Replacing a legend isn’t easy. Just ask Henry Cloke, the lead exterior designer for the new Rolls-Royce Ghost. He had the honor of dealing with the pressure that comes with creating the second generation of the most successful car ever to wear the double-R badge.
“If you do any project for Rolls-Royce it comes with a certain pressure and expectation. I liken it to playing in a championship football game. If you’re thinking about how many people are watching, you’re not going to be very good. So you concentrate on the bit you’ve trained in, the things you do naturally. That’s how we deal with the pressure. At the end you can step back and realize how big it is. But when you’re doing it, it’s just you and the team around you all trying to do the best you can.”
That pressure is baked into your job description when the words of Sir Henry Royce greet you every day in the lobby of Rolls-Royce in Goodwood. “Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it.” This ethos is clearly reflected in new Ghost.
The previous Ghost was not too shabby. This second generation Goodwood Ghost, however, is significantly better in every objective and subjective category.
A DESIGN OF THE TIMES
First of all, it’s much better looking. The first generation Goodwood Ghost is more like a small Phantom rather than its own car. It is formal and conservative in a way that fits with Rolls-Royce’s image of a decade or so ago. But now that Wraith, Dawn and Cullinan have entered the range, Rolls-Royce stands for much more than limousine-like comfort and Ghost has the opportunity to play a unique part in the story.
Ghost is really meant to be an owner-driven car. Cloke and his team added a number of design details to emphasize that change. A more rakish front fascia, lower greenhouse, slight parabolic in the profile tension line, large wheels and tires, and the coupe-like resolution where the roofline fairly melts into the boot. Ghost also looks faster and more agile thanks to its revised dimensions. It is wider, longer, and lower than the car it replaces. It’s also cleaner, sleeker, and if possible a tad more sophisticated.
A case in point is the way the brand’s mascot, the Spirit of Ecstasy, rides at the front of the car. In the previous generation the bonnet stops short of the grille creating a seam between it and the fascia where the winged one is housed. Now the hood runs all the way to the front of the car, butting up to the grill and wrapping down into the headlamps. There is a hole cut into the bonnet that surrounds the Spirit of Ecstasy. This seems like a simple thing until you contemplate the engineering that went into ensuring the seams around the base of the statuette are almost invisible with tolerances that would make a Tesla owner weep.
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION
Rolls-Royce designers coined the phrase “Post Opulence” to describe the new Ghost. Basically it means, walking away from over the top design details that scream “Look at how much money I have!” I’m not sure I completely buy it. After all, this is a car with an available starlight headliner that uses 1380 fiber optic lights to replicate the night sky inside the car. In addition, they’ve added the starlight motif to the passenger dash fascia, where the word Ghost glows welcomingly for right seat passengers, both of which seem pretty freaking opulent.
Where the concept rings more true is in the minimalism of the door, seat and other leather surfaces. Where everyone from Bentley to Infiniti to Genesis and even MINI use diamond quilting to cue luxuriousness of their interiors, Ghost is remarkably restrained. A case in point is the seam along the upper and lower leathers on the dashboard. It’s the longest single stitch line ever in a Rolls-Royce. It’s clean and elegant and showcases the craftsperson’s work due to the overall simplicity of the design. The same is true with the door panels, which are made from large single pieces of unblemished leather.
There’s a certain audacity in the lack of adornment throughout the cabin, but there is a method behind their madness. Again, according to Cloke, “All of the lovely Rolls-Royce touches are there, but much like an art gallery, we’ve tried to minimize everything around them. It’s about reducing excess fuss and clutter so you can focus on the bits that are really important.”
In addition to the stitch line on the dash, those bits include a subtly embossed Spirit of Ecstasy on the door panels, the inch thick lambswool carpeting, the expertly book-matched open pore woods, and the high quality feel of the controls. Not surprisingly, the theme continues from the front seats into the rear passenger compartment.
While Ghost is more driver-oriented, it is still a Rolls-Royce sedan. You can hire a driver for the gala events you’ll be attending and there is oodles of room and gobs of luxury in the back seat of the standard length Ghost (an extended wheelbase version is on the way). The seat-back picnic tables are there. As is the option to include a champagne chiller or whisky decanter and glasses discretely tucked away behind the center arm rest. Rear seat passengers also enjoy the comfort of heated, cooled and massaging seats to help put those stressful days behind you. So while Ghost may be less opulent than its predecessor, it’s certainly no less luxurious.
Ghost rides on a version of the aluminum space frame that underpins both Phantom and Cullinan. Dubbed the “Architecture of Luxury” by Rolls-Royce, it’s a scalable platform that, it’s no understatement to say, transforms the dynamic characteristics of Ghost. This car rides, turns, accelerates, and brakes so much better than the previous Ghost, it’s hard to believe just a generation separates the two.
The Architecture of Luxury adds rigidity to the body structure while removing weight from the frame. This allows engineers to enhance other components that have a significant impact on the way the car performs, feels, and sounds. It’s quieter thanks to over 100 kilos of additional insulation. Vibration, which wasn’t really an issue before, is even further reduced thanks to new counterweights in the seat frames. In fact, the car was so quiet upon its initial test drive, it was actually too quiet. Engineer Jonathan Simms told me the absence of noise was actually disconcerting. “When you don’t hear any noise, it’s unnatural. So we actually tuned the car to have a very specific sound that is quite pleasing. We call it the Ghost Note.”
Even with its aluminum architecture, Ghost is not a light car. Any weight savings were used to increase sound insulation, add electronics, and enhance the mechanical components. One of those is the double wishbone front suspension with dual dampers up top, an integral part of the car’s “Planar System.” So named because its components work together to make the experience of driving on even the twistiest and hilliest of roads feel straight and level, the Planar System is the result of the active suspension, V12 engine, satellite-aided transmission, stereo camera, sensors, and electronic steering working together as never before.
The 6.75-liter V12 engine’s 563 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque combine with the 8-speed automatic transmission to make the sedan’s ponderous weight irrelevant. Ghost makes the leap from zero to sixty miles per hour in less than 5 seconds. If you’re already hurtling down the highway at a mile a minute and want to pass a lesser car, just tip the throttle and the power comes on like a freight train riding on velvet rails.
While it still delivers Rolls-Royce’s signature “magic carpet” ride, Ghost is much more composed when pushed. Roll in the corners is minimized thanks to the self-leveling air suspension. Accelerate hard and the rear end doesn’t squat. The previous generation of the car would dive like Greg Louganis under hard braking. New Ghost keeps its nose up and everything under control, even in panic stop situations. In addition, every Ghost now features an all-wheel drive system that can direct up to 50% of the power from the rear to the front wheels, enhancing confidence in all weather. Add it all up and with its many upgrades, Ghost is a 5,700 pound sedan that feels lithe and alive.
When you spend $429,100 on a car – the cost of my Tempest Grey tester with its many options including electric opening and closing front and rear doors, rear drinks cooler, ventilated and massaging seats, shooting star headliner, lambswool floor mats, and so much more – it’s not unreasonable to expect perfection. The 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost comes as close as any car I’ve ever driven to delivering it.
2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost
Four-door, five-passenger, all-wheel drive, ultra luxury sedan.
Base Price: $332,500
Price As Tested: $429,100
Major Options: Shooting Star Headliner, Heated, ventilated, and massaging front and rear seats, picnic tables, rear seat media, champagne chiller between the rear seats, single hand-painted coachline, lambswool floor mats, stainless steel package, 21-inch 10-spoke wheels, bespoke clock, Spirit of Ecstasy embossed door panels.
Engine: 6.75-liter twin-turbo double-overhead cam V12
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with satellite-aided GPS integration
Power: 563 HP @ 5,000 RPM
Torque: 627 lb.-ft. @ 1,600 RPM
Curb Weight: 5,700 pounds
0-60 MPH: 4.6 seconds
Top Speed: 155 MPH
EPA MPG: 12 city/19 highway/14 combined