Chauffeured: Rolls-Royce Ghost

Last week I previewed the Goodwood Festival of Speed. If it didn’t excite you and you decided not to head down to Lord March’s pad in Sussex, then you missed out on yet another great event. Being so popular and being located in some fairly remote countryside, traffic is always an issue. I heard reports of queues as long as 15 miles, so the advice for 2013 must be to get their very early.

Happily I didn’t suffer from any traffic issues at all, as I was fortunate enough to go down as a guest of Rolls-Royce. This meant I could take a relaxing drive to the nearby factory before transferring to a brand new Rolls-Royce and being chauffeured to the VIP entrance at Goodwood House.

I was also fortunate enough to attend the Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II launch in February of this year. That day I spent some time with an extended wheelbase version of the Phantom but, being one of only two finished cars in the world that weren’t going straight to customers, and with the car going to Beijing the next day for the motor show there, we weren’t allowed to drive it or be chauffeured in it. Just in case.

Sadly, the Phantom was off limits for the Goodwood day too. That meant we had to slum it in a Ghost.

Of course, that’s relative. In a car whose entry level price is north of £200,000, the phrase ‘slumming it’ should probably not be used, but it strangely seems churlish to not spend the extra £85,000 you need to get in to a Phantom.

That is until you experience the Ghost. Yes, it shares a lot of its underpinnings with the BMW 7 Series, but the guys at Goodwood have spent a lot of time and effort making this very clearly a Rolls-Royce. The floating wheel centres that always leave the RR logo standing upright remain and the rear hinged back doors are carried over from the Phantom. They add that air of exclusivity as well as working beautifully. Cosmetically it couldn’t be anything other than a traditional Rolls-Royce, but the Ghost also looks modern, progressive and confident with it. If the Phantom is a bespoke suit, the Ghost is a well tailored jacket.

Under the bonnet they’ve made a brave decision. The 6.6 litre direct-injection V12 engine is a modified version of the 6.0 litre BMW unit found in the 7 Series, but there’s so much RR plastic cladding in the engine bay that you’d never know. The brave part, however, is in making the Ghost produce some 563 bhp (571 PS), 110 horses more than in the larger engine Phantom.

The Ghost is also 300 kg or so lighter than the Phantom, although at 2.3 tonnes it could never be described as waif-like. What that does mean is that, however uncouth it may be to say it, the Ghost doesn’t half shift!

The zero to sixty sprint can be despatched in less than five seconds, while the car is limited electronically to 155 mph, performance that can best be described as ‘sufficient’. The gearbox behaved itself too, seemingly relying more on engine torque to make swift progress than simply shifting down gears to access more power. That makes for a far smoother drive, which is surely what any Rolls-Royce is about.

We didn’t explore the limits of handling on our drive, but the double wishbone suspension up front combined with a multilink setup at the rear should provide stable and predictable handling at the edge of its abilities. At lower speeds it’s all about ride and the electronically controlled air sprung suspension coped with most road surfaces well. Only when the tarmac was at its worst and the car was at low speeds did the ride suffer, where I assume the stiff sidewalls on the tyres transmitted a tad too much through to the cabin. Of course in any other car this wouldn’t have even been noticed, but the degree of separation between the passenger and the outside world is such that the smallest imperfections have a more significant impact.

It’s that removal from reality that generally permeates through the cabin. The Ghost may be considered by some to be the poor relation to the Phantom, but you’d never be able to tell. Cosier, perhaps more personal than the Phantom, there’s still more than enough room both front and back.

Up front the switchgear has all been modified to make it less BMW like, a method that works very well. Even the iDrive system has been comprehensively redesigned so there’s no clue as to its Germanic origins. A large LCD screen sits in the centre of the dashboard looking after the majority of the information exchange between car and driver, including sat-nav, perimeter camera views and infra-red view of the road ahead. The latter highlights pedestrians or wildlife in the dark, long before your eyes can catch sight of them. A head up display complements the traditional dials, allowing the drive to concentrate fully on the road.

In the rear the doors close with a push of a button, leaving you to relax in the sumptuous leather and lambs wool surroundings. There’s 9.3 inch (23.6 cm) screens embedded in the backrests of the front seats that can be moved and angled and such is the construction of the seats, the front passenger couldn’t tell when we were pulling and twisting them. The centre armrest also houses another rotary control device to manage the car with, allowing the screens to be used as maps, TV, radio, car configuration and so on.

The rear bench seat is ever so slightly curved, allowing rear passengers to interact easily, but not so much as to spoil the view outside. It’s a small detail, but one that exemplifies the thought that’s gone in to the car.

To call the Ghost a car is almost too ordinary. It’s so much more and arguably provides more than the Phantom. The price is steep, while the options list is long and expensive, but that’s not too much of a concern for customers at this level. Buying decisions will come down to image, exclusivity and just how capable the car is.

The Ghost scores well on every count. It may be twice the price of a Mercedes S600 and a 50 per cent more than a Bentley Continental Saloon, but they simply cannot compete at this level, although the slightly more expensive Bentley Mulsanne might get close.

However, I feel there’s only one competitor to the Ghost. Fortunately for Rolls-Royce, that’s the Phantom Series II.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.