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The Rolls-Royce Ghost looks every inch a gorgeous, forward-thinking Rolls. But can it be as good as it looks?

The Ghost name was first attached, literally, to a Rolls-Royce in 1907. Needing a PR stunt for its new 40/50hp model, Rolls painted a car silver, screwed on a plaque proclaiming it ‘The Silver Ghost’ and set off to prove its reliability.

To do this, it was driven, non-stop, for 15,000 miles, including 27 trips between London and Glasgow. However, Rolls did not formally recognise the Ghost name until 1925. The Silver Ghost was sold but bought back by Rolls in 1948, only to be then not included in the sale of the Rolls name to BMW.

A careful balancing act has been required to make it both authentic and profitable

So now, somewhat ironically, the world’s most famous Rolls is actually owned by Bentley. The introduction of a more affordable Rolls-Royce is nothing new. Indeed, it has been going on almost since the birth of the company 107 years ago. But while the Ghost clearly makes sense on the balance sheets of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and its BMW parent, a careful balancing act has been required to make it both authentic and profitable.

Unlike its Rolls-Royce Phantom big sister, which employs a unique aluminium spaceframe, the Ghost’s steel monocoque is related to that of the BMW 7 Series.

In itself, this need be no deal-breaker, and much comfort will have been derived from seeing the success of the Volkswagen Phaeton-based Bentley Continental series. 

However, Rolls still has to tread carefully: many of its customers will also own big BMWs (a problem Bentley will not have faced with the Phaeton) and the challenge has been to engineer the Ghost to at least appear a bespoke product, one for which it can charge close to double what BMW asks for a flagship 7 Series also powered by a twin-turbo V12.

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We happen to think it looks every inch a gorgeous, forward-thinking Rolls, both in standard and long wheelbase form. But can it be as good as it looks?

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Rolls-Royce Ghost rear

With the Ghost, Rolls-Royce has followed Bentley’s lead and not been shy about making its ‘entry-level’ car substantially more powerful and therefore quicker than the flagship model above it.

To this end, it has fitted a vast twin-turbo, direct-injection V12 engine that is directly related to the 5972cc unit used by BMW in the 760Li but expanded to displace 6592cc courtesy of a lengthened stroke. It looks imposing under the bonnet with its Rolls-Royce cam covers, but if you lift off the cheap plastic cover with its pretend inlet tracts, BMW signs are not hard to find.

Rear-hinged back doors are a welcome design touch carried over from the Phantom

The famous Spirit of Ecstasy mascot sits proudly on the bonnet of the Rolls-Royce Ghost, disappearing into the radiator when the car is locked. It can be operated manually or automatically. Unlike in the Phantom, which has a dedicated button in the glovebox, the control for the Ghost’s mascot is hidden within iDrive.  

The unique floating wheel centres always stay vertical and are carried over from the Phantom range. Rear-hinged back doors are another welcome design touch carried over from the Phantom. They work beautifully, both practically and aesthetically.

Huge, square door mirrors give an excellent view behind but seriously block peripheral forward visibility. The small rear windscreen is perfectly proportioned for the car’s styling but it means that rearward visibility is not as good as it should be.

A huge sunroof provides light to the front and rear cabins, opens halfway and comes with a hard cover. As it should for something that costs so much as an option. Similarly, you can get lovely oblong, chrome exhausts, but they’re also an option and quite an expensive one, too.

INTERIOR

Rolls-Royce Ghost umbrella

Any suggestion that the smallest Rolls-Royce is some kind of poor relation to the Phantom is scotched the moment you climb aboard. The cabin of the Ghost is very different from that of a Phantom – lower, cosier and less sedate – but you don’t need your feet to disappear far into the lambswool footmats (optional) to feel the quality. The piano black wood trim, dyed leather and chrome fittings are as good as they get.

The driving position is slightly raised – Rolls rather awkwardly calls it an ‘authority’ position – but the view out is not Range Rover-esque, as it is in the Phantom. The elegant black-on-white dials look too small to be read easily at a glance but they actually present no such problem, while the major switchgear is sited sensibly and as instinctively easy to use as the transformed BMW iDrive system upon which it is based.

The cabin is very different from that of a Phantom – lower, cosier and less sedate

It remains to be seen whether BMW-driving owners will be irked by being familiar with the action and operation of many of the Ghost’s various switches, knobs and buttons before they have so much as sat in it. Nothing apart from the sat-nav screen actually looks the same because Rolls-Royce has been sensible enough to reface all of the control surfaces.

Still, travel by Rolls-Royce has always been as much about riding as driving, and your passengers will find the Ghost a wondrous place from which to watch the world sweep by. Interestingly, although the exterior dimensions of the Ghost are considerably abbreviated compared with a Phantom’s, inside it offers very similar space. 

Unlike the Phantom, the Ghost will be largely owner-driven, but some will have chauffeurs and all will have passengers, so it’s disappointing to find that adjustable rear seats aren’t standard but another expensive option. The ability to recline the rear seat further will surely be appreciated by all.

As for standard equipment, it is split across three models - Ghost, Ghost Extended Wheelbase and Black Badge. The Ghost and the EWB come with 19in alloy wheels, carpet and floor mats, adaptive LED headlights, DVD player, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and walnut burr for the inside. The range-topping Black Badge comes with a little more included for its hefty price tag, including natural grain leather upholstery, ventilated and massaging seats, a 360-degree camera system, a starlight headlining and numerous safety technology. Inside there is a TV tuner, six DVD changer, a bespoke Rolls-Royce audio system, and a rear theatre set-up, coolbox and phone.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

6.5-litre V12 Rolls-Royce Ghost V12 engine

We struggle to be concerned by how fast the Rolls-Royce Ghost is. Yes it’s good pub-grade trivia to know that this mobile mansion is as quick to 60mph as an Aston Martin Rapide and barely a blink slower to 100mph than an Audi R8, but this is a Rolls, for goodness’ sake, and if ever a car was about the quality rather than the quantity of its performance, this is it.

In this regard, the news is broadly good. The engine is as smooth and cultured as its specification suggests, and thanks to its low-boost, high-compression configuration it is effectively devoid of lag. The bulging torque curve means that even if you only ever used half of the available revs, the Ghost’s performance would remain highly impressive almost all of the time.

There is a question mark over the way the gearbox software has been mapped

There is, however, a question mark over the way the gearbox software has been mapped to match the torque characteristics of this engine. In other cars, it has been rightly praised for its ability not only always to be in the right gear but also to allow the engine to do the work, rather than shuffling restlessly through its multitude of gears in search of a theoretically optimum ratio. And some of the time the Ghost does exactly that, allowing the car to ride its low-end torque, surging smoothly and seamlessly in a manner entirely befitting a Rolls.

But at other times it feels the need to take on a share of the burden itself and, particularly at low speeds, needlessly drop a gear or two. In anything other than a Rolls-Royce, this would perhaps be little more than a footnote, but in this regard, at least, the Ghost does not quite live up to the promise made by that Flying Lady on its prow.

RIDE & HANDLING

Rolls-Royce Ghost cornering

Drive the Rolls-Royce Ghost on the roads of mainland Europe or California and you might never twig the flaw in its chassis. On smooth surfaces it glides in the finest traditions of its marque. Even over undulations, the electronically controlled, air-sprung suspension – so sensitive that it can detect a rear-seat passenger swapping sides – maintains its ride height with admirable authority for one so inherently softly sprung.

But on the lumpy, bumpy, broken and degraded back roads of the UK, the story is somewhat different. Here, secondary isolation is less good than expected, a fault felt partly through a slight agitation in the seat but mainly via a high level of kickback through the wheel. The cause is not known, although if we were looking for a culprit we’d probably first point the finger at the very stiff sidewalls mandated by its run-flat tyres.

Rolls-Royce says this is the most driver-orientated car it has yet made

The suspension follows conventional thinking for such cars, with a double wishbone front end to allow optimal steering precision and a multi-link back axle to provide for both stable location and fine tuning. In handling terms, the Ghost manages its bulk well; the brakes are very strong and grip levels are more than enough for the car’s performance.

Rolls-Royce says this is the most driver-orientated car it has yet made, but it’s still some miles from feeling sporting, for which we can only be grateful. Our only concern here is the rather light steering, which feels slack around the straight-ahead in a very Germanic way before responding quite sharply off centre, making the car a little more difficult to place with grace than is necessary.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Rolls-Royce Ghost

The Rolls-Royce Ghost’s list price is only the starting point. When we last reviewed the Ghost, our test car came complete with nearly £29,000 worth of options – and there are 5 Series that cost that much. Then again, it doesn’t take much for the numbers to tot up.

We expect the Ghost to have very strong residual values, with initial demand likely to far outstrip what remains, by any normal standard, a very limited supply. Initial estimates suggest a Ghost will hold on to around 60 percent of its value after three years, a seriously impressive return.

As for running costs, the Ghost is bad but perhaps not quite as bad as you might think

As for running costs, the Ghost is bad but perhaps not quite as bad as you might think. Officially, at least, it uses less fuel than the normally aspirated and substantially less powerful Phantom, and overall we coaxed 18.5mpg from the Ghost – not too far from the 20.8mpg official average. The long wheelbase car's official figures are only marginally lower than the standard car's, so we'd expect broadly similar results.

However, what we would like to have seen is a tank capacity above its 82 litres; that’s fine for a 730d, but for a car such as this, something nearer the 100 litres you can pour into a Phantom would be more appropriate – you’ll struggle to get 300 miles out of a single tank in a Ghost.

Besides, progress in this car is not something that you’re going to want to interrupt. Sound sources from wind, road and engine have been all but banished, leaving a car that’s as refined as you’d expect a Rolls to be.

 

VERDICT

4 star Rolls-Royce Ghost

BMW messed up with Rover, but it got the hang of brand management with Mini and, with its second all-new Rolls-Royce, it appears to have mastered the art completely. No, the Ghost is not a flawless paragon, but it is unquestionably an exceptional luxury car.

Even its significant failings — the unexpected lumpiness of its ride on UK roads and its inability to distance itself entirely from its BMW underpinnings — cannot hope to dim, let alone extinguish, the light shining from its manifest talents. We’d like a bigger fuel tank, too, not because we’re critical of the car’s economy (what do you expect from a car such as this) but because you can’t go far enough between fills.

The Ghost is not a flawless paragon, but it is unquestionably an exceptional luxury car

We love its style, its sumptuousness and the attention to detail that one would expect from a Rolls-Royce. The interior is a very different experience to that in the Phantom, more driver-focused as the Ghost is likely to be driven more by its owners. Yet there is almost as much room in the back and it is no less grand than its bigger brother. Even the rear-hinged back doors are present and correct.

Unsurprisingly, it’s no Phantom, but instead the less grand, more intimate kind of Rolls-Royce it always needed to be.

Despite its issues, the Ghost delivers in full the promise made by its looks, an achievement whose magnitude can be judged by you just as well as by us.

 

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Rolls-Royce Ghost 2009-2020 First drives