High-tech BMW underpinnings meet classic English cosseting in the new Ghost. Got $245,000?
I could afford a Rolls-Royce Ghost. All I’d need to do is sell my house and all my Greek treasury bills. (What? Oh, jeez. When did that happen?)
The question is, if I had $245,000 to $300,000 to spend on a car, would this be the car?
Blimey. It’s certainly tempting. The new Roller Ghost, based on the chassis and electronics of the BMW 7-series (Rolls-Royce is now a wholly owned subsidiary of BMW) might be thought of as a 760Li shouted through God’s holy megaphone, in a voice that sounds like Ian McKellen. Everything good that the Bimmer is, the Rolls Ghost is that, amplified and anglicized exponentially — quieter, smoother, more luxurious and veddy, veddy powerful. With a bored-out version of BMW’s direct-injection twin-turbocharged V12 (displacing 6.6 liters here) the Rolls rides a glowing mainspring filament of horsepower and torque unprecedented in company history, 563 hp and 575 pound-feet of torque.
In a car dedicated to serene sensations and sheer, gliding effortlessness, calling on this kind of thrust feels very much like going over Niagara in a beautifully appointed, leather-lined barrel. Zero to 60 mph goes by in 4.7 seconds and if you keep your Allen Edmonds fully planted in the shearling wool carpeting, you’ll reach 120 mph in about 12 seconds. The eight-speed automatic transmission dispatches full-tilt gear changes with the barest perceptible flutter. There’s a warm gathering sound inside the cabin, woodwinds more than brass, but it’s not what you would call an exhaust note. Rather, it’s the sound of inspiration. The opiated thrum inside Coleridge’s ears? Like that.
The express elevator stops at an electronically limited 155 mph but there’s little doubt the car could achieve 190 mph with nary a bead of sweat on guvnor’s stiff upper lip.
This is no Phantom, and I think most would agree, that’s a good thing. The Phantom — the massive, 19-foot limousine launched by Rolls-Royce after BMW took over early in the last decade — was obliged to be the ultimate Rolls, a big, scary Jungian archetype of a car, hurtling through our dreams. Mission accomplished.
The Ghost in all ways is a more measured, more realistic car. It is, first of all, much smaller — 17.7 feet in length (17.1 inches shorter), 76.7 inches abeam (down 1.6 inches), 61 inches high (down 3.3 inches) and weighing 5,445 pounds (down 353 pounds). The Ghost suffers from none of the hypertrophic weirdness of the Phantom. It fits on two-lane roads and parking decks, and doesn’t make babies cry.
It’s also quite pretty. OK, sure, the front of the car — with its narrow horizontal headlamps and tight rectangular grille — looks like the Jetsons’ robot cleaning woman, Rosie. But overall, this is a strong styling effort. The Rolls proprieties are observed, of course: the tall, long hood ending in a chromic bluff; the short front overhang; the tapering rear quarters drawn back from the wheels; the steeply sloped C-pillar; the high body-to-glass ratio.
And there are moments of genius here, too: the mirror symmetries between the doors, the reflective balance between the lower accent line trailing behind the front wheel arch and the chrome bow of the roof line.
Like the 7-series, the Ghost is a steel-bodied car with the approximate ductility of a submarine hatch. The Ghost’s chassis stiffness — the source of its fantastic ride quality, dynamic competence and hushed, oneiric quiet — is all the more remarkable considering the four enormous holes in the body. These are where the doors go. As with the mega-Rolls, the Phantom, the Ghost has vast rear “coach doors,” hinged at the back. Americans call them suicide doors on account of how much they cost.
In any event, the doors swing to nearly perpendicular to the body, making it possible to alight gracefully on the tall, upright chairs, rather than execute anything so low-born and cloddish as “sitting.” Among the squillion or so options is the choice of lounge chairs in the rear cabin, fully reclining, massaging, and climate controlled. What’s that? Your Honda doesn’t have those? Hmm. Pity.
The ironwork under the car is direct from Bavaria, including the front and rear pneumatic suspension (the 7-series has air springs only in the rear); active roll stabilization; smart brakes; and dynamic chassis control, which automatically tightens the suspension to complement what the British love to call more “spirited” driving.
One system that the 7-series has that the Rolls doesn’t — and could use — is the integral active steering, which at low speeds tightens the car’s turning circle by deflecting the rear wheels up to 2.5 degrees. At nearly 18 feet, and with a lazy steering ratio of 19.9:1, the Ghost does not exactly caper through tight midtown traffic.
There was a time when BMW’s ownership of Rolls-Royce — with ever the newsreel unpleasantness of World War II playing in the background — was a wee bit awkward. That time has largely passed. Still, the last thing Rolls wants is for people to dismiss the Ghost as a re-badged 7-series. Bad marketing. The company concedes only that 20% of parts are common to both cars and those parts are deep mechanical bits (alternator, air-conditioning compressor) invisible to the buyer. However, if you drive the cars back to back you’ll recognize a lot of similarities, particularly in the iDrive system — which Rolls calls the “multimedia” system — that controls much of the cabin’s functionality. BMW’s night vision? Check. Adaptive cruise control? Check. Lane Departure system? Jawohl, Herr Colonel. The Ghost’s steel chassis is constructed in the quaint English village of Dingolfing, Germany. Even the car’s warning chimes and beeps speak German.
What’s surprising, and gratifying, is just how unalike each the cars feel, the tactility of the cars, the sensory presence. Everything about the Rolls feels gusseted, wrapped in velvet, strung with silk, double-isolated with hydro-elastic this-and-that and suspended on bushings made of fetal pigskin.
For all their similarities, they are just very different cars. The BMW is lean. The Rolls is lush.
The specialness of the Rolls resides in its exquisite selection of interior materials. The piano-black trim on the steering wheel, the faux Bakelite, the chrome key window switches and organ-stop vent pulls, the frosted glass around the iDrive indicators, leather and veneers galore. I count among my favorites the luminous blue-white gauges in the instrument cluster — including the cool but irrelevant “power reserve” gauge. Also, the thin-section steering wheel rim — very like a Rolls — wrapped in leather of somebody’s most sacred cow.
Rolls says it takes 20 days to put it all together and it seems to me not a minute is wasted.
Rolls-Royce has, to my mind, just built its first real car. Here, finally, the promise of the BMW-owned Rolls-Royce is fulfilled, with a car that combines the insuperable technology of the Werks with the enormous charisma and craft of British luxury. Here the Old Saxon tongues, English and German, come together in perfect lyric.
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