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Driven: The All-New 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Releases You From Sorrow

There is no such a thing as a bad day to drive a Rolls-Royce.

LOS ANGELES—It didn't seem like a particularly good day to drive the all-new 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost. I'd recently received some bad news from a friend; not of the life-threatening or physical variety, but a bit depressing, regardless. I'd been assigned the 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost test-drive story because our ed-in-chief thought I could find a good, humorous angle, but nothing felt particularly funny today. I had already had a brief get-to-know-you test run in the Ghost the week before, and all I could think of was the flaws I found. But that's a flaw in me: When I'm down in the dumps, my first urge is to take it out on the car I'm driving.

The new Rolls-Royce Ghost seemed to sense my melancholy mood. It sat there, crouched down on its air suspension, seeming to brood on my behalf. Rolls set out to make the new Ghost a more subtle car than other Rolls-Royce models—less prominent grille, more normally proportioned headlights, smoother lines. While the Phantom stands tall, exuding defiance in its very stance, and the Cullinan SUV is just plain obnoxious, the Ghost is markedly more subdued. It's the Prince Harry of the Rolls-Royce lineup: It may be royalty, but it doesn't have to like it.

2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Test: Escaping the World

I pull on the front half of the massive Siamese door handles and am nearly blinded by the Arctic White leather, apparently chosen to match this Ghost's English White paint. The bluish-turquoise pinstripe hand-painted on its flanks is echoed sparingly in the interior trim. The floor mats are like an unmowed lawn—"shag carpet," I had said to the Rolls-Royce press rep the previous week; "Lambswool," she sternly corrected. But the upholstery exhibits none of the quilted-stitch excess of which Bentley is so fond (and which has now jumped the shark with its appearance in the new Nissan Sentra).

I ooze into the seats, reach for the door handle and can't find one. Oh, that's right—there's a switch on the center console, because when you spend $428,000 on a car, you don't have to close your own doors. It silently swings shut, and the sounds and smells of the world disappear. I look around at this white-leather-and-furry-floor-matted vault, and the first joke of the review materializes in my mind: Help, I'm trapped in Sammy Davis Jr. 's living room! Truth is, I feel more like I'm in an isolation chamber. Inside the 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost, I am numb, and that feeling—or, rather, the lack thereof—is most welcome.

I press the Start button and 563 horsepower's worth of V-12 springs into a fast idle. There is so much I should admire, and yet neither the open-pore wood nor the ornate clock nor the Starlight headliner with its random shooting stars can lift my spirits. The starscape above the glovebox takes six panes of glass and 90,000 etchings to make, or so I am told, something you'll inevitably read about in articles written by automotive writers not privileged enough to get one of these plus-sized beauties in their own driveway. But this hyper-lovely car is mine for the next 72hours, an opportunity few in my tax bracket will ever get. Why can't I get more excited?

2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Test: The Smoothest Thing You'll Ever Experience

The Ghost's thin shift-stalk pulls forward and down for Drive, just like an old Detroit land yacht, and I get about with the business of setting 5,500 pounds of German-engineered English finery into motion. The first thing that strikes me is how utterly massive the Ghost feels, despite its restrained-by-brand-standards size. Later that day I take a quick spin in a Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and it feels like driving the Ghost's change purse.

The next thing that strikes me is the smoothness. Everything about this car is smooth—even the animation of the digital gauges, which is so flawless that it's almost impossible to believe you aren't looking at real needles. There is only the slightest detectable vibration from the cold engine, and the transmission's shifts are almost imperceptible. Actually, they're weird, that's what they are, because you hear the engine cut power but you feel no interruption in thrust. How the hell does Rolls-Royce do that? And here I thought all that Harry Potter stuff was fiction.

The ride is not vibration free; quite the opposite, I can feel every bump, but it's as if the air suspension takes each one and wraps it in the finest silk before passing it onto the cabin. The 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost literally floats down the road, pitching gently up and down as if the road were the sea. You can hear the engine as you accelerate, but once you settle into a cruise, the Ghost is as silent as an electric car. The steering is one-finger-light and nearly feedback free. It's not entirely unlike driving a Buick Electra 225 from the 1970s, except the Ghost actually goes where you point it.

Among the Ghost's technical wizardry is a set of cameras that scans the road and adjusts the suspension accordingly. If you pay close attention, you can experience this system at work. I watch as two cars ahead bounce crazily over a dip in the pavement. I expect the same from the Ghost, but instead I can just barely detect a momentary stiffening of the suspension, just long enough for the car to absorb the jolt like an outfielder catching a pop fly. Clearly, the rich need not suffer the discomforts borne by those less fortunate.

2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Test: Watch Your Speedo, Because the Car Is Quick

Plan A was to head for the Sunset Strip. I always see a Rolls-Royce there, and I thought it would be fun for once to be the Rolls-Royce everyone else sees. But I'm just not in the mood, so I start ambling slowly in the general direction of downtown Los Angeles, my mind divided between the Ghost and my own troubles.

The Ghost's floaty demeanor seems to encourage slow rolling, but that's all a big façade, because the truth is that this is a riotously quick car. Creeping up to 25 past the speed limit is its idea of a practical joke. Much as I know I ought to, I just can't bring myself to floor the accelerator from a stop—it seems like such an un-Rolls-Roycey thing to do. When I finally get up the nerve, the Ghost lifts its mile-long hood to the sky and takes off like a muscle car with a muted V-12 roar. Should I have expected any less? If you take nothing else away from this test, remember this: Don't take on a new Ghost when the light turns green.

Instead of a tachometer, the Ghost has a "power reserve" meter, which points to 100 when the engine is idling and drops as you apply throttle. On the previous week's freeway drive, I tried to get the power reserve meter to zero. I slowed to truck-climbing-a-hill speed, then matted the pedal. I got it down to 5% before I lost my nerve. At that point I was at an 90 mph and climbing, and I doubted any officer of the law who saw fit to detain me for a brief discussion of the Rolls' velocity was likely to sympathize with my plight.

No such antics now as I waft through downtown L.A. 's streets, and the Ghost seems to bring a sense of order and calm to the chaos of a pandemic-stricken city. At stoplights, people crossing the road stop to stare. I can't bring myself to make eye contact. I am a pretender behind the wheel of this most privileged of rides, and I feel self-conscious. If I was actually wealthy enough to afford this car, would I be any more comfortable with something this ostentatious? Maybe this is why you're supposed to ride in the back while a professional chauffeur ferries you about town.

2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Test: At Its best—and Worst

I turn onto the 110 North toward Pasadena. Known as the Arroyo Seco Parkway, it's the oldest freeway in the west, predating Rolls-Royce's purchase of Bentley, and it's never been brought up to modern interstate standards. Here the new Ghost is both at its best and its worst. Best: It loves the 110's sharp curves, staying flat and level without compromising its floaty ride. Worst: It's so wide I can barely keep it centered in the narrow lanes. How the hell did people drive this freeway in the 1960s?

I cruise through Pasadena, then back onto the freeway, past my home in the San Fernando Valley for a run up to Malibu. My mood may be off, but I know a rare chance when I see it, and when else will I get to thrash a Rolls-Royce in the curves? Just as on the narrow 110, the Ghost is great in the broad sweepers, but on the narrower, curvier roads, it's totally inept—it's just too big, and the overboosted steering never feels like it loads up properly. The whole thing is like trying to picture Queen Elizabeth in flagrante delicto—some things just should not be allowed to happen.

On the way home, I once again skip the freeway and cruise through the suburbs. I turn up my tunes on the stereo, kick off my shoes and bury my toes in the lambswool floor mats, and the Ghost and I find our mutual groove. The yacht has enabled me to divorce myself from the world and exist in my own bubble, and I realize the over-the-top sorrow I'm feeling on behalf of someone else is largely my own subconscious misgivings about my own place in a world whose future is shrouded in fog. But this test drive has turned out alright, and you know what? The bigger things in life will probably turn out alright as well.

2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Test: Coming to Terms

I think of the pillow-soft '85 Oldsmobile I drove when my oldest son was an infant. When the kid couldn't sleep, a ride in the Olds always put him right out. Now, too, the 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost is having the same effect on me: relaxing, unburdening. I can't imagine anyone who can afford a Rolls-Royce Ghost has anything to worry about, but maybe their woes are worse. Maybe stress release, not mere transportation, is the Ghost's real job.

Yes, I've found flaws—the infuriating BMW-based infotainment system and its cliff-steep learning curve, and the fact that every time I bend my left knee, I hit the poorly placed seat-massager button.

But I've also found an oasis. The new 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost, with its soft ride, light steering, and infinite power, is the ultimate in vehicular isolation. In the evening, my wife and I recline the back seats and spend 15 minutes watching LED shooting stars dance on the Ghost's headliner. Every second spent in this erudite enclave is a second away from my troubles, and if that's not worth a third of a million dollars, I don't know what is. It wasn't a good day to test drive the 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost—but the Ghost sure made a bad day better.

2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Highlights

  • Second-generation Ghost is all new for 2021
  • Designed to be more restrained and technologically advanced than its predecessor
  • Standard 6.8-liter, turbocharged V-12 engine

2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Pros

  • Ride is uncannily smooth and quiet
  • Stunningly quick acceleration
  • Still ostentatious, but not as in-your-face as other Rolls models

2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Cons

  • Clumsy on tight, narrow, twisty roads
  • Some oddball switch placement
  • BMW-based infotainment system is difficult to learn
2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $332,500/$428,625 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 6.8L twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve V-12/563 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 627 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 12/19 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 218.3 x 84.6 x 61.9 in
WHEELBASE 129.7 in
WEIGHT 5,628 lb
0-60 MPH 4.6 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 155 mph