It offers hedonistic pleasures on the one hand and driving comfort and even fuel economy on the other. Shapur Kotwal on his haunting trip in the Rolls Royce Ghost
As early as 1907, owners and engineers of Rolls Royce pushed back the boundaries of refinement, luxury, performance and technology with the stupendous Silver Ghost. Rolls Royce was widely acknowledged as the world's best car maker. But then, the crown passed. With time, better engineered cars, possessing greater technical sophistication were launched. Now Rolls, it seems, wants the crown back.
Enter the new Ghost, Rolls' new super-luxury car that offers Phantom limo-like comfort, indulgence and hedonistic pleasures on the one hand, but truly modern technology, performance, driving pleasure and even fuel economy and controlled CO2 output on the other. Designer Ian Cameron has carried over details from the Phantom, such as the strong shoulder line, that ‘cliff' of a bonnet and those distinctive horizontal headlights that are countersunk into the body. Of course, the famous Rolls-Royce ‘Parthenon' grille is there too, but it's a more modern and less upright version. ‘Less upright' is also the overall silhouette of the Ghost, especially in comparison to the Phantom. The windscreen is as steeply raked as any modern saloon and the roofline drops to the boot in a shallow dive, meeting the sweeping shoulderline gracefully near the tail. In profile it looks spectacular, especially when the car sweeps past you, led by that flying damsel perched on the nose.
Time to climb in. Tug at the huge bar of chrome that moonlights as a door handle and the rear carriage door swings open. The door is narrower than I expect, but the manner in which it is hinged (at the rear) allows me an elegant entry. Once inside, the door electrically shuts, it's very clear that this is not nearly as wide as the Phantom. The rear seatback, however, is like an old-fashioned lounge sofa and curves around to meet the rear door and the seat itself is glorious. You are seated high with an over-abundance of thigh support, good back and elbow support and as much legroom as you need. A quick look around the cabin quickly confirms two things: Rolls has got the understated but opulent equation spot-on and the surroundings have that rare ability to leave you in a sense of speechless joy.
Once on the move, there is an overriding impression of serenity and calm. A hush descends on the cabin as soon as the doors are shut and you are very aware that you are being whisked forward rapidly. From the rear seat the bi-turbo V12 simply does not exist, there is almost no squat at the rear nor any dive of the nose, and the rocking sensation you get from other luxury cars at speed just isn't there. The Ghost smoothens ripples in the road, and it's so silent you think the suspension is made of pure rubber. To achieve all this, the Ghost uses special low-friction rubber sleeves on its air suspension, its adaptive CDC2e dampers from ZF Sachs reacts every 2.5 milliseconds and the active anti-roll bars, both front and rear, are decoupled when the car is travelling in a straight line — this reduces head toss.
Climb into the driver's seat and the cabin feels instantly familiar. Again, the design language is all Phantom — acres of wood, big chrome vents, chromed-over speakers and even beautifully-chromed buttons on the traditionally thin leather-rimmed Rolls steering wheel. And, the quality levels are just what you would expect, save for a few seemingly unimportant bits — cupholders or the doorpad bottoms — that sadly puncture the feeling of perfection that this car otherwise displays.
In the past, Rolls-Royce left outright performance to Bentley. But with ownership being split between BMW and VW, things have changed. Under the long hood reside 563 well-drilled dressage horses. The twin-turbo direct-injection V12 motor is based on a BMW unit, like many bits of the chassis, but it has new pistons and a new crank; designed to deliver that most Rolls-like quality, effortless waftability. During normal driving, Rolls' reverse tachometer of sorts never so much as budges from showing an 80 per cent power reserve, and the performance has an air of lazy effortlessness to it. Part of this is down to the fact that the engine and eight-speed transmission work as a single unit. There's no dull ‘thunk' from the transmission tunnel when you select ‘drive', it's near-impossible to count all the gear changes, and you always find the right gear. Then there's that light but direct Rolls steering, the serene ride quality, and once you get up to cruising speed, it's like momentum has taken over the job of propulsion. This motor makes its peak torque of a huge 79.4kgm at just 1500rpm; no wonder it feels effortless.
Hold the pedal down a bit more and this car quickly turns from limo into executive jet. Even though it weighs 2.4 tonnes, zero to 100kph takes an unreal 4.7 seconds. There's not even a muted rasp or snarl from the motor, just an elevated whirring of the V12 as the Ghost leaps off the line like it's been shot out of a catapult. Here is genuine hardcore performance and total limousine calm in the same package; for once, no compromise.
Of course, you'd expect this façade of performance to wither and die as you approach a set of corners. It's progressive and feels under control, thanks in no small part to the active anti-roll bars and the fast-acting dampers.
And, though the steering is initially quite light, it is very direct and positive, and weights up superbly with the essential amount of information filtering back through your palms. A little bit of BMW in the Rolls-Royce mix. It helps place the car with pinpoint accuracy and delivers bags of confidence to the driver, making for a uniquely relaxed but very strong driving experience.
As things stand, the Ghost is well-suited to Indian conditions. The suspension can be raised for challenging driveways at the touch of a button, it can run on our fuel and, at Rs. 2.5 crore, is even decent value for our high society. It's also a car that has the potential to wrest the ‘Best car in the world' crown back. Here's a car that has it all and does it all. So be quick if you want one, the numbers are limited.