Go far enough in one direction and you end up coming back the other way. The launch of any car with a V12 engine is one that should be loudly celebrated, but the character of the new Rolls-Royce Ghost's powerplant is only ever going to be a small, limited part of the overall experience. The engine's unobtrusive good manners, near-silence under gentle use and from-nothing torque is more reminiscent of a Tesla than it is the sort of snarling monster normally associated with a dozen cylinders. When Rolls's transition to electric propulsion eventually comes it will be a painless one.
The Phantom VII might have been BMW era Rolls-Royce's manifesto piece, but the smaller and more modest Ghost that followed in 2010 is the one that really did the business. In terms of sales the smaller saloon is the most successful Rolls model of all time, and although the growing love of luxury buyers for SUVs means the Cullinan is likely to nab that record in a few years, the Ghost's success still required replacement with something capable of building on its appeal.
As is normally the way with a sales star, styling has been kept deliberately similar, with the new Ghost's fundamental proportions still determined by the use of the rear-hinged 'coach doors' at the back. Detailing is deliberately less fussy than the outgoing car, Rolls-Royce reckons that luxury buyers are moving towards what it describes as a "post opulent" age. At risk of bringing a culture war to the respectful calm of the forums the expression "woke" was used to describe at least part of the demographic the Ghost will appeal to. But, although cleaner of line, the physical spectacle of a car that is 5.5 metres long is always going to be an imposing one, especially when it is wearing a pop-up Spirit of Ecstasy above what is now an illuminated radiator grille.
Underneath the surface this Ghost is almost entirely new. Corporate politics meant the last one sat on the same platform as the F01 2007 BMW 7-Series, but the new car has been switched to Rolls' own modular 'Architecture of Luxury', the one that already underpins Phantom VIII and Cullinan. Like its SUV sister the Ghost has both all-wheel drive and rear wheel steering as standard, and uses a version of the company's 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V12 producing 563hp.
That's a serious number, even with 2490kg sitting on the other side of the scale, and stamped accelerator performance is correspondingly forceful. Rolls claims a 4.8-second 0-62mph time and an electronically limited 155mph top speed, and attempting to achieve the first of those numbers sees the front of the car rising, speedboat-like and gets a muscular, if muted, hum coming from the engine room. But beyond escaping from an ambush, or trying to win a drag race with a Bentley Flying Spur, there's no reason to apply the whip; it categorically isn't what the car is about.
The more relevant statistic is the under stressed 1,600rpm rpm from which the mighty motor delivers its 627 lb ft torque peak, with the eight-speed autobox shifting deftly to make progress feel as effortless as possible. (Like the Phantom and Cullinan it uses GPS assistance to intelligently select gears according to approaching corners and junctions.) Although Rolls is now happy to discuss both power and performance figures it still doesn't fit anything as vulgar as a rev counter, instead having a 'power reserve' meter, but even with only 20 percent of the claimed firepower being used acceleration feels impressively brisk even as the mighty engine stays EV quiet.
Handling is similarly on brand. It is possible to hustle the Ghost in the unlikely event of feeling the urge. The steering is accurate behind the light weight of generous power assistance and the steerable rear axle improves both the sense of stability in higher-speed corners and low-speed manoeuvrability. But the car is almost completely lacking any go-faster vibes, with pillowy suspension, an absence of any switchable settings for the standard adaptive dampers, and a battery of clever dynamic systems that work hard to stop the vagaries of the real world disturbing the calm of the cabin. These include a stereo camera system to read the road ahead and prepare the shocks for bumps before they arrive and some very clever 'Planar' mass dampers, carefully shaped weights that are mounted to the top front suspension wishbone and work passively to counteract and cancel unwanted harmonics and vibration.
Initially the chassis feels like it will be too soft. The Ghost gets active anti-roll, but a relatively feeble 12 Volt system that acts on the rear axle only and which can't mitigate nearly as much lean as the punchier 48 Volt systems used by rivals. There's also the sensation of what feels like it is going to be the start of a proper land yacht heave when encountering a bump at low speed. But although the base settings are all pillowy the various systems intervene smartly and cleanly to stop unwanted motions from developing further. At higher speeds ride becomes close to magical, the Ghost's bouncy bits managing to fill large bumps and absorb sizeable compressions with barely any disturbance reaching the cabin. Soundproofing does a similarly comprehensive job on keeping noise down; the Ghost carries 100kg of carefully applied NVH-reduction material. At 70mph the cabin is as quiet as most cars would be at 30mph; conversation can still be conducted in quiet tones between front and rear seats at triple-digit speeds.
Although the tech quotient has increased, the cabin feels very familiar to anyone who has sat in another BMW-era Rolls. There is something a bit silly about some of the deliberately archaic features, like rotary mechanical heating controls in a world where pretty much every other rival uses digital read-outs, or triple VDU digital instruments that look and react exactly like conventional dials. But buyers seem to love the Olde World ambience, and its hard not to love details like the solid metal air vents, beautifully stitched leather dashtop and even the starry-sky headlining.
Interior space isn't quite as generous as you would expect for something with such XXL exterior dimensions; with full-sized adults in the front seats rear legroom feels a bit sub-limo. Visibility is also marginal with the combination of the huge A-pillar and large, low-mounted mirror creating sizeable blind spots on both sides at the front, with the B-pillar positioned to cut over-the-shoulder vision. Rear seat occupants also have their view interrupted by the equally chunky C-pillar. If you want a truly spacious Rolls saloon, save up the extra for the Phantom.
It's hard to criticise the new Ghost - it builds on the strengths that made its predecessor a roaring success, and doesn't seem to do anything less well. No, it's not as dynamic or as showy as the Bentley Flying Spur, which remains the more driver-focussed choice in this posh niche, and is also the best part of a hundred grand cheaper. Yet the Ghost is playing to a different audience, one that likely wouldn't consider anything else. There won't be many more V12-powered saloons of any sort getting launched in future, be glad this one exists.
ROLLS-ROYCE GHOST | SPECIFICATION
Engine: 6749cc V12, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed twin-clutch, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 563@5000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 627lb-ft@1600rpm
0-62mph: 4.8 second
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
Price: £249,600 (£303,000 as tested)
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