Colin Hubbard encounters a Ghost: When you turn the key in a modern Rolls Royce the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ elegantly glides out of the top of the vertically staked highly polished grill. Spirit of Ecstasy is Rolls’ mascot dating back to 1911 and roughly translates to heart and soul with overpowering emotion – quite a bold claim for a motor car. Is this BMW owned Rolls Royce Ghost worthy of such a claim? I’m about to sample one to see if it has the power and drama to woo and to wow me.
The Ghost was first released in 2010 and the Series II was launched in 2014. The latest model features minor facelifts both inside and out along with some mechanical changes, the highlight being satellite aided transmission. The engine is a modified version of the motor found in a BMW 760i but instead of ‘just’ 6 litres of twin turbo power the ‘must be bigger and better’ Rolls gets 6.6 litres of twin turbo power. Specifically it has been tuned for low down torque with 575 lb/ft torque being available from just 1,500rpm along with a healthy 563bhp at higher revs. Sound promising so far?
This first BMW shared item is the biggest element of the 20% shared components where the English maker has benefited from the German makers mega-investment budget for drivetrain refinement and reliability, which can reap huge benefits to a fairly small output car maker.The body is big and bold, relying on slabs of chrome around the windows, door handles, front grille and above the rear number plate to break up the smooth, subtly contoured bodywork.
The wheels are 21inch in diameter which is telling of how grand the body is as they are swallowed up with ease. As with all modern Rolls Royce’s the RR logo in the wheel centre always remains upright which is a subtle but very clever trick.
The test car’s colour is bespoke and called Deep Garnet. It has an incredible depth and sparkly shine in today’s sun which unfortunately doesn’t come through on the photos. The centre of the bonnet and windscreen surround are finished in Satin Silver, gently tapering from the grille backwards, which provide an air of ambience to the front end.
Only when do you get in do you get to experience the Ghost’s pièce de résistance which is the rear hinged coach doors (also called suicide door in less posh circles) and look absolutely fantastic when both front and rear doors are open. These also provide some symmetry to the body with the large chrome handles being adjacent to each other.
All doors close with an automatic soft close mechanism so you just pull roughly to the point of closing and they automatically glide in providing a smooth break from the outside noise. The front doors house the now trademark Rolls Royce umbrellas, popping out at the touch of a button.
On the inside is where the Rolls reveals its world class coach-built quality with a cabin fit for a King. The fit and finish will shame pretty much every brand on the road. There is a fine blend of 21st Century integrated modern gadgetry courtesy of BMW along with ostentatious British craftsmanship reflected in the sheer quality of leather, stitching, carpets and various timber related products.
The ‘Crème Light’ leather with ‘Navy Blue’ accents on parts of the door trim, dash top and centre console work rather classily with the ‘Crossbanded Paldao veneer’ and lambswool overmats. The detail of the wood seen in the veneer is sheer beauty and something only the Brits can achieve to this standard.
Space is at a premium both front and back but favoured to the rear as seen in the external shape with a rear biased cabin. In the back there’s masses of head, elbow and leg room; there is an extended wheelbase version offering an additional seven inches of cabin space but it feels unnecessary having experienced the standard wheelbase car.
A lounge seat set up in the rear enables three to be seated across although there is an option to have two individual seats but these could be less sociable as the current set up allows for two to turn toward each other to talk. There are heater and cooling controls with various vents not just from the centre console and with picnic tables and DVD monitors it is a lovely pampering place to be.
Up front and on the right is the seat where the actual owners will sit though as this Ghost is aimed squarely at younger buyers who want to drive rather than be driven. The much larger and heavier Phantom may be a turn off for very wealthy thirty something’s who don’t want to drive Simon Cowell’s motor, so the Ghost was created as a sleeker, less menacing proposition to the Phantom.
So far so good, an exquisite cabin and sufficient grunt to power a locomotive; so how does near two and a half tonnes of gentleman’s palace handle itself? To find out today’s test route is not in Kensington or Mayfair but the rather unfitting Hill Circuit at Millbrook Proving Ground. Hardly the natural habitat for a Rolls Royce but today that’s where I’m heading.
When the engine starts up it is eerily silent and the body rises 25mm to the drive position from default park position where it lowers itself to aid entry. The driving position is commanding to say the least with an elevated view across the satin silver bonnet with the Spirit of Ecstasy clearly visible in pride of place at the leading edge. The seat feels large and comfortable with a little lateral support which cushions rather than grabs your hip and thighs.
Satin silver immediately springs to mind as a good choice as the sun is shining like there’s no ozone layer today and a gloss finish could end up glaring the driver. The power picks up very smoothly and very quietly relying on the immediate low down torque to provide almost a cushion to propel the car with. The ride is smooth but there is some pliancy feeding through the seat base and steering wheel. This isn’t the magic carpet ride I had expected.
There is a definitely a sporting edge to the set up. I feel that without the standard fit Run Flats (a bad BMW influence) this could be eliminated and provide the best of both worlds at the touch of a button. On the roads leading to the Hill Circuit I give the throttle a good prod and it picked up speed with verve, the 0 to 60 time of 4.7 seconds becoming instantly believable with the V12 hardly breaking a sweat.
Rolls Royce’s don’t use anything as vulgar as a rev counter, instead available performance is registered on a power meter in the location other ‘mere’ cars show a rev counter. The way it performs isn’t shouty like an AMG Merc or Supercharged Jaguar, instead just a low down rumble delivering big power at low to medium revs with the turbos seemingly dampening the engine tone like they have done in F1. In F1 the noise quelling turbo saddened fans but in this application it is entirely fitting as it provides smoother quieter power which is how a Rolls should be – restrained.
As the Hill Course throws up ever tightening bends with fairly severe gradients the Ghost takes them in its stride with only a touch of understeer, yes there is a fair degree of body roll as there is only so much pain an airbag can take but their main aim is occupant comfort rather than out and out handling.
It does feel like a big and heavy car out here as that is exactly what it is, felt especially when on the brakes during a particularly fast downhill section prior to a corner but they coped with my aggressive touch. The Ghost’s natural habitat is on the road but it is good to know it can cope quite handily in these gruelling conditions which it did admirably.
The transmission features a brilliant 8 speed ZF automatic box, something which I have much praise for after a week in a similarly equipped 5 Series. In conjunction with the ZF box the Ghost features a system call satellite-guided transmission which is lifted from the Wraith. In conjunction with the GPS this looks at where you’ve been, where you’re heading and adjusts the gear changes accordingly so in anticipation of a gradient or corner the car changes down a gear or two ready for the use of higher revs.
I couldn’t really tell the difference on track as I was using the lower gears for optimum acceleration but it may have been doing its magic without me knowing it. I imagine the main benefit is for smooth comfort rather than out and out performance.
The Ghost has proven to be the sportier of the Rolls Royce saloons, not quite sporty enough to rival Mercedes or BMW’s hottest variants but this car is not aimed at Transporter wannabes, instead at the younger buyer who wants to enjoy themselves a little more yet still benefit from the heritage of the English manufacturer.
Is the BMW interaction a bad thing? Yes, it can be seen in places like the cupholders with integrated slot for the key at the base of the console but it also harmonises 21st Century technology, reliability and performance with traditional English craftsmanship. To fully appreciate the Rolls Royce Ghost it needs to be sat in, smelt, felt, then lastly driven. It has that unique je ne sais quoi that only British craftsmen and craftswomen can provide whilst the Germans have provided the reliability and power to make it a world class car. It is another wonderful Rolls Royce motor car.
Positives – Luxury motoring doesn’t get much better.
Negatives – Low speed ride could be more cosseting, it’s not a Phantom.
List Price – £220,019
Engine – 6.6 litre V12 twin turbo
Transmission – 8 speed ZF auto
Drive – rear wheel drive
0-60mph – 4.7 seconds
Top speed – 155mph (limited)
Power – 563 bhp
Torque – 575 lb ft (at just 1,500rpm)
Economy – 20.2 mpg (combined)
CO2 – 327 g/km
Kerb weight – 2360kg