It’s hard to fathom the fact Henry Royce and Charles Rolls formed Rolls-Royce more than 116 years ago in the UK, and doubly staggering when you consider the iconic automotive marque has been building some of the finest automobiles on the planet ever since.
Their first joint creation of a production-series car was the six-cylinder Silver Ghost, unveiled that same year. Within a short time was already being hailed as ‘The Best Car in the World’, a line borrowed from the company’s first advert.
“The six-cylinder Rolls-Royce – not one of the best, but the Best Car in the World,” it read.
The Ghost boasted cutting-edge technology of the day including pressurised engine lubrication, dual ignition, and advanced carburation providing flexible and uniquely smooth power delivery, along with whisper quiet operation which simply put it in a league of its own.
Not surprisingly, the original 1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost was sold by the Volkswagen Group in 2019 to an American car collector for a reputed US$75 million ($110.3 million), eclipsing the previous record of US$70 million for a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO.
That Rolls-Royce reputation for peerless quality and unmatched reliability continued largely unabated with models like the Phantom, Wraith, Dawn, Silver Cloud, Silver Shadow and Silver Spirit.
However, the brand’s halo started to fade in the late ’80s and early ’90s, before being revived in 1998 when BMW acquired the rights to the brand and launched the iconic Phantom V11 in 2003, which quickly earned its place as a must-have for the rich and famous. Rolls hasn’t looked back since.
For 2021, Rolls-Royce has left no stone unturned to create an entirely new Ghost in response to recommendations from thousands of its customers, who provided hundreds of pages of suggestions and requirements they felt was needed in a new model.
Clearly, management listened to owners of the previous Goodwood Ghost that joined the portfolio more than a decade ago, for there are just two components carried over from its predecessor – the Spirit of Ecstasy and the door-mounted umbrellas.
The rest of the car is brand new from the ground up.
It’s a bold move to mess with a car so comprehensively given its success, which saw it notch up enough sales to become the marque’s best-selling model ever.
According to Rolls-Royce customers wanted a less ostentatious Ghost, which is why the design team has cut away any excess body work, shut lines, and anything else that might interrupt the hand-welded superstructure and free-flowing bodywork.
Rolls-Royce has coined it ‘Post Opulence’ and is best summed up by CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos.
“It distils the pillars of our brand into a beautiful, minimalist, yet highly complex product that is perfectly in harmony with our Ghost clients’ needs and perfectly in tune with the times,” he said.
Not only are the shut lines reduced in new Ghost, the roof gutter was pared back to the bare minimum after specialists were sent to various continents to measure the size of rain drops to ensure it would still capture any size drop.
However, it’s not exactly subtle either. The hallmark Pantheon grille is illuminated at night, thanks to 20 LEDs hidden at the top of the vanes – which have been individually treated to reduce any mirror effect from reflection against the metal work. It’s optional but extraordinary.
It’s also a huge vehicle even in standard guise (there’s an extended version that’s 170mm longer again), stretching more than 5.5 metres in length (+89mm) and 1978mm wide (+30mm).
Despite BMW’s ownership of the brand, the new Ghost uses its own bespoke Rolls-Royce aluminium spaceframe dubbed, “The Architecture of Luxury” which also underpins the flagship Phantom and the brand’s first-ever SUV, the Cullinan.
The aluminium body itself is something to behold and demonstrates Ghost’s meticulous approach to build quality given it’s largely one piece from the A-pillar over the roof and down to the rear of the car, where it meets the tail light assemblies. It’s a nod to the one-piece coachwork of the Silver Dawn and Silver Cloud of the past.
That free-flowing form with an absence of shut lines requires four specialists to hand weld the body together simultaneously so as to not only ensure a perfect seam but to eliminate any loss of rigidity in the single piece. Only the aluminium doors are laser welded.
It’s no surprise the Ghost is also the most technically advanced Rolls-Royce ever, boasting all-wheel drive and all-wheel steer for the first time as well as a world-first Planar suspension system designed to “create a sense of flight on land”.
The trademark suicide doors now open and close with electric assistance and the interior vaunts some of the most exquisite materials and craftsmanship in the business.
The Starlight Headliner is back with shooting stars that rocket across the virtual constellation. It’s backed by another world-first innovation – an illuminated fascia with a Ghost nameplate and another 850 stars in the background. That alone is the result of an astonishing 10,000 collective hours of development and testing.
The engineering and obsession with detail is simply off the charts and quite clearly the principal reason Rolls-Royce customers are prepared to fork out a bank-busting amounts.
Priced from $628,000 before on-road costs, the 2021 Ghost is actually the least expensive Rolls-Royce. It sits under the Wraith coupe ($635,000) and the Dawn convertible ($710,000).
There’s a Ghost Extended version which is 170mm longer again, but local pricing is yet to be confirmed.
It’s also highly likely Ghost will concede its best-selling status to its SUV sibling, the Cullinan, which is priced from $659,000 plus on-roads.
Luxury rivals in the same class are few and far between, apart from the range-topping Mercedes-Benz S-Class known as the S650L Maybach for the relative bargain price of $445,235 before on-roads. It’s also powered by a twin-turbo V12 but in this case a 6.0-litre displacement making 463kW of power and 1000Nm of torque.
Closer to home is the range-topping Bentley Mulsanne Speed from $553,600 before on-roads and powered by a 6.75-litre twin-turbo V8 developing 395kW and 1100Nm.
Apart from the myriad technical and mechanical systems like self-levelling air suspension with Planar technology, all-wheel drive, all-wheel steer, self-drying braking, satellite-aided transmission, and electrically-assisted door opening to complement Ghost’s self-closing doors, there’s a host of other technology – not the least of which is the bespoke audio system.
Rather than go to the likes of Bang & Olufsen to design a customised Rolls-Royce sound system, it decided on a bespoke and holistic audio setup that effectively uses the body as a soundstage. For example, the Ghost incorporates a resonance chamber into the sill, transforming the entire car into a subwoofer.
There are 18 speakers and 18 channels delivering 1300W through high-precision magnesium speaker cones enabling minute changes in sound with unrivalled frequency response. Moreover, the entire starlight headliner doubles as a speaker. You could write a book on the sound system alone.
Other kit includes laser headlights that illuminate up to 600m ahead, vision assist with day/night wildlife and pedestrian warning, surround cameras, active cruise control, collision warning, lane-departure warning, and cross-traffic alerts.
Additionally, there’s a 7.0-inch high-resolution head-up display, Wi-Fi hotspot, self-parking, a widescreen infotainment display with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay, keyless entry, DAB radio, a garage opener, and basically every luxury feature you might imagine and then some.
Oddly enough, it’s all quite subtle and in the background. Then again, that’s what owners requested of the new Ghost.
The Ghost Extended adds ‘Immersive’ seating with an occasional third seat, Rear Theatre configuration, and picnic tables to its standard features inventory.
I’d hate to think of the cumulative cost of the 34 individual options on our Midnight Sapphire Ghost tester. To state the bleeding obvious, they wouldn’t be cheap.
Just to name a few, there’s 21-inch polished wheels, colour-keyed boot trim, commissioned collection umbrellas (hidden in the rear doors), a dynamic bespoke clock, and lambswool floor mats. No wonder they felt amazing under foot.
All up there were 34 individual options fitted to the car with more to choose from. Again, local pricing is yet to be announced.
Rolls-Royce does not crash test its vehicles due to the cost, so there’s no ANCAP or Euro NCAP safety rating.
However, the new Ghost is equipped with a suite of advanced safety systems including autonomous emergency braking with day/night wildlife and pedestrian warnings, surround cameras, adaptive cruise control, collision warning, lane-departure and lane-change assist, and cross-traffic warning apart from its standard all-wheel drive system.
One look and feel of the matching Midnight Sapphire lambswool floor mats and you’ll want to slip off your loafers and drive barefoot. This alone is unadulterated luxury at its finest, and that’s just the floor.
The whole cabin is a private chamber of vast proportions swathed in the world’s finest materials and exquisitely crafted – stitch by stitch, star by star.
Even the boot is lined by plush upright pile (too good for the mafia), and the metal monogramed fuel-filler cap is genuinely beautiful in its own right. Same goes for the clandestinely-housed Rolls-Royce umbrellas in the rear doors.
The leather-wrapped seats are beyond comfortable and should be homologated for armchair versions in high-end furniture stores – such is feeling when you’re wrapped up in them. Just for the record, each Ghost gets 338 individual leather panels and naturally they’re of the very highest quality.
The beautifully burled walnut veneers that once adorned each and every Roll-Royce (with spare matching sets held at the factory in Crewe) are long gone, replaced by more natural and soothing open-pore wood sets.
Forget about busy twin-stitch needle work, too. The Ghost uses a long clean contrasting colour stitch line instead. The round air vents and manual open/close push/pull knobs are real metal and a nod to the those used by Rolls-Royce forever.
I know, because despite my father driving fork lift trucks during the working week, he drove a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow on weekends. Long story.
Nothing in the Ghost appears overdone. Rather, it’s a totally serene experience with an uncluttered approach to switchgear across the main dashboard – though there are plenty of shortcut buttons below decks.
The large, leather-wrapped steering wheel is beautiful to the touch and yet another nod to the the brand’s boat-size tillers of the past, only this one discretely houses all the latest technology.
The only bling (if you can call it that) is the optional Starlight headliner and Illuminated Fascia with its 850 stars surrounding the faint glow or the Ghost ‘wordmark’. There are 152 LEDs mounted above and beneath the multiple-layered fascia, each of them colour-matched to the clock and dial lighting.
There’s a 2mm-thick light guide that ensures the wordmark is lit evenly, while a staggering 90,000 etched dots lining the surface for a star-like twinkle is on show from any angle. It’s hard not to be impressed.
There’s something charming about looking through the Rolls-Royce-badged steering wheel and seeing traditional instruments in the binnacle. Nevertheless, there’s a digital element to each of the three counters and a greenish glow that takes the appearance of the coatings on luxury watch faces.
As you might imagine passenger space is abundant in either row, while boot space measures 507 litres.
Previous owners asked for near-instant torque and whisper-quiet running from Ghost’s Rolls-Royce 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 engine, two things that don’t always complement each other.
Those requirements led to a bespoke engine map making 420kW of power and 850Nm of torque from just 1600rpm, sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed auto. Engine noise has been largely contained with larger porting for the air intake system.
Rolls-Royce owners manuals never used to quote the car’s 0-100km/h sprint time, instead listing it as simply ‘adequate’.
I’d argue the Ghost’s performance is a little more urgent than that description for at 2553kg heavy – the figure of 4.8 seconds from standstill to 100km/h is remarkable given the luxury is affords while doing so. Top speed is an electronically-governed 250km/h.
Rolls-Royce cites a fuel economy figure of 16.2L/100km combined on 95RON (though the Ghost can run on 91 RON), and as much as 27.2L/100km for urban consumption.
Our four-hour test route was higher again at 22.7L/100km combined thanks to some solid handling sections which we were able to exploit on the day.
Right from the get-go the Ghost feels incredibly regal. It’s almost surreal as you look down over that huge bonnet and the Spirit of Ecstasy that sits upon it. This is a car that has transcended ages, one that shouldn’t really exist in a world obsessed with reducing emissions and downsizing the daily drive.
There’s nothing like it, you really do feel like you’ve made it and now, everyone around you knows it too. But it’s odd, the vibe on the road is one of respect rather than the usual resentment by the punters. The Ghost glides along effortlessly, with its lightly-weighted steering requiring minimal input or lock.
There’s no problem hustling it along either if you’ve discovered the Low button on the right-hand instrument stalk, which takes performance from adequate to, dare I say it, purposeful.
It’s at this point the Ghost responds immediately when you punch it, and I’d previously have doubted anything so large could accelerate with such conviction and grace at the same time. You can’t always feel the turbos kick in, it’s mostly seamless and linear in its power delivery, but mid-range thrust will surprise even the cashed-up enthusiast.
Acoustic engineers may have successfully muted the big V12 at full cry, but there’s just enough that seeps through the firewall to satisfy.
It’s a more difficult task that you might imagine, too, when you consider the 100kg of soundproofing employed throughout the Ghost’s body. You don’t have to shout from the back seat – in fact low-talkers will thrive in this pampered environment.
Oh, and that Rolls-Royce obsession also led to the discovery of unacceptable wind noise inside the air-conditioning ducting, which was subsequently removed and polished to lessen said noise.
Even hustling Ghost through a few bends with relatively quick changes of direction the car feels balanced and more than up to the challenge. It’s no surprise to learn the V12 was pushed behind the front axle to achieve the perfect 50:50 weight distribution.
It also feels rigid despite living up to Rolls-Royce’s hallmark ‘Magic Carpet Ride’. It’s also got a world-first Upper Wishbone Damper Unit at work that sits above the front suspension assembly – a damper that damps the dampers, if you like.
Ride comfort is extraordinary over any surface – even in Low driving mode. Speed bumps appear like holograms: one moment they’re there and next they’re gone with almost no evidence of their existence.
It’s not just down to the special upper wishbone unit, it’s also the continuously variable, electronically-controlled shock absorbers and self-levelling air struts working in concert.
The Ghost goes a step further with its Planar software, which monitors the stereo camera system looking at the road ahead while adjusting the suspension before the car arrives rather than as a reaction to the surface’s topography.
Despite the absence of paddle-shifters, the transmission is GPS-assisted and preselects the optimum gear for the road ahead. It’s ingenious stuff that goes a long way to creating the smoothest possible ride.
Rolls-Royce offers a four-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty on new cars including Ghost and service intervals of 12 months or 15,000km.
I’m not a Rolls-Royce customer, but if I was I’d be hard-pressed to come up with any improvements I’d like to see in new Ghost.
It might have pared back the bling, at least on the surface, but this is a sophisticated car with the very latest in technology behind its more minimalistic skin.
I’d argue it’s still ‘The Best Car in the World’, all things considered.
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