After a long flight, it’s always a good idea to let the jet lag ease a bit before jumping into the pricey car that doesn’t belong to you, in the foreign country where the roads are scary narrow and the steering wheel is on the wrong side.
I gave it a night, settling into The Fish House, a cozy Chichester pub and inn nestled in England’s lush West Sussex downs. It was a welcome retreat from the elements on a rainy winter day. By the next morning, the rain had miraculously blown off. The early morning sky was hazy with the ghost of a crescent moon lingering in the bright blue sky. The roads were still damp, but the somberness of leafless trees faded in the brilliance of emerald fields and roadside grasses, making it look much more like spring than deep December.
It was perfect for a long drive in the newest Rolls-Royce, the Ghost.
“Ghost” is a hallowed name in the 105 storied years that Rolls-Royce has existed. The 1907 Silver Ghost was, in fact, the first R-R with a name. It was actually the publicity model of the new six-cylinder 40/50 HP, painted silver and evocatively nicknamed “Silver Ghost” by the firm’s managing director, Claude Johnson, in deference to its exceptionally composed demeanor. This Ghost was also the car for which the phrase “Best Car in the World” was first coined, either by The Autocar or by Rolls-Royce itself, which raised the banner “Best Six-Cylinder Car in the World” over it at the 1907 British motor show.
With the Phantom line fully realized in the past three years by the additions of the elegant Coupé and the positively theatrical Drophead Coupé, there was no question that a smaller Rolls-Royce would be next on the drawing board of chief designer Ian Cameron and the team that mostly came with him from BMW.
How to shrink a Rolls and maintain its presence? The task sent the design team into three months of seclusion in the dining room of a country inn down the road from the factory and headquarters, on the Earl of March’s Goodwood estate. They met so many times at West Stoke House that the proprietor, former London adman Rowland Leach, just gave it over to the designers. “We were socked away in here for January, February, and March,” says Cameron, clearly relishing the memory of that intimacy. “From breakfast through supper.”
“They burned the midnight oil,” recalled innkeeper Leach. “Actually, they burned the curtains! One designer became a father here.” Presumably not in the dining room, although a great work was made there.
“We were always intending to build a somewhat smaller, more agile car,” explained Tom Purves, the wildly successful former head of BMW North America and current Rolls-Royce CEO, excused from mandatory retirement just to see this project through. Small is a relative term at Rolls-Royce. The Ghost sedan (it sounds so ordinary) still packs a load at 5445 pounds. The exterior may be 17.4 inches shorter overall, 1.7 inches narrower, and 3.5 inches shorter in height than the 5622-pound regular-wheelbase Phantom, but the Ghost is still half a foot longer and 1.8 inches wider than a BMW 760Li, from which about twenty percent of the Ghost’s components are derived, including its V-12 engine block. More on that fire-breather in a moment.
Without the Phantom for visual comparison, a normal person will quickly adjust to the Rolls-Royce cues embodied in this less-sculpted yet sleeker Ghost. The chrome-faced prow is more three-dimensional, beautifully flushed into the Ghost’s sheetmetal (the hood and the windshield frame are aluminum), but it’s still an imposing whack of shine leading the charge, topped as always with the flying lady.
The Ghost’s silhouette – with requisite formal suicide doors – shows a racier windshield rake. The paint – which takes seven days to apply, hand-sand, and hand-polish – is so deep and lustrous that you could count the freckles in your reflected image. Virtually every control in the cabin – from traditional organ stops and violin-key switches to air vents and door handles – is of such heavy chrome that you will forever snort at cheap imitations. The cabin showcases wood veneers from a single tree and eight supple, hand-stitched hides of bulls raised in barbed-wire-free pastures. You will be encouraged by the juxtaposition of the quaint analog clock and the art-deco instruments with modernities such as iDrive and its large menu screen – reminders that parent company BMW is overseeing operations. Not to mention space-age technologies like a night-vision camera, a head-up display, lane-departure warning, high-beam assist, active cruise control, active brake intervention (for hill descent), and a curve-speed limiter working in concert with the Ghost’s stability control system.
The luster and the pride of workmanship extend under the hood, where the most powerful engine – a direct-injected, forty-eight-valve, twin-turbocharged twelve-cylinder – ever found nestled within a Rolls is topped by a large chrome V-12 badge on a shining bed of black paint.
Enough lurid prose. Add it up: smallest modern Rolls-Royce, most powerful engine ever, BMW overlords. Hang onto your hat, brother. You are most definitely going for a ride. Once you press that big silver start/stop button, position the thin column-mounted shift stalk in Drive, and hit the gas with gusto, it will be some time before you notice much else of your surroundings. You have 563 hp to work with, but what you feel when you strike from a stop, with a solid right foot, is 575 lb-ft of torque available in its entirety at 1500 rpm. It will take your breath away. With that kind of power at your command – beautifully managed by an eight-speed ZF transmission with a towering 4.72:1 first gear – you will instantly notice how great the steering wheel feels in your hands and how precisely it responds to your command. R-R is claiming a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.7 seconds for the Ghost, which is staggering when you realize that you’re hurtling down the road in a nearly three-ton rocket. Top speed is restricted to 155 mph. As you would imagine, big old ventilated disc brakes ably haul the Ghost to a stop with no drama.
The next surprise is the Ghost’s absolute lack of body roll in turns and its sublime composure over lumpy pavement, a level of suspension refinement (control-arm front and multilink rear, with air springs and variable-rate dampers) that far exceeds the usual Rolls “waftability” measure. It’s a bit disconcerting to be shooting along these punishingly narrow English roads, peering out over the bulwark of overpolished wood and leather. It helps that the seat sits just high enough to afford a clear view of the lorry that’s about to knock off your side mirror. (He’s twice as big and going even faster, you think to yourself. He’s probably not jet-lagged, yourself adds.)
Make no mistake, the Ghost is a sports car. A four-door, chauffeur’s version of a sports car, but a sports car all the same. “Naught to sixty in 4.7 seconds is disturbing,” says R-R public affairs boss Richard Carter with furrowed brow as he dabs napkin to lips at lunch. “We don’t want to be known as sporty. But . . . there you have it.”
Oh, do get on with your bad British self.
“We are in the business of probably trebling what we are already doing,” says Purves. “We have 1600 seriously intending customers, much stronger than we intended sixteen months ago. Eighty percent of these people have never been in a Rolls-Royce before. Many of them never even thought of a Rolls-Royce before. They are coming from Ferrari, from the Mercedes S-Class, and from Bentley. People dream of owning a Rolls.”
At $247,000 (gas-guzzler tax yet to be determined), the Ghost makes that dream much more attainable.
Design Analysis: 2010 Rolls-Royce Ghost
– Robert Cumberford
It’s not easy to design a Rolls-Royce. Tradition absolutely must be respected, yet some distinct changes to show “newness” should be incorporated. The Ghost’s designers have done an adequate job of reconciling these requirements while introducing one truly radical innovation: the grille is not a rigid, vertical chrome Parthenon anymore. That’s good. The side treatment, while a variation of that on BMW’s first R-R, the Phantom sedan, is entirely too reminiscent of the Opel Insignia. I find the interior insufficiently traditional, so this is not quite the result I hoped for in a “popular” Rolls. Give it 9.2 out of 10.
1 A far cry from the much-admired British razor-edge styling of yore, the highly rounded roof actually seems a little puffy.
2 This character crease is entirely too common these days, adding little to the overall composition while losing linearity.
3 Leaning, curved grille, completely inset and flush with the surface, is a radical change but works very nicely.
4 Which cannot be said of this slab of chrome between the radiator opening and the huge air intake below.
5 The headlamp cluster is perfectly proportioned with the grille and greatly improves upon the pig-eye look of the Phantom.
6 Taillights seem just a touch too small for the car, but they were no doubt chosen to emphasize the volume of the body.
7 Sporty exhaust tips are beautifully shaped and integrated but do seem incongruous and somehow inappropriate on a Rolls-Royce.
8 Traditional round chrome air vents provide highly desirable continuity with a glorious past.
9 As do these haphazardly placed speaker grilles, a nice return to the casual ergonomics of classic British interior design.
10 This is just plain wrong. The wood follows forms more suitable to plastic moldings, although no one doubts that it is genuine timber.
2010 Rolls-Royce Ghost
base price $247,000
engine 48-valve DOHC twin-turbocharged V-12
displacement 6.6 liters (402 cu in)
horsepower 563 hp @ 5250 rpm
torque 575 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
transmission type 8-speed automatic
steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
suspension, front Control arms, air springs
Suspension, Rear Multilink, air springs
brakes Vented discs, ABS
tires Goodyear EfficientGrip RunOnFlat
tire size 255/50YR-19
L x W x H 212.6 x 76.7 x 61.0 in
wheelbase 129.7 in
track f/r 63.9/65.4 in
weight 5445 lb
FUEL mileage 13/19 mpg (est.)
0-60 mph 4.7 sec*
TOP SPEED 155 mph (governed)*