THE NEW Rolls-Royce Ghost debuts a number of technical innovations—a unique double-damped front suspension, for example, adding more float to the boat—but its greatest invention is surely the marketing team’s notion of “post-opulence.” The suggestion from HQ being that, compared with the first-generation Ghost (2009-2020), the new car’s presentation is more restrained, less flashy, even “minimalist.”
Uh-huh. What part of your V12-powered 5.5-meter sedan with illuminated temple grille and coach doors would you suggest has transcended mere showiness? Is it the monogrammed taillamps? I can see your minimalism from space.
With respect, the post-opulent construct has less to do with design than the emotional state of would-be clients, who might be wrestling with the appropriateness of such a purchase in a time of deep economic hardship. The power of this appeal lies in the promise of social acceptance: Yes, you can swan about in a six-figure road yacht with a flying lady on the nose and feel good about it, because understated. I actually heard a Rolls’s exec use the word “wokeness.” If I were refereeing I would have shown him the red card.
“ What part of the Ghost transcends showiness? Is it the monogrammed taillamps? I can see your minimalism from space. ”
I don’t blame Rolls-Royce for trying to fit the message to these extraordinary times. It’s worth remembering that Auburn, Duesenberg, Pierce-Arrow, Peerless—all exemplary makers of fine automobiles—went belly-up in the Great Depression, in part because luxury cars became stigmatized, their owners considered boorish and out-of-touch.
I understand Rolls really wants to be relevant to wealthy, style-forward millennials. In August the company unveiled a brand-identity makeover, including a more stylized Spirit of Ecstasy mascot and hip double-R graphics. This announcement was accompanied by astonishing verbiage that declared the brand had evolved “from the creator of the ‘Best Car in the World’ to the world’s leading House of Luxury.”
Erm, what? The hell? Did anybody run this repositioning by the owners clubs? Can I order a velvet-tufted couch?
As for the back of the house: After a record-setting 2019, Rolls’s global sales were down 30% for the first half of the year, according to spokesman Richard Carter. Production at the factory at Goodwood, in West Sussex, was paused in March before slowly returning to two shifts in September. However, and in light of tougher measures to fight the virus in the U.K., Mr. Carter predicted “a challenging winter.”
The new Ghost (an estimated $ 419,000, as tested) is predictably awesome. You may wonder what makes any car worth the price they are asking; my answer is rear-hinged, “coach” doors. Unique among series-production vehicles, Rolls-Royces feature—nay, are built around—classic coach doors, even on two-door models like Wraith. Coach doors are wildly cool and they live fantastically. Their theatricality goes to the heart of the brand. But the structural engineering required is highly specialized and specific. The load paths are radically different from ordinary vehicles. Like Phantom and Cullinan SUV, the Ghost is built on Rolls’s fit-for-purpose aluminum space frame, incorporating equal-size front and rear door openings and 50/50 weight distribution. The Ghost’s body-in-white stiffness, 40,000 Nm/degree, is roughly 33% greater than a Ferrari 458 Italia’s.
Another place the money goes: Cut lines. Just about any production car you name is zigzagged with panel gaps and shut lines around doors, trunk and hood. These are artifacts of the assembly process and they often kill the pretty. The Ghost’s body panels flow from headlamps to taillamps without ever traversing a panel gap—a feat of construction that requires four uncommonly excellent human welders to work simultaneously on the panels, to ensure a continuous seam. Get an estimate for that job down at the local body shop.
A few details disappoint. You can bespoke-order sharkskin upholstery but you can’t get rid of the tacky shark-fin antenna on the roof?
Ahead, in the acoustically insulated boiler room, thrums the familiar 6.75-liter twin-turbo V12, spooling up to 627 pound-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm, surging through an eight-speed automatic transmission programmed with GPS-assisted “wafting” logic. The second-generation Ghost gets an all-wheel-drive chassis upgrade along with all-wheel steering, which greatly improves the turning circle/in-town maneuverability of the beast. Chauffeurs of the world, salute.
Should you need to move off with authority, the Ghost is there for you. No special mode to engage, just bury the gas pedal into the shearling-wool floor mat. The 5,628-pound, 563-hp Ghost exchanges kinetic energy for potential energy effervescently, a system Lagrangian like spritzing Champagne. Zero-to-60 mph acceleration requires a brief 4.6 seconds, says the company. Whoosh.
Another nifty bit of kit is the Planar Suspension System, including a Rolls-patented counter-damper integrated into the front suspension’s upper A-arms. These are some fun kinematics. The Planar system also loops in the so-called Flagbearer system, which uses machine vision to see the road ahead, allowing the chassis controllers to prepare the strut dampers and four-corner, load-leveling air springs.
On my test drive in Austin, Texas last week, the assembled pieces delivered a strange, exotic, one-of-one experience—the car’s monstrous tonnage seeming to levitate majestically, like one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying helicarriers. What is curious is that, while the Planar system magically quells bump-steering and negates body roll across the front axle, the chassis tuning is surprisingly pliant in the north/south direction. Squeeze the big brakes and the Ghost dips its nose to the road. Get on the petrol and the little lady on the hood ascends skyward. A bit like old times.
Inside, amid drawing-room gloss and gleam, lumber and leather, the car spotlights a marvelous dash fascia at the glove-box position: an ethereally lighted image of the word Ghost, surrounded by a field of LED stars.
Typical British understatement.
2021 ROLLS-ROYCE GHOST
Base Price $ 332,500
Price, as Tested $ 419,000 (est.)
Powertrain twin-turbocharged 6.75-liter V12; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
Power/Torque 563 hp at 5,000 rpm; 627 pound-feet at 1,600 rpm
Length/Width/Height/Wheelbase 218.3/85.0/61.9/129.7 inches
Curb Weight 5,628 pounds
0-60 mph 4.6 seconds
EPA Fuel Economy 12/19/14 mpg, city/highway/combined
Luggage Space 17.7 cubic feet
Write to Dan Neil at Dan.Neil@wsj.com
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