The umbrellas in the doors, and the Spirit of Ecstasy on the bonnet - those are the only things in common between the latest version of the Rolls-Royce Ghost, and the old one. It doesn’t get much more ‘all-new’ than this - although it doesn’t look dissimilar from the car that Rolls launched back in 2009, the land yacht has been reinvented on a new architecture that replaces the ageing BMW 7-series used previously.
But away from some of the extraordinary facts about the car you might have read when the car was first revealed, what’s it actually like to drive and - crucially for a car like this - ride in? We spent a day with one to find out.
I get moderate tinitus, something I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring. In any case, most of the time the buzzing is drowned out by the general hubbub of the world. But not in a Rolls-Royce Ghost.
At low speeds, there’s an almost eerie absence of sound. The engine is barely perceptible, and the road noise is extremely difficult to make out (although tyre roar does become much more prevalent when you push to 60mph and beyond thanks to fat 21-inch tyres). For most people this will be very pleasant. As for me, I had to put the sound system on almost immediately.
Thankfully it’s a good one - it’s a bespoke Rolls system (no Bang & Olufson/Burmester/Naim etc here), which uses exciter speakers bonded to the ceiling to turn the roof into one big speaker. The sills, meanwhile, get a ‘resonance chamber’, meaning that the car is one giant subwoofer.
As for how the Ghost is able to keep so quiet, there’s no one trick - there are a variety of factors at play. Firstly there’s the new Phantom-derived platform, which uses “complex forms, rather than flat, resonant surfaces”. There’s a composite damping layer stuffed between the double-skinned bulkhead and floor sections, and double-glazed windows. In total, the Ghost has 100kg of sound proofing materials on board, about 30kg less than a Phantom.
It was found to be so quiet during development, that the difference in air pressure between the boot and the cabin was causing a noise which occupants could pick up. To combat this, there are different diameter channels between the two areas of the car, neutralising the pressure difference. Cripes.
It did seem odd for Rolls-Royce to bang on about the ‘post-opulent’ design of the Ghost in the press release, and a few sentences later to extoll the virtues of the car’s illuminated grille. But in the metal, it’s easy to get what the British company is on about. It bucks the modern car design trend of angry lines and creases, while looking softer and cuddlier than the Phantom.
The bigger of the two Rolls saloons has always felt like a showy display of wealth, or as the company itself more diplomatically puts it, “a statement”. The Ghost, while quite obviously not a mid-spec Audi A6, doesn’t have that feel about it. You can biff about in it without feeling like - for both good and bad reasons - all eyes are on you.
And about that light-up grille - Rolls had to sandblast the back of the vanes to make them less reflective…
Even though the 6.75-litre (also borrowed from the Phantom) has two and a half tonnes of Rolls to punt along, its 563bhp and 627lb ft outputs are more than enough to give a rapid increase in speed every time you bury the long-travel throttle pedal. The softly-sprung Ghost squats at the rear, with the bonnet gently rising as you’re whisked along with speed and grace.
I’d expected the V12 to be silent all of the time, and while you can barely hear it most of the time, it does give out a surprising amount of pleasant 12-pot hum when under full load and at higher revs. At what particular engine speeds I can’t tell you - as is now the Rolls way, there’s a ‘power reserve’ dial instead of a rev counter. Classy or naff? You decide.
Refreshingly, there’s no sport mode to liven up the engine or stiffen the chassis. There is, though, a ‘low’ button on the gear selector stalk, which makes the slick eight-speed automatic gearbox hold onto cogs a little longer. This does work nicely, although it does introduce the occasional clunky shift.
In the suspension department, the Ghost gets air springs all around, and the latest version of the Rolls’ system that prepares the setup as best as possible using sensors reading the road ahead and GPS data. All very clever, but the most interesting part is mechanical.
It’s called a ‘mass damper’. There’s one U-shaped metal piece mounted to each of the upper front double wishbones, and they feature small rubber cones which hit the wishbones as you go over bumps, helping absorb more minor impacts.
It’s hard to know the effectiveness of each element of the Ghost’s suspension system, but what we do know is it all works together to give a silky-smooth, rarely unsettled ride unrivalled by anything apart from… well, a Rolls-Royce Phantom, probably.
The low-speed ride is the most impressive element - it seems to simply glide over pretty much every imperfection no matter how major. It’s not entirely infallible - you do get the occasional shudder through the cabin, although the only reason you notice is that it’s so damn smooth the rest of the time.
Since the launch of the new Phantom, the Ghost has felt like something of a poor relation. This was most obvious inside. The cabin wasn’t bad, but it didn’t quite meet the high expectations associated with the winged lady poking out the bonnet.
Now, though, we’ve few complaints about the interior. The quality has been stepped up a notch, the materials are all first-rate, the thick lambswool carpet will give you a weird urge to lay your face in it, and although the BMW origins of much of the tech can’t be hidden entirely, it all works well. It’s in the attention to detail where the Ghost really triumphs - the best example I can think of is the volume dial (yes, really), which you just know someone clever has spent hours honing so it’s damped just right with every turn.
It’s not all perfect, though. Sitting in the back - where a lot of Ghost owners will spend a considerable amount of time - you’ll find parts like the flap for the fridge and the lid on the armrest are flimsy and a little clunky to use. The electric curtains are great, meanwhile, but they sit oddly next to the cheap little blind elements that are clipped into the quarter windows.
We’re nitpicking, of course, but that’s allowed when you’re looking at a £250,000 car - it needs to justify the huge premium over a more conventional luxo-barge like a Mercedes S-Class.
The reasonably busy test route we were given didn’t give the best environment to properly assess what the Ghost like at the hoony twisty stuff, but you don’t have to be cornering too fast to learn that it isn’t as up for those shenanigans as the Bentley Flying Spur. With its relatively slow steering, soft throttle and the way it wafts around wherever it goes, it simply isn’t a car that eggs you on.
Should you go for it anyway, the Ghost shows a decent level of competency. Yes, it rolls quite a bit, but it doesn’t turn into an understeering mess the moment you start to press on. Rear-wheel steering helps the car feel a lot smaller and lighter than it really is, while the new all-wheel drive system ensures neither the chassis nor the traction control system is overwhelmed by all the torque from that V12.
It might not be as exciting to drive as the surprise super saloon bruiser that is the Bentley Flying Spur, that’s not really relevant. Its focus is on ultimate comfort and refinement, areas where the Ghost is hands-down better than the Spur.
It justifies itself over the usual full-size luxury options from the German Big Three and then some, through the ridiculous attention to detail that’s gone into its development and its incredible ride. There is a feeling of the Ghost being sandbagged in some areas so as not to make the Phantom look pointless, but this has been done without giving the baby Rolls an air of inferiority to it.
It slots underneath neatly, providing all the luxury car you could ever need, in a less brash and expensive package. The thinking-persons Rolls-Royce? It’s the closest thing to that which exists, we’d say.