2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost First Drive – The Rolls for the Common Man


rolls royce ghost

I didn’t choose the Rolls-Royce lifestyle, the Rolls-Royce lifestyle chose me.

A while back, I was just minding my own business when the brand’s PR team emailed me and asked if I’d come to a small, COVID-safe meeting at my local RR dealer to talk about the all-new Ghost. I figured it would be the standard thing we used to do pre-pandemic – show up for a bit, check out a new model, talk specs, and get some pics. Maybe I’d get a post out of it. If not, I’d learn useful info on background.

Color me surprised, then, when my local fleet soon emailed me, asking if I’d like a brief loan to sample the Ghost.

Yes, please, I said. Now, where’s that damn Grey Poupon?

Rolls-Royce’s messaging around the new Ghost goes like this – it’s the Rolls for those who want to be a bit more subtle when they pull up to the valet. Maybe the first-time Rolls buyer. Maybe the Rolls buyer who actually plans on driving the car, instead of paying someone else to do so.

Thing is, and I swear I am not saying this because I was given a free espresso, a RR branded COVID mask, or four days of carrying a Rolls-Royce key fob, the message kinda sorta works.

Yes, the Ghost is still a rolling attention generator. Anything with that big, unmistakable grille and the Spirit of Ecstasy poking out above the hood will do that. But the car isn’t quite as ostentatious as it could be, at least not when viewed from certain angles.

So, it’s subtle, at least for a Rolls, and even then, only if you’re standing in certain spots.

rolls royce ghost

Slide inside, and the subtly gives way to the kind of luxury accommodations you’d expect. No interior that allows the headliner to light up like a starfield – complete with shooting-star effects – can be reasonably termed subtle.

Nor does the engine underhood provide for anything in that regard, either, at least in terms of power. Twelve-cylinder mills are rarely understated. Although this one is quiet and smooth, which should be surprising to almost no one.

What is somewhat surprising is how much gusto one’s right foot can summon. Patience is required at first, as the eight-speed automatic transmission needs to kick down a gear or two, not to mention that getting approximately 5,400 pounds rolling with alacrity isn’t instantaneous. Once the power comes on, it comes on strong, and the Ghost rushes forward with some serious thrust, thanks to the 563 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque from the 6.75-liter, twin-turbo V12.

rolls royce ghost

The transmission has a low mode for the least patient among us. This mode forces the transmission to hold gears longer and shift those same gears faster. That transmission is satellite-aided, by the way, meaning it uses GPS to locate the car and select the right gears for upcoming corners.

The other surprising aspect of the Ghost is handling. My usual test loop includes a short stretch of twisty road, and the Rolls allowed me to run it more rapidly than I thought it would. I probably could’ve gone even faster if I dared, but awareness of the cost of an “oops” in a vehicle at this price point kept me behaved.

rolls royce ghost

That’s not to say it’s a sports car. Far from it. You still feel every pound and every inch of length. There’s understeer and body roll at hand. But the Rolls runs the road better than you’d expect – especially since expectations are low.

On the other hand, my drive loop also includes an off-ramp, and aggressively attacking the ramp led me to squeal the tires a bit. A career highlight – making the rubber sing in a Rolls-Royce.

Rolls has equipped the Ghost with all-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering and claims the Ghost has a 50/50 weight distribution.

rolls royce ghost

Rolls PR talks up the planar suspension system which uses cameras to read the road ahead and adjust accordingly. While the system probably helped with handling, it really is meant to give customers that signature Rolls-Royce ride.

Which, for the most part, it did. The car rides just as gently as you’d predict, though with some float and wallow here and there. You sort of feel the pockmarks that dot Chicago-area roads, but in a distant way. You hear the car crash over the pavement – though not very loudly – but the vibrations are filtered out before they reach your backside. Brushed off like the hoi polloi trying to pass the velvet rope at a club in the Meatpacking District.

rolls royce ghost

In addition to the planar system, the car’s underpinnings include a self-leveling air suspension.

Steering feel is notable in that there actually is some. It can be too light in certain situations, especially just off center, but there was some appropriate heft in cornering. Heft, though, isn’t necessarily the same as road feel, and you have to sort of trust the electronics when it comes to that. They know what the tires are doing better than the driver does.

The Ghost is a “driver’s car” in the sense that if you do choose to push it, or to drop the accelerator pedal as deep into the plush carpet as you can, it can be surprisingly engaging to drive, at least relative to its size and mission. But the car feels most at home on a long, relaxed highway cruise. Which, again, is exactly what you’d expect. Can’t disturb the CEO in the back seat now, can we?

rolls royce ghost

Speaking of highway driving, one of the flaws I noticed was wind noise above 65 mph. It wasn’t bad, at least not relative to the market, but more noticeable than I’d have expected. Put it on par with, say, a Lexus LS or Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

The other unexpected noise that cropped up was an intermittent brake squeal when approaching a stop a low speeds. Given the test car’s low mileage, I’d guess a pebble somehow worked its way into a wheel well.

rolls royce ghost

Overall, the Ghost is actually as easy to drive as almost any other large sedan, though you never stop being aware of its size. I avoided certain parking lots and garages because they were too narrow.

We all likely know that BMW has taken ownership of Rolls-Royce, but other than a few pieces of switchgear and the infotaiment system, there’s little sign of Germanic influence on this British car (I’ll avoid the obvious WWII jokes here, aye thank you). RR folks tell me that in order to truly see BMW influence, one needs to dig well beneath the skin. Even the infotainment system tries to differentiate itself from iDrive via the graphics, though the operation of the control knob is immediately familiar to anyone who has driven a recent Bimmer.

Yes, I am fully aware of how weird it is to point out that Rolls-Royce borrows, mostly in ways that aren’t visible to the naked eye, from “lesser” BMWs.

rolls royce ghost

 

Cabin materials are, of course, as luxurious as one would expect. Just about every touch point, save maybe the top of the dash, as well as the wood that runs across the center of the dash, is soft. It’s all pleasing to the eye, too. A few functions fall prey to form, but for the most part, the controls aren’t tricky to operate. It’s not the most grandiose Rolls-Royce cabin I’ve laid eyes on, but it’s still appropriately appointed, and the design is mostly elegant, though some will scoff at the star-lined Ghost logo/design above the glovebox.

Jeans wearers, beware: RR personnel told me that while wearing denim over the course of a short loan is fine, blue jeans can stain the leather over the long term. Wannabe mafiosos, meanwhile, will note how long and spacious the trunk is. Johnny the Rat can meet his fate among deeply plush carpeting and have plenty of space in which to squirm.

rolls royce ghost

Rolls-Royce being Rolls-Royce, even getting into and out of the car can be a spectacle. The doors offer power-assistance: Pull handle once to release, let go, then pull again and hold to get the doors to open with assistance. Release when the door is open wide enough.

To shut, simply press and hold a button in the cabin until the door closes. You can, of course, do things the manual way, like a plebe.

Speaking of doors, the rears are suicide coach-style. Whether you’re the driver or you pay someone to do the driving for you, you’ll make an entrance in this thing.

The features list on a $440,000 car is so long, and the Ghost so thoroughly revamped, that I could spend another 1,300 words just listing items and changes. Not to mention that Rolls-Royce’s sales model of bespoke vehicles means no two cars are the same.

rolls royce ghost

Still, it’s worth noting a few things, like the aluminum spaceframe structure that the Ghost shares with the Phantom and Cullinan SUV. Or the ability to raise and lower the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament – which is one of just two carryover parts, along with the umbrella tucked into the side of the rear doors – at will with just the touch of a button.

Maybe most noticeable, if not notable, are the tray tables in the backs of the front seats that descend with the touch of a button and reveal an infotainment screen. While I found the rear seat plenty roomy with the tables up, dropping them while sitting behind the driver’s seat that was set to accommodate my long-legged frame was the closest I’ve been to flying coach in over a year.

Shorter people, or people who sit behind shorter people, won’t have that problem. Nor will it be an issue if executives sit on the passenger side.

Oh, and the seats can massage you, of course.

rolls royce ghost

There are features that are more familiar to us, such as heated seats, cooled front seats, cooled rear seats, heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay, the usual driver-assist suspects (including blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, speed-limit information, and a head-up display), navigation, keyless entry and starting, satellite radio, dynamic cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, and a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Fuel economy is, well, not great – it’s listed at 12 mpg city/19 mpg highway/14 mpg combined. I didn’t do a precise test but I noticed that I was getting around 14.7 mpg in a mixture of urban and suburban driving with some freeway jaunts thrown in.

Try as I might, I still can’t get my head around a car that costs more than many single-family homes. That’s not to say the Ghost isn’t luxurious – it very much is. Nor is it some socialist rant about how no one should be able to buy things that cost this much. If you have the means, who am I to judge how you spend your money?

rolls royce ghost

The Ghost is an opulent car with a surprising ability to perform, and I understand that striking that balance is costly, especially since it depends heavily on technology. I also get that the hand-built, bespoke nature of these vehicles drives up the cost, along with the prestige and history of the Rolls-Royce name. That last remains strong, at least judging by the stares and comments I received, despite the BMW parentship.

rolls royce ghost

Those who have the (offshore) bank account necessary for Ghost ownership won’t be disappointed. For a plebian like me, it’s harder to wrap my brain around spending stupidly big sums of money on this type of motorcar.

Difficult, but not impossible. My sample was brief, but there were times, usually during a relaxed trip on the freeway, that I sort of got it. In wholly unrelated news, I plan on picking up Powerball tickets the next time I set foot in a convenience store.

I will probably never be able to choose the Rolls-Royce lifestyle. Should that ever change, though, I can see why one might procure a single Ghost instead of putting that money towards, say, a whole slew of cool cars and a big garage for storage of said cool cars.

Just as long as there’s enough left over for a few cases of Grey Poupon.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]





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