Falling in Love With a Ghost

This season, the British motor company with the iconic “Flying Lady” on the bonnet of its cars has a new star in its automotive line-up: the Rolls-Royce Ghost.

Hot on the heels of the highly successful Phantom, the Ghost has been heralded as the ultimate driver’s car.

By Helmut Dostal

The Rolls-Royce North American team had, once again, chosen the winding roads of the rugged California coast for our rally-style trials. Home base was the Resort at Pelican Hill, and onboard for the weekend were some of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable chaps on the planet when it comes to Rolls-Royce motorcars—members of the design and engineering team from the worldwide manufacturing facility in Goodwood, England.

hf_RR7Before pulling out of the imposing gates of our weekend headquarters (more about Pelican Hill later) we huddled to review the game plan for an all-day tour. The route would take us high into the Portola Hills, through the Cleveland National Forest and back along the coast, with a stopover at a military air field for a few clever manoeuvres. Of course the requisite breaks were at all the right places for sustenance: mid-morning coffee, a gourmet lunch and extra time along the way for those “oh so necessary” journalist photo ops.

Now that’s driving!
Each section of our journey had been carefully chosen with the view to showcasing every possible feature of the car. There were scenic twisty bits, hair-raising hairpin turns, flat stretches of open highway and even some messy stop-and-go morning traffic. Nothing, mind you, like the London rush hour where this Rolls had to cut its teeth.

As drivers paired up with their assigned cars I discovered that I would have Alan Sheppard, Rolls-Royce Project Leader, as my driving partner. Boy, was I going to have to watch my Ps and Qs, not to mention my rear-view mirror. The good news? I didn’t let the side down and, thanks to Alan, there’s little that I now don’t know about the new Ghost.

hf_RR4The sound of silence
Heading for the hills and lakes of Orange County, I had the chance to get comfortable and capture some all-important first impressions. True to its DNA, the Ghost is utterly exhilarating, invitingly approachable and, as expected, peaceful. In deference to its name, the Rolls-Royce Ghost is, as you would expect, whisper quiet. No engine, street or wind noise; just silence.

This magic-carpet ride is even more impressive when you experience the powerful pull of acceleration. The 575 1b of torque, new twin-turbo 6.6-litre V12 engine and eight-speed transmission take the car from standing to 100 km/hr in just 4.9 seconds. A stunning performance for a 6,482 lb vehicle. My Ghost was easy to control and perfectly stable at all times—even during quick stops and tight turns on the back lanes and country roads. And, in case you’re wondering, the Ghost’s top speed is electronically governed to 250 km/hr—enough to get anyone into serious trouble in just about any jurisdiction in the world. Unless, of course, you happen to own it!

hf_RR3What’s bigger than cruise control?
After a much-appreciated lunch break at Canon’s Restaurant, it was back behind the wheel for the last leg of our journey. This took us ocean-side and onto the highway in the direction of Newport Beach. The busy multi-lane traffic (read buses, trucks, cars and motorcycles) moved at a decent clip on this stretch of our press trip, giving the Rolls-Royce team the perfect venue to demonstrate the car’s “Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go.”

I simply had to set the distance I wanted to keep from the vehicle ahead and keep on steering. My Ghost did the rest, gently braking and accelerating all on her own. I didn’t have to touch a pedal. And when I drifted too close to the next lane, like magic the steering started to vibrate—a not so subtle reminder that danger was afoot. Safe again!

Ghosts can also see better in the dark (actually, the people who drive them can). With Night Vision, Ghost drivers can see an enhanced image of a person or animal on the road ahead, made possible through an infrared camera hidden in Ghost’s grill and alerting the driver even better than the powerful xenon headlights.

hf_RR1Seductive simplicity in design
En route, I had the chance to take a closer look at the design elements that have earned chief designer Ian Cameron and his team the prestigious “Red Dot: Best of the Best” design award. The Ghost’s simple styling once again boasts large flowing surfaces that emphasize the traditional Rolls-Royce long hood with its silver satin finish. Unique features include the elegant rear-hinged coach doors that allow the passengers to step into the car rather than slide into the seat, the 20-inch wheels with self-righting centres, always showing the logo in an upright position and matching the 2:1 proportion of wheel height to body height, part of the Rolls-Royce DNA.

The interior design features individual reclining lounge seats and two theatre-configuration LCD screens for back seat passengers, along with full audio and climate controls. A further creature comfort to mention, is the incredibly deep and luxurious Blenheim wool carpets—a real treat for your feet.

In keeping with their buyers’ desire for individuality and exclusivity, no two Ghosts are exactly the same. The nature of their hand-finished interiors mean that fanciful buyers can choose from an extensive selection of exterior colours and interior finishes, each as elegant as the one before. Dark woods and special leathers can be individually selected and ordered through the bespoke custom program. Nothing, it seems, can’t be built in. One of Rolls-Royce’s traditional features and my favourite is the standard-issue black umbrellas that are discreetly hidden in the door panels. Only a Brit would think of that!

The last part of our drive takes us back along Laguna Beach to Pelican Hill. As I turn off the engine and the lovely Flying Lady (officially known as the Spirit of Ecstasy) slides back into her home under the signature chrome grill, I take a moment to reflect on the majesty of this, the most powerful Rolls-Royce ever built. This one’s a keeper. It’s a pity that just a privileged few will invest the more than US$350,000 it will take to capture their own Ghost.

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