Rolls-Royce has been down this road before — at least twice. Fifty-five years ago, the firm responded to emerging concerns about economic austerity and oil shortages by rolling its mid-sized “Burma” and slightly-larger “Tibet” concepts into a single sensible luxury car called Silver Shadow. Intended to be driven by its owners where practical, the Silver Shadow’s only real shortcoming lay in Rolls-Royce’s inability to predict just how sybaritic and self-indulging its owner base would eventually become. In a very real way, it just wasn’t outrageous enough. Twenty-five years ago, the firm’s brand-new Silver Seraph received a last-minute reduction in size and specification due to similar concerns about conspicuous consumption. That, too, was probably a mistake, one eventually rectified by replacing the sensible-shoes Seraph with the velvet-slipper Phantom.
Like Roger Daltrey, however, Rolls-Royce won’t get fooled again by a downturn in the global economy, no matter how severe. So its second-generation Ghost is bigger, more bespoke in both engineering and execution, and unashamedly more self-indulgent. Having spoken with existing Ghost owners at length, the firm believes it better understands what buyers want in a $250,000 luxury sedan.
The first order of business was to divorce the Ghost from its 7-series roots. The “F01” Bimmer with which the 2010 model shared various underpinnings ceased production five years ago. While Rolls-Royce claimed no more than a twenty-percent commonality between the two cars, much of it was easy to spot from the driver’s seat, the same way an experienced Volkswagen Phaeton owner could close his eyes, hold out his hands, and immediately find everything from the headlight switch to the seat heater in a Bentley Flying Spur.
This new Ghost shares the all-aluminum architecture of the current Phantom and Cullinan, gaining more than an inch of width in the process. What this means for driving position and overall experience remains to be seen, but one immediate payoff is the availability of those more expensive vehicles’ bespoke interior features.
Rolls-Royce is particularly proud of a “starlight interior”, which extends the popular twinkling-light headliner option to a panel facing the front passenger. The entire automobile is tuned to a single “whisper” resonant frequency. Both the original Ghost and its Wraith coupe derivative could close their doors with the press of a button; the new one offers a power-assisted opening mode as well. Pull the handle twice, and the door will swing open automatically until you release the handle, at which point it will remain fixed in that position.
As is expected of all new putatively upscale vehicles now from the Hyundai Sonata on up, the Ghost has a remarkable amount of LED lighting up front. Otherwise, it looks much like its predecessor, from the shrunken-Phantom nose to the standard-steel-saloon droop of the trunk. There’s just enough difference to reassure the valets that you’re not driving a decade-old used car.
In a nod to the fashions and concerns of the current year, Rolls-Royce offers a micro-filtration system to defend passengers from unspecified exterior contamination. The wood of the dashboard and doors is open-pore rather than glossy by default, a knowing nod to the reclaimed-wood farmhouse tables in the open-plan kitchens of its customers’ Manhattan condos.
While the business case for the Ghost has always seemed somewhat tenuous in theory — an “entry-level” automobile with a quarter-million-dollar price tag — in practice the car has proven quite popular around the world. The current model is obviously a bit in the tooth, but it remains a charming and impressive drive. In about thirty days, we will be able to tell you whether or not the new one is even better.