car. The upright driving position is exceptionally comfortable and the car’s high hip point affords a commanding view out over its expansive bonnet. You also get the distinct sense that the controls have been laid out in a manner that minimises the effort required to reach them. When you do interact with them, you find that every switch, surface and stalk feels not only expensive and exquisitely crafted but reassuringly robust, too.

There are multiple seating configurations for the second row. Our car featured two individually adjustable ‘Immersive Seats’ with an occasional third seat appearing when the central armrest was folded away.

That armrest doubles as a control centre for the car’s infotainment suite, but if you are willing to sacrifice some boot space, Rolls-Royce can then set a champagne fridge within the rear bulkhead, should you option the Central Cool Chamber. A fixed centre console – with an even larger, built-in cool box that has room for a whisky decanter and two champagne flutes – can also be specified. Or you could just have a regular ‘Lounge Seat’ with generous berths for two.

However, despite the Ghost’s larger size, our tape measure revealed a second row that isn’t quite as spacious as the Rolls Royce Rolls-Royce Cullinan’s. That said, 900mm of typical rear leg room and 970mm of head room is more than even the tallest passengers are likely to ever need and, crucially, more space than you’ll get in a Bentley Flying Spur.

Rolls-Royce Ghost infotainment and sat-nav

Rolls-Royce continues to rely on a reskinned BMW infotainment suite for the latest Ghost. As far as its ease of use and graphical sophistication are concerned, it’s one of the best systems but there are those who might bemoan the lack of a bespoke set-up.

The rotary dial on the centre console is undoubtedly the most comfortable means of interacting with the system – particularly while on the move – but the screen responds swiftly to touch inputs, too. Meanwhile, a second rotary controller integrated into the second-row armrest allows passengers to take control of the media suite from the back seats. They’ll also be able to watch television on the two large screens that are integrated into the front seatbacks.

Our test car featured a 1300W Rolls-Royce Bespoke audio system – an 18-channel set-up that even incorporates exciter speakers in the Starlight Headliner. Sound quality was, of course, excellent.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

35 Rolls Royce Ghost 2021 road test review engine

Ghost owners are unlikely to dwell on quantifiable performance, but were you to assess this car’s potential in coldly objective terms, as we have, you’d discover an extraordinarily quick limousine given the physics at play – this is a 2490kg vehicle.

Liberating power and torque from this 6.75-litre V12 is not difficult, but to get the most out of the powertrain, you need to press the small button marked ‘Low’ on the slim gear selector stalk. Do this and the Ghost shrugs off some of its cultivated nonchalance, not least by stepping away in first gear, rather than second, and thereafter executing an ‘aggressive’ shift strategy, holding onto to ratios longer, shifting without hesitation and kicking down further than normal.

Spend time with the Ghost and it becomes a haven – a more pleasurable place to be than anywhere else you frequent. You miss it intrinsically, and that’s true both for enthusiasts and people who couldn’t give a fig about cars

That those shifts remain glass smooth is testament to the dexterity of ZF’s transmission hardware and the truly expert tuning of the control electronics. And duly, against the clock, our Ghost squatted heavily but then dusted off 0-60mph in an impressive 4.7sec, its four-wheel drive not for one moment left wanting in terms of traction, even in slightly damp test conditions.

For Ghost owners who are short of time, there is one other very encouraging figure. In kickdown, the Ghost dispatched 30-70mph in 3.8sec. For reference, the new Bentley Flying Spur – a veritable rocket ship in this class – could go only 0.6sec quicker.

Of course, these numbers mean little in the real world, and it is the nature of the Ghost’s performance, rather than its magnitude, that counts. In this respect, it’s no exaggeration to say that the V12 driveline is comically demure. The additional torque that Rolls-Royce has massaged out of the engine since its appearance in the Rolls Royce Rolls-Royce Cullinan was hardly necessary but it adds to the almost weightless sensation the Ghost exhibits as it gently accumulates speed.

We said this of the current Rolls-Royce Phantom, but the sheer linearity of the engine response and the imperceptibility of the gearshifts (well, you might notice the ‘Power Reserve %’ dial quiver) combine to deliver the uninterrupted drivability only really felt with electric cars.

Add in superbly well-judged brake- and throttle-pedal weights and the result is an enormous and superficially very inert limousine that, contrary to what you might think, is joyful to operate.

RIDE & HANDLING

36 Rolls Royce Ghost 2021 road test review on road front

With any modern Rolls-Royce, the wheelbase is so long that the V12 can sit entirely behind the front axle and this gives the cars surprisingly good weight distribution. The new Rolls Royce Ghost is no different, its maker claiming a perfect 50:50 split, and when you combine that with articulate suspension architecture and air springs, the result is palpable balance and composure.

This lays strong foundations for the Ghost’s most memorable and enjoyable dynamic character trait: the way it steers. Even the gossamer rim of the helm itself is oh-so satisfying to hold by the fingertips and its motion, which at first feels curiously light, quickly becomes intuitive when coaxing the car’s monolithic nose this way and that. The action itself forgoes pronounced self-centring, although, far from engendering any sense of instability, this actually seems to improve matters.

Intuitive, well-geared steering – a dynamic highlight – causes the front end to respond to inputs with pleasing accuracy and the car exhibits good balance and composure

Meanwhile, the gearing is stately without ever feeling languorous. It’s an exceptionally good set-up and the uniform weighting, which would cause serious concern in any sports car, suits the Ghost’s temperament beautifully. Only when turning tightly at low speeds, when the four-wheel steering awakens, does the steering reveal anything approaching inconsistency, although the sudden and wholesale loss of weight in the motion that occurs towards the extremes of lock is more an observation than a criticism.

All of this means that while so many luxury vehicles desperately lack the calibre of steering necessary to explore their handling, the Ghost is different. And it is far from undone by interesting roads (although you may want to avoid any B-road rat runs). In tighter corners, there is no escaping the spectre of understeer, just as you would expect, and there’s zero throttle adjustability in this chassis, but the neutral-verging-on-oversteer balance the Ghost adopts in quicker corners is genuinely satisfying. And, of course, there is that deftly and accurate steering to underpin proceedings.

So, yes, the Rolls’ body floats much more than you’d find with any Bentley, and there is pronounced roll, however well it might be meted out. Yet for a machine supposedly all about the back-row seats, there are several good reasons why owners would take the wheel themselves.

It feels a bit rude to hurtle around Millbrook’s Hill Route in a car as stately as the Ghost, but it copes with this tortuous stretch of track well enough, given its immense size.

Body movements are, of course, entirely conspicuous, and you get the sense that its stability and four-wheel drive systems are working overtime to keep its nose tracking in the right direction. The threat of understeer is ever present. Even so, once its front end bites and mass has settled over its outside tyres, it navigates tighter sections of track with impressive neutrality and reassuring levels of grip.

The featherweight steering that makes the Ghost so delightful to manoeuvre at sociable road speeds takes some getting used to at pace and can sap your confidence a little.

Rolls-Royce might claim this is a car for driving as much as being driven in, and at relaxed speeds that rings true. What it isn’t, however, is a car for hustling along. Which is fine.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

As with so many entities that appear to operate with effortless ease, there is plenty going on beneath the surface of the Ghost’s bodywork.

The work Rolls-Royce puts into its ‘Architecture of Luxury’ extends considerably further than the endless dimensions and localised stiffness, and the aluminium it uses takes more complex forms than necessary in order to quell as much road-generated resonance as possible. The bulkhead and floor are also double-skinned to sandwich damping felts, and overall more than 100kg of acoustic damping material is used. This includes the double-glazed windows and sponge within the Pirelli’s PNCS tyres.

No surprise, then, that the Ghost is sensationally quiet. At idle, the V12 is so well isolated that inside the cabin we registered just 40dB, which is quieter than ambient levels on a sleepy suburban street. At 70mph, that rises to a scant 58dB – comfortably less than the 64dB recorded by the Flying Spur and even the 60dB of the Rolls-Royce Phantom. This demonstrates that Rolls-Royce is making good progress even at the sharpest, most challenging and perhaps most expensive end of its development criteria.

The benefit for passengers is that boarding the Ghost and closing the vault-like doors seems to transport you to another dimension, where the outside world feels faintly abstract. It’s when you find your sleepy self sat in the back of the Ghost, in the outside lane of the motorway, listening to music with remarkable clarity, that you realise that intrinsic, bona fide ‘luxury’ can be every bit as thrilling and captivating as cornering at high g-forces in the latest supercar.

Ride quality, which benefits from Rolls’ new mass dampers on the front axle, is familiar from the Phantom, in that the body is permitted to make languid long-wave movements, but not quite to the same extent. If there is a fly in this serene ointment, it concerns secondary ride, which is mostly excellent but can on occasion transmit the road surface fractionally too faithfully.

In fact, there’s the possibility that the upcoming Mercedes S-Class will do better in this respect. We’ll find out in due course.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Rolls-Royce Ghost 2021 road test review - hero front

With prices starting at £249,600 after taxes, the Rolls Royce Ghost might well be the most affordable modern-day Rolls-Royce, but it’s by no means the most attainable luxury saloon on the market. A Bentley Flying Spur is the best part of £80,000 less, while the likes of the Mercedes-Maybach S650 start around the £180,000 mark.

That’s a hefty premium, for sure, but it’s unlikely that the average Rolls-Royce patron (if there is such a thing) will be too fazed – particularly when most will go on to spend a five- or six-figure sum personalising their Ghost. Our car came with a whopping £112,530 worth of optional extras and it seems entirely likely that you could quite easily spend even more should you choose to.

After three years and 36k miles, Ghost is predicted to retain 53% of its original list price, marginally outperforming the Bentley Flying Spur

Fuel consumption is about where you would expect it to be. We averaged 18mpg during our time with the car and saw a touring economy of 28.5mpg. Combined with the Ghost’s 90-litre tank, that makes for a theoretical maximum range in excess of 560 miles.

VERDICT

36 Rolls Royce Ghost 2021 road test review static

The second-generation Rolls Royce Ghost is not flawless, but if the intention of Rolls-Royce was to offer the material extravagance and extraordinary rolling refinement of the flagship Rolls Royce Rolls-Royce Phantom, only in an understated and more usable package, it has succeeded.

The Ghost’s only imperfection is its secondary ride, which is just a shade short of perfection. It’s still much better than that of a Bentley Flying Spur, but if we pulled the Bentley up for the transgression, we must do the same here. In every other aspect that matters, the Ghost is an exceptional vehicle and makes travel an unambiguous delight.

Most technologically advanced Rolls-Royce is an exceptional limo

Indeed, the new Ghost offers quantifiable improvements over its excellent predecessor, especially in terms of isolation. It is an uncannily serene car and wonderful company, whether you find yourself in the lavish expanse of the cabin’s rear seats or up front, in the commanding perch enjoyed by the driver.

The Ghost is highly satisfying and easy to drive; it’s the longest car in its class but still much more manageable in real-world use than bigger-brother Rolls-Royce Phantom, just as Goodwood intended.

Rolls-Royce also deserves credit in its attempt – successful, in our opinion – to tone down the car’s flamboyance while retaining its sense of stature and just the right amount of whimsy. All in all, superb.

 

Rolls-Royce Ghost First drives