Up close with the "post-opulent" new Rolls-Royce Ghost
Ostentatious displays of wealth have always been a bit distasteful, but they're becoming considerably more so in recent years as the gaping chasm between the uber-rich and the rest of us has broadened and deepened. And that was before the pandemic, in which so many folk have lost their jobs and businesses.
Rolls-Royce hasn't stuck around for 114 years without learning to read which way the wind's blowing, so its decision for the third-generation Ghost to pull its head in a bit, go all "post-opulent" and "whisper" rather than "shout" is probably a well-timed one.
Mind you, it's still a Rolls-Royce. And Rolls-Royce, as we all know, is kind of the Rolls-Royce of car companies. The new Ghost might have fewer raised platforms and shutlines along its tastefully pearlescent hood and a slightly more subdued exterior, but it's still got the lady with the wing things bending over on the front, and any thoughts of "post-opulence" tend to fade away a bit when you pull open the coach-style doors and step into a cabin whose roof has hundreds of twinkling stars in it.
Every eight seconds, there's a shooting star that darts across the ceiling from one point to another. These seem perfectly tuned such that they always happen exactly where I'm not looking; I sat there trying to catch one for a whole minute, and every single one happened in the periphery of my vision, the cheeky mongrels.
What's more, this entire star-lit ceiling functions as one of the 18 speakers for the Ghost's 1,300-W car stereo, driven by "exciters" that vibrate it and other resonance chambers built into the door sills. The car's structure acts as a subwoofer for its own stereo, which sounds absolutely amazing. Who makes the stereo? Rolls-Royce, in-house, because that's what you do when you're maniacally focused on your customer experience.
Still the "entry level" of the Rolls-Royce range despite a purchase price well into real estate territory, the new Ghost rocks a suitably enormous and untroubled 6.75-liter twin-turbo V12, tuned for 563 horsepower and offering a meaty 850 Nm (627 lb-ft) of torque from 1,600 rpm upwards. It still looks to me like something a world leader swans about in the back seat of, but Rolls steers customers toward the Ghost if they're the type that likes to roll up the old French cuffs and lay a heavy Christian Louboutin into the accelerator pedal from time to time.
Spirited drivers and fussy passengers alike will appreciate the new "planar" suspension system – planar, in that Rolls says it takes any undulating, lumpy, pot-holed piece of road and flattens it into a billiard table for you. The new bit here is a secondary set of "upper wishbone dampers" that somehow dampen the dampers themselves, however that's supposed to work.
But as with previous Rollers the car is constantly planning ahead. For starters, the GPS-enabled navigation system reads the road ahead, and pre-sets both the suspension and the gearbox for upcoming turns, hills and whatnot. Then there's a battery of stereo cameras and sensors on the front creating a depth map of the road surface at all times. If you're traveling at 100 km/h (62 mph) or less, it's got time to prepare the front and rear self-leveling air suspension actively for what's about to happen.
Between all that, if you should somehow manage to experience a bump and spill your bubbly in the back seat (there's an optional champagne cooler back there that can be set either to 6 or 11 °C (42.8 to 51.8 ° F), depending on what vintage you're drinking) you can probably fire off a sternly worded letter and have an engineer shot.
This car was presumably in development when Shanghai was blanketed with lung-burning smog, and it has launched into the COVID era with an air quality monitor and purification system that lets fresh air in if it really is fresh, and shuts it out when it's not, switching instead to recirculated air run through a "nanofleece" filter. This filter can allegedly clear nearly all ultra-fine particles out of the car's "micro-environment" – but it takes nearly two minutes, so until Rolls-Royce develops further predictive systems, perhaps driven by seat cushion microphones or torso tilt sensors, it'll do little to save you from your grinning brother's flatus.
There's bidirectional rear-wheel steering that counter-steers at slow speeds to give this buttoned-down land yacht a tighter turning circle, and then co-steers at highway speeds to make your lane changes ever so slightly smoother. There's auto parking, there's active, intelligent LED/laser headlights, there's active cruise and driver assist warnings and there's Wi-Fi and heads-up displays – there are even umbrellas holstered in the doors.
There's no attempt at full autonomous operation; Rollers have effectively been fully autonomous cars for more than a hundred years. You just need to hire a driver. And until Teslas learn to dodge paparazzi, pick up one's children from their polo matches and discreetly remove undergarments from rear seats, those drivers' jobs will not be threatened.
For all its allegedly minimalistic post-opulence and entry-leveldom, this is still a benchmark luxury car with a base price of US$332,500. Very few people will buy one at that price; it would be crass going to Saville Row and buying a suit off the rack, and the extensive bespokification process is part of the ownership experience. Just about every color, wood and texture in and around the car can be whatever you want it to be – the company told us at the last Ghost's launch in 2014 that it won't presume to judge you on taste no matter what grotesque color schemes you request – and if you have the nice salesperson tick enough boxes you'll easily find yourself on the other side of half a million.
Jolly good then, toodle-pip.
Product page: Rolls Royce Ghost