Rolls-Royce: In the Spirit

The 2011 Ghost is a hauntingly beautiful specter with which the editor had a brief—but satisfying—encounter. There’s nothing like a Rolls-Royce to make you believe…

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Like finding out that the lovely woman you’ve met can also play piano, the speed and performance of a Rolls-Royce is a nice plus—but it’s not the first question you ask when you walk across the room. Big, because it’s supposed to be big, but not the biggest of the brand, the 2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost achieves “stately” as well, meaning the design team is doing its job. Inside, all the expected exclamations apply: luxurious, refined, elegant, cutting edge, the model of modern motoring comfort… The same adjectives and phrases have been used to describe Rolls-Royce cars for more than 100 years, and that’s a good thing. The words are familiar and reassuring. As long as they’re on the page, all is right in the world of Rolls-Royce. And ultimately that’s the deal with an article Rolls-Royce: it’s not a review so much as it is a white-glove walkaround to reassure us all that the ship is, in fact, in shape. It’s not a “did they get it right?” evaluation because, quite frankly, that’s what the people at Rolls-Royce do.

If you’re only going to read this far, I’ll go ahead and tell you that yes, in 2011 Rolls-Royce is still building superlative automobiles. If you want one and you can afford it, get it. You won’t be disappointed. The engine in the 2011 Ghost is fantastic, the ride is sublime, the handling (if you’re going to be driving yourself) is better than it has a right to be, and the rear seats (if you’re not) are a grand place to spend some quality time. Fittingly, the new Ghost offers the odd pleasant surprise as well—and that, too, is something you expect from a Rolls-Royce.

Looks

Let’s start with the looks. It’s amazing that though the designs are constantly updated you still know a Rolls-Royce the second you see it, and the Ghost is no exception. Remove the Spirit of Ecstasy from the hood or see the car only in silhouette and you’d still recognize the brand. The key, according to the company, is maintaining proportion. “Simplicity is the hardest design principle to follow,” the website reads. Absolutely true. For the Ghost, that simplicity meant strict adherence to classic lines during design: a 2:1 ratio of the height of the wheels to the height of the body; a long wheelbase and bonnet; a short overhang at the front and long overhang at the rear; and so on. Exterior designer Andreas Thurner said, “Its powerful presence leaves no doubt that it’s cut from the same cloth as the rest of the marque—exactly what we set out to achieve.”

Touches of the modern can be found in the headlamp fixtures and in the large amounts of glass in the roof, both handled in ways that look positively forward-thinking to our eyes, not just contemporary. It’s smoother than you might expect as well, with long arcs reaching from tip to tail—or “from stem to stern,” as one observer noted during our drive. No question about it, this is a big car: nearly 18 feet long, more than six feet wide and just a hair over five feet tall—making the Ghost slightly larger than the passenger cabin of the Cessna Citation Encore business jet, which comfortably seats seven. That said, the Ghost is smaller (and more understated) than its sibling Phantom.

Interior

“Plush” isn’t the right word, because the Ghost’s interior isn’t mushy soft. But “firm” doesn’t work either, because there’s nothing hard-edged or rigid about the Ghost—except its integrity. Instead, seating and accoutrements are simply “quality.” The interior looks inviting in the same way the sofa in the Oval Office might seem a nice place to sit. No question it’s the best seat in the house but is it really ok if I sit down—I am wearing jeans, you know? In fact, there’s no reason to worry. Entering the Ghost through one of the impressive doors (note the in-door umbrella on the driver’s side) is as effortless as stepping into first class on a trans-oceanic flight—and as lovely. Leather and wood, of course, with every possible kind of adjustment possible. Heated seats, cooled seats, seats that electronically move and shift to accommodate any passenger (and that goes for the rear seats as well)… The hand-stitched leatherwork takes more than two weeks to complete per Ghost and requires nine hides from the same batch, ensuring consistency throughout. Blenheim wool carpets underfoot and a cashmere-blend roof lining overhead—seriously? Is it possible to be uncomfortable in the Ghost? Only if it’s not yours and you have jam on your hands. Even then, the flip-down tray tables for rear passengers offer plenty of room to eat lunch, write a report or rest your drink as you watch a movie on the in-flight—sorry, make that “on-the-road”—entertainment system.

Tech

The electronics in the Ghost are great, and utilize a centrally located interface that gives you control over every vehicle system. You can even raise and lower the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament (a seemingly seamless cover slides into place when she’s hiding). The navigation system is great as well, and here we have to pause to give Rolls-Royce some additional credit. For some reason, numerous luxury brands skip through this basic feature and offer navigation systems that are rudimentary, difficult to negotiate and often lackluster compared to factory standard systems on vehicles costing much, much less. The navigation system on the Ghost is one of the best we’ve tried, with highly detailed maps that are quick to load and update and a screen that’s easy to read in any light.

Well done. We mentioned the odd surprise or two, and it’s in the tech department that we found ours. The Ghost has a Head Up Display, as Rolls-Royce calls it, that projects a wealth of information (though not cluttered) in a transparent illuminated format on the windshield in front of you, just below your line of sight. This allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road while checking their speed or following navigation system directions. A special coating on the inside of the windshield ensures the H.U.D. is sharp and clear at all times.

There’s an Active Cruise Control system that makes driving in heavy traffic a bit easier, keeping the Ghost at a predetermined distance from the vehicle in front. A bevy of cameras assist with backing up and parking, and a Lane Departure Warning system helps keep things straight on long journeys. But while all of these are impressive, we were absolutely floored by another bit of RR tech: A Night Vision System. During the day the system remains hidden behind a veneered panel, but as darkness falls a discreet infrared camera in the grill activates. It has the ability to detect the body heat of pedestrians up to nearly 1,000 feet away, and displays an active thermal image on the Control Center Display with the touch of a button, giving you a real-time view of the night-time world.

No kidding: We parked the Ghost for a while one night and just stared at the screen.

Performance

Lift the epic hood to reveal an engine that, while it’s an absolute beast, looks composed and refined in typical Rolls-Royce fashion. In addition to being understated in appearance, the engine is quiet. Really quiet, all the way up to the governed top speed of 155mph. If it weren’t for the “V12” badge hung like a military medal on the top, you could be looking at anything—but of course you’re not. You’re looking at a 6.6-litre 48-valve 12-cylinder twin turbo Rolls-Royce engine that offers 563hp and 575 lb/ft of torque—80 percent of which is available from idle. The 8-speed automatic transmission moves through gears like wine from a decanter, helping the 5,445-pound Ghost (curb weight) reach 60mph in 4.9 seconds with nary a flutter in your lady’s feathered hat. Through the large windows you’ll see the world moving by very, very quickly, but you won’t feel a thing. Don’t ask me how they did that.

Handling, as I mentioned before, is better than good and even confidence-inspiring thanks to the company’s Dynamic Stability Control and Active Roll Stabilisation systems. The latter is particularly good, as we can attest after pushing the weighty Ghost through turns and lane changes in such a way that, were we employed by the rear-seat passenger, we most certainly would have been fired. If you’re being chased through a dramatically lit urban environment by a team of international super agents in black SUVs and on motorcycles, you’ll have no trouble escaping. Likewise, a leisurely drive through the country will deliver everything Miss Daisy would hope for. Stopping is impressive as well, courtesy of large, ventilated disc brakes, though Rolls-Royce owners shouldn’t often find need for abrupt halts.

Finally

Whether you’re driving yourself or letting someone else have the fun up front, the Ghost is an excellent Rolls-Royce. It has the Spirit of Ecstasy, the coach doors, a fantastic ride, the company’s latest tech and all the luxury, performance and personal touches you could want from a car that’s built to order.

erhaps the most straightforward expression of the marque, the Ghost is another worthy member of the Rolls-Royce family, both inspiring and reassuring us that, yes, it’s still business as usual at Rolls-Royce—a place where “usual” means exceptional.

Find out more at rolls-roycemotorcars.com

Rolls-Royce 2011 Ghost
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