When we look back on the late era of the internal combustion engine, the new Rolls-Royce Ghost may well prove to be the last sedan powered by a V-12 without hybrid assistance. This is a distinction that might be celebrated noisily, but 220 pounds of expertly applied sound-deadening material has other ideas. This is a car that never shouts and rarely does much more than whisper. It seemingly requires wide-open throttle to produce any evidence of internal combustion, and even then the V-12 merely issues a distant but purposeful hum of the sort you'd hear on the bridge of a luxury yacht a few seconds after moving the engine order telegraph to full ahead. Many brands will struggle to maintain their identities in the age of electrification, but for Rolls-Royce it will be a liberation from the small amount of disruption its engines still cause.
Much about the new Ghost is familiar, for the simple reason that the first version became the brand's best-selling model of all time over a decade-long run. The new car is slightly bigger and considerably cleverer but looks very similar from the outside. Exterior styling is cleaner and less fussy, Rolls reckoning it has identified what it terms a "post opulent" trend among the sharp-end one percenters who make up its clientele. But although more visually modest than the full-baller Phantom, the 218.3-inch, 5700-pound Ghost is never going to be short on presence, especially now that its rear-hinged second-row doors have gained power operation for opening as well as closing. It also gets the option of an illuminated radiator grille.
Beneath the surface, all has changed. The first Ghost sat on the same underpinnings as the F01 BMW 7-series, but this one is based on the modular Rolls-only Architecture of Luxury platform that underpins both Phantom and Cullinan. Like its SUV sibling, the new Ghost gets both all-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering, with its 6.7-liter twin-turbo V-12 making the same output of 563 horsepower.
Yes, it will hustle. Those Ghost buyers who will drive the car themselves—a clear majority in the United States—will be able to enjoy the surprising accelerative forces it is capable of generating. While never unseemly enough to chirp its tires, the Ghost will launch hard with the nose-up attitude common to the powerful but softly sprung. We didn't confirm the claimed 4.6-second 60-mph time during our drive in the United Kingdom, but considering the nearly 400-pound-heavier Cullinan has beat that, we're expecting the Ghost to be a bit quicker. It certainly seems quick enough. Steering is light and short on resistance, but front-end responses are accurate and grip levels are keen. An active anti-roll bar is fitted to the rear, but this is powered by a 12-volt motor (the Bentley Flying Spur has a 48-volt system), and the effect under harder cornering is limited. The brake pedal is weighted to make ultra-smooth stops easy and thus is also a little too soft for accurate modulation under hard braking.
The Ghost is much happier at a gentler pace, with the most important statistic being the supine 1600 rpm at which the mighty engine attains its peak torque of 627 pound-feet. There is no way to manually select gears for the eight-speed automatic transmission, nor is there any obvious need to with the system software working as unobtrusively as an attentive valet. Just as in Phantom and Cullinan, the transmission uses GPS assistance to help intelligently select the right gear for approaching corners and junctions. Rolls-Royce is now happy to publicly state power and performance figures—it used to just claim an "adequate sufficiency"—but it still refuses to fit anything as vulgar as a tachometer to the instrument panel. Yet even with the Power Reserve meter showing more than 80 percent of the engine's output untapped, performance is still brisk.
At first, suspension settings feel too soft. The Ghost's pillowy initial response to a bump feels as if it will be followed by the wallow of a '60s land yacht, but the air springs and adaptive dampers arrest the seemingly inevitable counter heave. At higher speeds it turns into a true magic carpet, with a road-reading stereo camera system informing the dampers of upcoming undulations. There are also dampers fitted to the top control arms that are designed to counteract vibration. Even sizable compressions are digested without apparent effort, with snug sound insulation doing a similarly good job at stopping the too-real world from spoiling the tranquillity of the Ghost's cabin. At 70 mph it is as quiet as most cars would be at 30 mph; conversations between front and rear seat can be conducted in a whisper. One strange omission is lane-keeping cruise control. The Ghost will keep distance from a car in front but doesn't have active lane assist.
The cabin is spacious, although slightly less roomy than you might expect given the car's external dimensions. In regular form, the new Ghost is only barely shorter than the extended-wheelbase version of the outgoing car. Large adults can sit comfortably in the rear but without the ankle-twirling room that many associate with true luxury, a deficit that the inevitable stretched version will rectify. The combination of a high beltline and huge pillars also limits visibility, especially from the driver's seat, where there are substantial blind spots to the front three-quarters and over the shoulder. We also noted that, at a regular seating height, only the top half of the Spirit of Ecstasy hood mascot can be seen, meaning the visible silhouette looks more like Dumbo than the Flying Lady.
Rolls-Royce continues to deliberately make its cabins feel closer to the 1920s than the 2020s, with archaic details like mechanical-style rotary heater controls in place of the omnipresent digital climate readouts of every upmarket rival. For the Ghost, it has added individual digital instruments that look and behave exactly like the conventional dials they replaced. But the overall effect still feels entirely special, thanks to details like the perfectly weighted metal air vents and the beautifully stitched leather dashboard. Even the starry headliner—which uses hundreds of fiber optics to mimic a clear night sky—doesn't feel like a gimmick.
It is hard to criticize a car that betters a successful predecessor in every key regard, which is what the new Ghost manages. As ultra-luxury buyers follow the herd toward a preference for SUVs, it seems unlikely that this Ghost will be as popular as the outgoing version. But on every empirical and even subjective regard, it is the superior car.
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