Mountain Wheels: Rolls-Royce’s magnificent Ghost in the machine
September 14, 2012
Let us hope that when your ship does come in and you are whisked away into an automotive dreamland of spectacular proportions, it is the experience you’ve always hoped.
I got a small taste of that this week with a bit of long-awaited time behind the wheel of a real, honest-to-goodness Rolls-Royce. And yes, it wasn’t unpleasant at all.
While the Rolls-Royce family does indeed offer just a few model options, the more opulent being the $400,000-and-up Phantom, 2009 brought the introduction of a slightly more attainable, yet more powerful automobile, the Ghost.
At a starting and not-yet-fully customized price of $256,650, the “junior” Rolls is no slouch – and for a price tag equivalent to a nice Keystone condo, the level of cocooned automotive luxury does, happily, live up to the digits.
Some 212 inches of hand-built perfection, the Ghost rides on an electronic air suspension system and is powered by a twin-turbo 6.6-liter V12 that puts out an imposing 563 horsepower.
There’s 5,445 pounds of car in the regular wheelbase edition and, as a result, that thrust comes on with a tad of well-timed anticipation – kind of like the lag as the reporter in Kabul responds to a question. Nonetheless, the car will hit 60 in under five seconds and can be elegantly motored up to 155 mph.
That cradling and sensory depriving mixture of softness and smoothness does belie the Ghost’s tremendous power, and while you won’t see them competing in rally events, the littler Rolls is quite remarkable in its poise and prowess.
It is, indeed, a magnificent piece of automotive art. Ostentatious, of course, but it backs that up in droves. And it’s not just the discount edition for all those nouveau-riche first-tier NBA signees or one-gold-record rappers: The Ghost imparts all of the hand-finished, finely designed and bemusingly retro-futuristic blend of the gigantic Phantom, just with a little more finesse and clarity. Yes, the rear doors still open forward, and now can be opened and closed with the push of a button – and the umbrellas are still spring-loaded inside the front doors, like rockets.
It’s a toss-up as to whether the tall front seat or the rear is the throne of choice. Both are bathed in the sighing softness of eight hides’ worth of leather, and the details – hand-polished wood veneer, sterling silver pipe-organ vent controls and violin key switches – remain as they did back in the days of the Great Gatsby.
Up front, it’s elegant but simple, with just a few clues of the modern implements adapted from Rolls’ current parent, BMW: 1940s scripting on the instruments but also on the head-up display, an electronic parking brake and pushbutton starter, and a widescreen navigation display that can be optionally outfitted with a night-vision camera. The shifter? A tiny, perfect fondue fork with BMW’s befuddling new electronic pattern, somewhat counter-intuitive. Rolls’ traditional thin-gauge steering wheel is light to the touch.
Out on the road, Ghost’s general moves are, deliciously, as if encased in some sort of beautiful fog of softness. There’s nary a sound outside, and you have to floor it pretty meanly to get an engine bark; all is softness and light, despite the serious numbers. Brakes are subtle but sure, the gear changes imperceptible through an eight-speed transmission, and cornering flat and smooth. Unbelievable.
But the bulk of the Rolls focus is in the back, and that’s where you’ll find comfort like you’ve never experienced in an automobile. Fold-down video screens and veneer tray tables make it more like a private jet than a private car, and in one particular build, the massively comfortable rear seats are split by a console with electronic controls to further inform and, if so chosen, isolate.
Are the Ghost’s chiseled looks a tad alienating? Perhaps. In the same way that Range Rover and Jaguar have become futuristically boxy, the Ghost is indeed a tremendously modernized take on the most historic brand still plying the roads.