My first impression of the Rolls-Royce Ghost was crushing disappointment.
Having patiently — attentively even — bit my lip and listened as its charming PR handler, Emily, talked me through what felt like every single button, knob and lever in the Ghost’s sumptuous cabin, I was giddy as a school girl at the prospect of finally experiencing it for myself.
Finally, I found myself at the helm of this most imposing of cars. Smiling at the prospect of the weekend ahead with this thing, and half-remembering something Emily had said about the keyless entry and ignition system, I nonchalantly pressed the starter button to fire up the 6.6 litre, twin-turbo 12 cylinder engine and awaken its 563 horses.
I pressed again. Still nothing. Perhaps a bit less than nothing that second time.
Once more. Not a thing — though some tumbleweed may have blown across the H.R. Owen garage floor.
British craftsmanship? Bah! It’s all very well spending seven days painting and polishing the body, using only hides sourced from bulls raised in pastures free of barbed wire, hand-stitching the entirety of the interior and having dashboard veneer specialists select natural burrs and grains for their intricacy and interest, I thought, but if you can’t wire the damn ignition to the engine properly, what’s the point?
There was a knock on the window. I lowered it.
“Is everything alright?” enquired Emily.
“Bloody thing won’t start,” I barked back.
“The engine’s been running since you first got in,” said Emily helpfully.
“Oh… right… of course. Good. Excellent. Carry on,” I stuttered, hurrying to close the window, slide the Ghost into gear and get away as swiftly as I could.
And as I powered, red-faced, out of the Berkeley Street showroom into Piccadilly, I reflected on how easily I had stumbled into that most tired of automotive clichés: a Rolls-Royce is “so quiet you won’t know the engine’s running.”
But it’s not just noise from which the Ghost insulates you. Vibrations, smells, even light are all masterfully filtered if not completely eliminated.
Alan Sheppard, the Ghost’s interior designer, says the car “is designed to be an escape from the outside world.” While I suspect he was talking about its cosseting cabin, he may as well have been talking about the work his colleague Helmut Riedl, the engineering director, oversaw too.
The Ghost, the marketing blurb tells you, “rides on a bed of air.” I see what they mean. The double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension work with an intelligent, four-cornered, air-suspension system and electronic variable damping to deliver quite staggering levels of refinement. I’m told that the air suspension system is so sensitive that it can detect even the smallest of changes. For example, it will sense the movement of a single rear passenger from one side of the seat to the other and compensate accordingly. The suspension is informed by multiple inputs from sensors around the car (the dampers alone make individual load calculations every 2.5 milliseconds) that were more than a match for our rotund managing editor rolling around in the rear seat as I attacked corners with a might too much enthusiasm.
The result of all this cleverness is that you feel utterly insulated — and thus detached — from what’s going on outside. Driving a Ghost doesn’t really feel like driving at all — not in the way that you or I are used to doing it at any rate. It’s the most relaxed I think I’ve even been in a car. The Ghost just point-blank refuses to bother you with such trivialities as engine noise, steering feedback or road surface vibration. Simply point it in the general direction of your destination and it will do the rest. Whether this is a good thing or not largely depends on which seat you’re occupying but more on that later.
For now, let’s return to Piccadilly where I had begun to survey the cabin in more detail.
However impressive the engineering, it’s the interior of a Rolls-Royce that somehow is always going to be its defining aspect. And the Ghost’s interior is nothing short of wondrous. While the deep-pile carpet pampers your feet the textures of the materials — the leather, the veneer, the chrome — delight your fingers. And only when you’ve taken all of that in do you start noticing the many little details that lift this car from the ordinary to the sublime. The chrome eyeball air vents, the Spirit of Ecstasy that retreats into the bonnet when you lock the car, the gyroscope in the centre of the wheels that keep the brand’s logo facing upright as you move and the Teflon-coated umbrellas hidden in the front doors all tickled my fancy.
The following morning — before setting off on a day trip that would see me motor 400 miles around the South East of England without a hint of fatigue or discomfort — I had an opportunity to properly examine the exterior of the Ghost.
Launched in September 2009, it’s the Phantom’s baby sister. Smaller, less imposing, deliberately more modern and yet still unmistakably a Rolls, the Ghost pretty much nails the modern aristocracy look. It’s handsome.
As I admired its high shoulder line, surprisingly low-cut roof and purposeful stance, I began to feel almost regal at the thought of being its guardian for a few days. It was then that a member of the proletariat engaged me in conversation.
“Lavly motor, that is,” said the dustman. “Absolutely lavly. But I wouldn’t park it out ‘ere in the street if I were you.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry,” I replied. “It’s not mine.”
Yours or not, as long as you’re in its company, the Ghost can’t help but make you feel special. Of course, you might think that was a given in a car that will set you back the best part of £200,000. What I found more impressive is how it has the beguiling power to make others feel special too. The dustman was the first of many to compliment the Ghost, to smile or merely to let me out of junctions. Drive a Ferrari or a Lamborghini in Britain and I wager you’ll inevitably attract some less positive reactions. We British have an unappealing habit of frowning on those who dare to enjoy their success. No such problem in the Ghost. From the King’s Road in London to an industrial park in Norwich, via sleepy villages in West Sussex, we encountered nothing but admiring glances everywhere we went.
For all its traditional craftsmanship, the Ghost is a thoroughly modern car. I loved the convenience of keyless entry that unlocks the doors when the key fob is within 1.5 metres and the door handle is grasped. The cameras located around the car were a wonderful help too: rear, front side and top view cameras combine to give a fish-eye view at blind junctions and provide ground images with obstacle recognition and reverse path prediction when parking. The Ghost even has a night vision camera — practically the stuff of science fiction. It detects objects up to 300 metres away and displays them on the central screen in the dash. All very cool stuff.
So, let’s recap shall we? The Ghost offers a glorious interior, sensational engineering and a feel-good factor that is second to none. We should all be queuing up, cheque book in hand, right? Not so fast. If — like most customers I suspect — this is going to be just one of many cars you keep in your stable and you’re looking for something to relax in, you probably can’t go far wrong with a Ghost (although I would urge you to go the whole hog and pick up a Phantom), but if you’re buying it to use on a more regular — even daily — basis, if you’re going to be behind the wheel yourself, you need to think more carefully.
In many ways, Rolls-Royce is the black sheep brand in H.R. Owen’s portfolio. The London-based car retailer has been in business eight decades. One of the keys to its enduring success is its focus on serving true driving enthusiasts. A cursory glance at the brands it carries confirms this: Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Pagini. There are all marques that aim to raise the pulse of petrol-heads. Then there’s Rolls-Royce, the company that has produced in the Ghost the most powerful car it has ever built, one that can accelerate from 0–60 mph in 4.7 seconds (that’s impressive in any car; in two and a half tons of metal, wood and cow hide, it’s nothing short of sensational). Yet its own press pack is careful to qualify these facts by saying that its power “is delivered in a very different manner to other cars. It arrives in an elegant, cosseting way that some have described as being designed to lower the pulse, not raise it.” The Rolls — very deliberately — avoids thrilling its driver.
When it was time to return the Ghost, my wife was genuinely distraught. Like anyone who had been a passenger during our time with the car, she completely and utterly adored it. A month later, my five year old boy still asks me almost daily when we’re going to go in the Wolls-Woyce again. Had I been confined to the rear seat, I have no doubt I would have been just as enamoured. It’s a truly unique experience in luxury motoring. From behind the wheel though, the Ghost is so devilishly brilliant at insulating you from the road that, if you still have even a vague interest left in the art and pleasure of driving, there are inevitably going to be other cars higher up your shopping list.
When I’m old(er) and grey(er) and care not one jot about the childish thrills to be had on a journey but simply about arriving in enormous style, comfort and with a peerless sense of occasion, I’ll happily sell Prodigal Towers, buy a Ghost and live in it ‘till my dying day. Until then, if I were shopping at H.R. Owen for a family car, I’d have to opt for an Aston Martin Rapide I think.
The Ghost, together with the rest of the Rolls-Royce range, is available from: H.R. Owen, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars London, 15 Berkeley Square, London W1J 6EG, Tel +44 333 240 8124
More information is available from the Rolls-Royce website.
Originally published at www.theprodigalguide.com on April 24, 2013.