There’s no head-to-head contest, no gleaming trophy and no official tag. But the title of ‘Best car in the world’ is one of the most coveted crowns a car can wear. In its illustrious past, Rolls-Royce has worn it with pride for decades. As early as 1907, its owners and engineers pushed back the boundaries of refinement, luxury, performance and technology with the stupendous Silver Ghost, earning Rolls-Royce the coveted tag from none other than our own Autocar UK. Rolls-Royce was widely acknowledged as the world’s best car maker and this carried on for decades. But then, inevitably, the crown passed. Better engineered, possessing greater technical sophistication and more forward-thinking, cars with the three-pointed star wrested the crown away. Now Rolls, it seems, wants it back.
Enter the new Ghost, Rolls’ new super-luxury car that offers Phantom limo-like comfort, indulgence and hedonistic pleasures on the one hand, but truly modern technology, performance, driving pleasure and even fuel economy and controlled CO2 output on the other. All it takes to identify the new Ghost as a pukka Rolls is a mere one-second snapshot.
Designer Ian Cameron has made sure of this by carrying over details from the Phantom, like the strong shoulder line, that ‘cliff’ of a bonnet and those distinctive horizontal headlights that are countersunk into the body. Of course, the famous Rolls-Royce ‘Parthenon’ grille is there too, but it’s a more modern and less upright version, and is also countersunk into the nose. ‘Less upright’ is also a phrase you can use to describe the overall silhouette of the Ghost, especially in comparison to the Phantom. The windscreen is as steeply raked as any modern saloon and the roofline drops to the boot in a shallow dive, meeting the sweeping shoulderline gracefully near the tail. In profile it works spectacularly, especially when the car sweeps past you, led by that flying lady perched on the nose.
Time to climb in. Tug at the huge bar of chrome that moonlights as a door handle and the rear carriage door swings open. The door is narrower than I expect, but the manner in which it is hinged (at the rear) allows me to flop in elegantly. Once inside, door electrically shut, it’s also clear that this is not nearly as wide as the Phantom. The rear seatback, however, is like an old-fashioned lounge sofa and curves around to meet the rear door and the seat itself is fantastic. You are seated high with an over-abundance of thigh support, good back and elbow support and as much legroom as you need. A quick look around the cabin quickly confirms two things: Rolls has got the understated but opulent equation spot-on and the surroundings have that rare ability to drop your heart-rate like a stone. How else do you explain the abundance of chrome without the interior looking like it’s been designed for a pimp? Or that you involuntarily sigh after getting into the car, like you’ve plopped onto your favourite sofa at home?
Once on the move, there is an overriding impression of serenity and calm. A hush descends on the cabin as soon as the doors are shut and you are very aware that you are being whisked forward rapidly. This is because the scenery outside is streaking by the windows. But close your eyes once the car is cruising — I did, and the sensation of speed simply dissolved. From the rear seat the bi-turbo V12 simply does not exist, there is almost no squat at the rear nor any dive of the nose, and the rocking sensation you get from other luxury cars at speed just isn’t there. The Ghost smoothes ripples in the road like a giant clothes iron, and it’s so silent you think the suspension is made of pure rubber. You think that you’re doing 5kph and the Ghost is doing 105!
To achieve all this, the Ghost uses special low-friction rubber sleeves on its air suspension, its adaptive CDC2e dampers from ZF Sachs react every 2.5 milliseconds and the active anti-roll bars, both front and rear, are decoupled when the car is traveling in a straight line — this reduces head toss. In a nutshell, the ride is even better than the Phantom’s!
Climb into the driver’s seat and the cabin feels instantly familiar. Again, the design language is all Phantom — acres of wood, big chrome vents, chromed-over speakers and even beautifully chromed buttons on the traditionally thin leather-rimmed Rolls steering wheel. And the quality levels are just what you would expect, save for a few seemingly unimportant bits — cupholders or the doorpad bottoms — which feel more budget limo than Rolls and sadly puncture the feeling of perfection that this car otherwise displays.
In the past, Rolls-Royce left outright performance to Bentley. But with ownership being split between BMW and VW, things have changed. Under the long hood reside 563 well-drilled dressage horses. The twin-turbo direct-injection V12 motor is based on a BMW unit, like many bits of the chassis, but it has new pistons and a new crank; designed to deliver that most Rolls-like quality, effortless waftability. And it’s there, in spades. During normal driving, Rolls’ reverse tachometer of sorts never so much as budges from showing an 80 percent power reserve, and the performance has an air of lazy effortlessness to it. Part of this is down to the fact that the engine and eight-speed transmission work as a single unit. There’s no dull ‘thunk’ from the transmission tunnel when you select ‘drive’, it’s near- impossible to count all the gear changes and you never ever seem to be searching for a gear. Then there’s that light but direct Rolls steering, the serene ride quality and once you get up to cruising speed, it’s like momentum has taken over the job of propulsion. This motor makes its peak torque of a huge 79.4kgm at just 1500rpm; no wonder it feels effortless.
But squeeze a little harder, hold the pedal down a bit more and this car quickly turns from limo into executive jet. Even though it weighs 2.4 tonnes, zero to 100kph takes an unreal 4.7 seconds. Think about that — sportscar performance from a limo. And still the Rolls feels anything but savage or brutal, maintaining its composure all through. There’s not even a muted rasp or snarl worthy of mention from the motor, just an elevated whirring of the V12 as the Ghost leaps off the line like it’s been shot out of a catapult. Here is genuine hardcore performance and total limousine calm in the same package; for once, no compromise.
Of course, you’d expect this façade of performance to wither and die as you approach a set of corners. All that mass, the pillowy ride and a light steering. You’d expect it to roll like a bus. And it does, to some extent, until a maximum angle of 3.8 degrees has been reached. But it’s progressive and feels well in control, thanks in no small part to the active anti-roll bars and the fast-acting dampers.
And though the steering is initially quite light, it is very direct and positive and weights up superbly with the essential amount of information filtering back through your palms. A little bit of BMW in the Rolls-Royce mix. It helps place the car with pinpoint accuracy and delivers bags of confidence to the driver, making for a uniquely relaxed but very strong driving experience. A ‘sport’ mode with a little less suppleness from the front suspension, some improved body control and the ability to execute downshifts would go a long way. But would this still be a Rolls then?
As things stand, the Ghost is well suited to Indian conditions. The suspension can be raised for challenging driveways at the touch of a button, it can run on our fuel and, at Rs 2.5 crore, is even decent value for a Rolls. It’s also a car that has what it takes to wrest the crown of ‘Best car in the world’ back. Here’s a car that has it all and does it all. So be quick if you want one, the numbers are limited.