Ultra-luxury brand Rolls-Royce has updated its "entry level" model with the release of the Ghost Series II. Targeted at a younger, entrepreneurial market, and more of a driver's car than a chauffeur's, the new Ghost gets a subtle facelift, an upgraded interior and a more affordable price tag, even if you're still talking the kind of dollars that would get you a nice bit of real estate. Technology-wise, the Ghost receives a number of updates, including headlights that automatically adjust so your high beams don't dazzle oncoming drivers, and a GPS-aided transmission that reads the road ahead and pre-selects the best gear for an upcoming hill or corner. Gizmag spoke to Sven Ritter, General Manager of Asia Pacific, about the new car, the brand's record setting sales run and the reasons why only high-altitude bulls get to donate their leather to a Rolls-Royce interior.
We'll leave others to comment on the updated Ghost II design; its newly elevated hood gives it a more muscular and powerful stance than the Series I, but the difference is understated. You're still looking at the same, gigantic V12 twin turbo engine, the same coach-style back doors and the same "who's in there?" presence on the road.
Further thought has also gone into the interior, with redesigned seats that now include extendable thigh supports, as well as in-built heating and cooling for the discerning derriere. The rear seats are now slightly closer together, and angled intimately toward one another so occupants can look each other in the eye as they finalize bajillion-dollar deals.
The seat leather is stunning in its own right – and not by accident either, according to General Manager of Asia Pacific Sven Ritter: "When you come to Rolls-Royce in Goodwood in the UK, we have a huge leather shop. We source our own leather, we make our own seats. It's part of the craftsmanship we're really proud of. The leather is sourced from Northern Europe, where we have a special supplier who keeps their bulls above a certain height, I think it's 1000 meters, because there's no mosquitoes, or barbed wire fences up there, so the chances of damage to the leather is a lot less. The quality is sensational."
The massively powerful 12-cylinder engine delivers a refined ride; massive strength and immediate acceleration at all times, but without a raw or sporty feel: "We say in Rolls-Royce, it's a completely effortless experience," says Ritter. "Yes you have amazing power with a V12 twin turbo engine, 6.6 liter, 563 brake horsepower, 780 Newton-meter torque from 1500 rpm onwards. So you have power available all the time, and just effortless. You don't really hear much of the engine unless you really floor it. It's a magic carpet ride, especially with the Series II's updated suspension. It's as if you float over the road."
Aiding that effortless feel is a new GPS-aided transmission feature previously only seen on the "sportier" Wraith that reads the road ahead and selects gears before you know you need them. "Basically through GPS, it knows what corner or hill is coming up," says Ritter, "and it preselects the right gear to guide you through the corner in the most effortless way. You notice it more on B-roads, cornering roads, rather than around town."
Likewise the new headlights, whose daytime running lights make them one of the most obvious visual highlights of the makeover. They feature new technology designed to relieve the driver of the tiresome responsibility of dipping one's headlights to oncoming traffic. The adaptive LED high beams can spot oncoming traffic, and dim just the section of the high beam that would blind an oncoming car; you can leave the brights on at all times without dazzling other road users.
From the driver's seat, the dash is mirrored up onto a reflected heads-up display on the window, that also includes navigation and phone control information to keep the driver's eye from having to wander down toward the 10.25-inch high-definition screen in the dash. That screen's where you'll find your multimedia controls, navigation system, infra-red night vision and heat cameras, top-down parking assist and onboard wi-fi controls, among other things.
Rather than smudge the screen with fingerprints by using a touch interface, the Ghost II features a "Spirit of Ecstasy" rotary touch pad control in the center console. Without lifting an arm, you can cycle through and choose options using the rotary control, press it down like a button, or use it as a touchpad to scroll, pinch to zoom and manipulate, or navigate through the system's many options. You can even trace a letter onto the top of the dial, which the car will recognize if you're going through an alphabetical list.
Voice control is expanded as well, the press release hilariously suggesting "call Giles" as a sample command. What happened to Jeeves?
Music and other audio is delivered through a new sound system designed specifically for the Ghost Series II. "It's an 18-speaker bespoke sound system," Ritter tells us, "which we developed with in-house engineers and also specialist engineers from the audio industry. We didn't take a system off the shelf, we created a Rolls-Royce system. It's a fantastic system. It's the best you can have."
While you can "absolutely" walk into a store and drive away with a showroom Roller, Ritter feels you'd be missing out on an essential part of the Rolls-Royce experience if you did. "Globally more than 95 percent of Rolls Royces sold have some kind of bespoke feature, whether it's coachline, or leather, monograms, color schemes … We can create a new color finish if a customer gives us his wife's favorite nail varnish."
He points out a wall full of leather samples, which includes a lurid creamy pink that Ritter has seen implemented in at least two bespoke Rollers. It prompts me to ask whether there are limits of taste involved – is there a point at which Rolls-Royce would refuse to build something? "We can look at every option and see if it's feasible," Ritter smiles, "It's up to the customer's imagination. Most of the requests, we would fulfill."
The car is full of gorgeous touches that make it a pleasure to ride in, from the touchless trunk that opens with a swing of the foot, to the doors, which gently but firmly close themselves once they're close enough. There's a touch button to close the rear doors so you can do so without leaning forward to grab a handle like some sort of animal, and the rearward opening coach doors do make for a lovely and dignified way to step in and out of the car. "It comes down to effortless entry and exit," says Ritter, "It's also to give more privacy. You step out, and you're hidden by the door. You can adjust your clothing while standing up before you leave the car." Presumably before the photographers have a chance to snap you.
In Australia, the price of the Ghost II has been slashed by some AU$90,000 so that you can now buy your first Roller for less than the Melbourne median house price. But it still starts at AU$545,000 on the road, and that's before you start specifying lime green leather or recycled teak wood inlay.
Despite the fact that 2014 is shaping up to be Rolls-Royce's fifth record-setting sales year in a row, and growth has been at least double-digits in every market around the globe, there's no mistaking that this is an incredibly exclusive vehicle. Only 3,630 Rollers were sold in total last year, and the brand will never be interested in mass manufacture.
So this is likely to be your correspondent's first and last chance to take a seat in one – note how I've tastefully hidden my bug-crusted motorcycle boots in behind the front seat. Decorum, folks, this is how one does it. Onward, Jeeves, lay a gumboot into it old chap!