Eagle-eyed Londoners may have spotted that Rolls-Royce’s swish new ‘flagship residence’ has opened in Mayfair, at Berkeley Street, just around the corner from its old home on Berkeley Square.
The firm says its new location offers much-needed extra space compared with the previous, cramped location. It’s also allowed RR to ‘create a wholly immersive client experience in line with Rolls-Royce's continuing evolution as a true global luxury goods brand’. Whatever that might mean.
That’s the thing with Rolls-Royce; its iconic association with uber-luxury, glamour and prestige has grown to the extent that for years the very name has been a byword for a prestige product, or a job done well. Often, we just don’t look beyond the badge and the image. But what really lies beneath the legend, the gloss, the elegant lacquered lines, that famous Spirit of Ecstasy statuette, the fine leather, deep lambswool carpets, hand-crafted veneer and the chrome?
The answer - in the case of the re-launched Ghost, the firm’s latest car - is rather surprising, for as well as being a visually impressive style statement, superb to drive and wonderful to be chauffeured in, it’s also a cutting-edge technological tour-de-force.
Rolls-Royce says that the new Ghost - which costs from £249,600 and which is meant to be a ‘less ostentatious Rolls-Royce’ compared, for instance, to the Phantom - is entirely new, with only the umbrellas (hidden inside the doors) and the Spirit of Ecstasy carried over from the previous model, which was launched in 2009.
This re-launch has given the engineers the opportunity to incorporate some very up to date technology indeed, making the Ghost the most technologically advanced Rolls-Royce yet.
So what’s new? One of the most fundamental changes was a completely new ‘chassis’, comprising an aluminium bulkhead, floor, crossmembers and sill panels allowing the cast suspension mounting assembles to be pushed to the very front of the new Ghost, in turn placing its 6.75-litre V12 engine behind the front axle to achieve the engineers’ ‘holy grail’ of 50/50 weight distribution; perfect for ride and handling.
The new design made way for an all-wheel-drive system (great for traction and the first time on a Ghost) and, in a totally new move for Rolls-Royce, a four-wheel-steer system, which turns the wheels in the opposite direction to the front wheel at manoeuvring speeds and the same direction at higher speeds, no bad thing in a car as long as the Ghost, measuring in at a lengthy 5546mm.
Attention to detail
The new car - to ensure the legendary ‘magic carpet ride’ - has a completely redesigned ‘Planar Suspension System’ to iron out bumps and vibrations. It’s named after a geometric plane which is completely flat and level. The system is the result of ten years of testing and development to create what they call a ‘sense of flight on land never before achieved by a motor car’. The technicalities are challenging but - in practice - the system works. Beautifully.
Just to make sure however, there are also air-springs all-round and front-mounted cameras that scan the road ahead so that the suspension system knows what’s coming - and irons out lumps and bumps before the driver even notices. Now that’s attention to detail.
The metal superstructure of the new Ghost is 100% aluminium, using construction techniques that give the appearance of one clean sheet of metal, spreading from the front pillars across the roof and towards the rear, doing away with ‘shut lines’ that, in lesser cars, break the flow.
Under the long, long bonnet lurks a 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V12 petrol engine producing 563bhp and 627lb ft of torque; enough for stunning performance, with 0-60 mph coming up in 4.6 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.
There are also power-assisted doors with gyroscopic sensors to detect if the car is on an incline. This means that instead of pulling the door shut, they can be operated ‘remotely’ by switch, which not only looks very impressive to bystanders but feels like magic. The rear privacy curtains feel like theatre magic too; at the press of a button, they swish across the back and rear side windows, cocooning rear-seat passengers from the outside world.
So what’s she like to drive? Very, deeply impressive indeed. It’s like operating an extremely well-tuned and oiled precision instrument, which it is. Other than minding the evident width and length, it requires very little effort to drive at all. At all speeds it almost thinks its way around bends and corners, so deft is the steering, aided by that four-wheel steering system.
It is super-quiet inside; even when the engine is revved hard, it remains restrained and cultured. The beautifully upholstered seating - including electric massage function - is such that this car can be driven all day in comfort. And that - when the owner is not thinking about the on-board technology - is exactly what they will do.
The new Ghost is so charismatic, so smooth, so delightful to drive, that no journey can any longer be considered a chore, or a burden. The gearbox - operated by a steering column-mounted stalk - works beautifully and, considering its size, the Ghost handles very nicely indeed, although you don’t really want to rush her. The boot is the size of a ferry terminal making it ideal for weekends away, there’s a marvellous starlight roof lining giving the magical illusion of gazing up into a star-filled night sky (mirrored by a brilliant star-effect on the fascia), there are 007-style electrically-powered fold-down tables and flip-out TV screens in the back, and all of the controls work - again - like precision instruments.
Nothing is perfect, of course. There’s a little wind noise from the large rear-view mirrors, there’s some reflection onto the windscreen from the (otherwise very useful) head-up display at night, and vision to the side is marred by the thick A-pillar and those large mirrors, so you have to look carefully at junctions and roundabouts. Reversing is tricky as rearward vision is restricted (I blame those curtains and don't like to rely purely on the rear camera). Don’t even mention the environment. The CO2 figure is 343 g/km.
The dashboard clock is disappointing; it looks like a plasticky after-thought; strange in a car of this calibre. Ample compensation comes in the form of a stupendously high-fidelity sound system, the sheer everlasting tactile pleasure of driving the Ghost and the knowledge that no matter how bad the weather, the traffic, the news headlines or the congestion, you’re still in a better position to put up with it with than almost anyone else on the road, because you’re at the wheel of the Ghost. Is that what they mean by an immersive client experience?
Rolls-Royce Ghost, as tested; price including options, £307,500.
Engine: 6.75-litre V12
Max power: 563 bhp
Max torque: 627 lbs @ 1,600-4,250 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Combined consumption: 18.8 mpg
Emissions: 343 g/km
Technical features include: ‘effortless doors’, front and rear massage seats, rear compartment curtains, Rolls-Royce bespoke audio, Shooting Star headliner.