Rolls-Royce’s new Ghost is for those buyers who want something more along the lines of a regular automobile than the one-car coronation parade that is the ultra-luxury automaker’s flagship Phantom sedan.
First of all, the Ghost is smaller. It’s only 18 feet compared to the Phantom’s 22.5 feet. And it’s less expensive. The Ghost costs a little more than $300,0000 compared to $450,000 for the Phantom.
With even more understated body lines than the outgoing model, designers took pains to make the new Ghost less ostentatious and more relaxed.
Even so, it’s undeniably a Rolls-Royce. One passerby in an upscale Hudson Valley neighborhood remarked “They always look the same.” That’s not true, but I could see his point. At a glance, the immediate impression is, definitely, “Rolls-Royce.”
The Ghost’s grille is differently proportioned and it doesn’t stand up like a tombstone from the nose of the car like classic Rolls-Royce grilles. The front slopes down rather than dropping off like a cliff face. Also, the “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament — that famous woman in a loose robe leaning hard into the wind — no longer stands in a chrome base. She comes up directly out of the painted hood. But the proportion and shape of the grille and the overall proportions of the car, not to mention its sheer size — just an inch shorter than a Chevrolet Suburban — alert everyone that a Rolls-Royce is on the road.
Inside, designers also toned things down, though there are some special touches. A black dashboard panel in front of the passenger seat lights up with dots of “starlight” as the car turns on. (I’m not sure all the work to create that effect was ultimately worth it. Some people thought it was dust.) The ceiling has Rolls-Royce’s famous starlight headliner speckled with dots of light from the tips of thousands of fiber optic cables. To maintain a lifelike effect, the cables are of varying thicknesses and some even twinkle.
For the new Ghost, Rolls-Royce has added shooting stars to its night sky, an effect achieved with lines of closely spaced fiber tips that light up in sequence. It’s the sort of detail that, if not carried off impeccably, could look tacky — there’s a fine but important line between magic and a $100 an hour prom limo. The starlight headliner, in particular, provides an engrossing and relaxing effect for those who take the time to look up.
All four of the Ghost’s doors can open and shut themselves with button presses. Each has a button in the outside door handle and others inside the car. Rolls-Royce still insists on having “suicide doors” in the back, which open from their front ends rather than from the back.
Two-door Rolls-Royce models have only these types of doors. This supposedly makes entries and exits more graceful but, while backward-opening doors were fine back when car doors were small and light, they’re awkward with a modern Rolls-Royce’s big vault-like doors. Without a chauffeur to handle those doors, the buttons are a practical necessity for back seat occupants. Ultimately, I found the fancy doors more of an annoyance.
Once inside, though, the Ghost drives as a Rolls-Royce should: calm, isolated but utterly controlled. Rolls-Royces are some of my favorite cars to drive despite the fact they are not, in any ordinary way, exciting. I’m always fascinated by the way in which a car like the Ghost can be so quiet and smooth and yet, even with its considerable size, it doesn’t bound over bumps or lean unpleasantly in turns.
There is ample communication through the steering wheel even as bumps and road ripples are absorbed. (A system that uses cameras to analyze the road surface inches ahead of the front wheels probably helps with that.) The brakes, unfortunately, don’t communicate quite as well and I did, a few times, find myself having to make a big last-moment press to get the Ghost to stop just where I wanted.
The massive 563-horsepower V12 engine under the Ghost’s long hood pulls strongly and quietly. The idea is this car has enough power that it need never feel strained. One of my favorite Rolls-Royce quirks is that, instead of a tachometer that shows how fast the engine is running in RPM, there’s a “Power Reserve” gauge that shows, in percentage, how much more pull you could get out of that engine should you need to. And most of the time it’s plenty. It’s like the car is telling just exactly how unbothered it is.
The Ghost is also quiet inside but the occasional bump and thump still gets through. Rolls-Royce claims it could have made this car even quieter and made it ride even more smoothly but, at some point, the isolation inside a moving vehicle became too much. Occupants found it weird and even uncomfortable. So, some of the ordinary sounds and sensations of driving had to be allowed back in.
Rolls-Royce did not want the Ghost to be spooky, after all.