A car review is a car review is a car review. Like me, you're probably tired of reading the endless inside-baseball chatter concerning brake-disc size, 50-70 mph passing times, even plug-in driving ranges. If you drive the right car, it's...well...academic, isn't it?
Thank goodness the Rolls-Royce Ghost needn't worry about any of it.
Neither will you after the first dozen or so miles at the wheel of the new "small" Rolls that's a warning shot aimed over the heads of the Bentley boys and their Mulsanne aspirations. Wait, warning shot? That sounds a bit too impolite. The dapper, impeccably damped Ghost will have none of that.
Let's say...a curt dismissal.
I'd barely acclimated myself to the Ghost, figured out its chromed switches and knobs and pull vents, and hardly had glided out of its parking space when that particular ultra-luxury zen descended on me.
It had been a haggard day of airplanes and airport shuttles, and knowing I'd have the $240,000 Ghost at my disposal gave me ample excuse to set its navigation system southward, to the most relaxing outpost I know within an easy two-hour drive of LAX. It's a place far removed from the insanity of Delta terminals and narrow seats and the existential horror of coach travel. Far enough to completely erase those recent memories, without adding more wear and tear to the equation.
La Jolla can seem even closer if you're driving very quickly, something the Ghost proves itself amply able to do despite its hulking steel-billet stance. I settled on a brisk pace, enough speed to make it to the Lodge at Torrey Pines in plenty of time for a late dinner on a patio outside my timber-beamed room, with an hour to spare to catch a late Law & Order and to digest it all.
I mean the food too, of course, but more so, the rich aftertaste the Rolls itself leaves behind.
Lodge at Torrey Pines
Blending old and new
The Lodge at Torrey Pines isn't what it presents itself to be. Impeccable Craftsman architecture must mean it was built sometime just after 1900, of course? Of course not. The seaside complex is hardly eight years old, but constructed and detailed in such a way to make the historical fact a footnote. It's an ultimate synthesis of old and new, with post-and-beam authenticity capped with glowing stained glass and real hardwood trim. If you have a short list in your life of places and things that deliver a sublime thrill by observing and capturing an essence perfectly, you'll understand why the Lodge is on my short list, very near the top.
I'd chosen it as my overnight out of blind love, but the Lodge syncs perfectly with the mission of the Ghost. It's been called the first "real" Rolls-Royce car, which begs the question about everything that's come before. A little more precisely, the Ghost is the first Rolls-Royce that begs loose comparisons with premium cars from other automakers. There's the Mulsanne, of course, sort of a distant cousin to the Ghost, and there's the Maybach 62. And not much else.
Of all three, it's observed that the Ghost is a superior blend of heritage and modernity. In the flesh, it trumps Rolls' own Phantom on that point. The Phantom has an altogether higher purpose: it caters to the most exclusive, well-heeled buyers on the planet. And as a standard bearer it has some boundaries it can't cross. It must be imposing, it must be classical, even a bit baroque.
The Ghost is more of a bridge to the rest of the world. For a manageable price--for anyone with a television deal or a sports contract--the Ghost represents a departure from the mainstream of luxury, the BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes of the road. It tips off outsiders tastefully that the owner has truly arrived, and in a respectable way. It behaves like a modern car, but one that you can recognize as a Rolls-Royce from a valet stand at a good distance. It's a magnitude of change from the tip of its hood-ornament wings to its jewel-like taillamps.
Steeped in [just enough] tradition
When Rolls-Royce began work on the new Ghost, and showed it as the 200EX concept, the Phantom already had reinvigorated all the traditional reasons you'd want to own a Rolls-Royce. The RR4 telegraphed how Rolls would soon offer some new, compelling reasons to drive its cars, and a detail as simple and stunning as a brushed-metal hood nearly gave its hand away.
The outline still bore the hallmarks of a classic Rolls design. The shading inside those lines revealed how the car underneath would flex its BMW corporate muscle to deliver remarkable performance. The Phantom's arch grille had settled down to earth on the 200EX and tilted itself back a bit, and the very formal rectangular headlights softened with the break of steel between them. The concept's flowing rear pillar relaxed the patrician demeanor, and the gradual taper in the sideview gave it visual power without any stereotypes of aggression.
Inside the cabin, the concept welcomed passengers as warmly in front as it did in the rear seats. Familiar touches like gimballed vents with chrome pulls were folded in with and LCD screen. Wrapped in wood and leather, the cockpit managed the same balancing act. With widespread acclaim in concept form, the 200EX rapidly became the Ghost in series production--with few changes.
The root of all power
Robust references to the past dissolve when you press the Ghost's start button and summon all the horsepower to attention. This Rolls-Royce can fly with abandon, betraying some of the international roots that transfused life back into the brand in the past decade.
There are BMW systems at work under the coachwork, but it surfaces in the Ghost's performance through a heavy layer of Rolls-Royce-engineered refinement. Electrical bits and entertainment pieces are shared with cars like the BMW 7-Series, and the Ghost's powertrain, suspension and drive systems deliver the strength and quietness of a much smaller, lighter sedan.
The twin-turbocharged V-12 engine fitted to the Ghost barely whispers while I press past the 80-mph mark on the 405. With 563 horsepower available at the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, the Ghost is virtually silent at speed, even as those speeds gather quickly. The Ghost promises 60-mph acceleration times of about 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph--one of which wouldn't be possible for me, what with the still shocking traffic on the highway after dark. The tremendous strength became evident as I pressed the Ghost into the passing lanes dozens of times, whiffling by peasants and barely pushing its "reserve power" below the 70-percent mark. And through a few detours up into the hills of Orange County, the Ghost's light steering became an unlikely ally. It masks much of the Ghost's substantial mass with clean, clear responses to inputs--as neatly as all that horsepower does.
All the while, the Ghost dealt with the road itself in an imperious way. There's really no question on the winner in this power play: with multi-link suspension at all four corners and a variable-position air suspension sandwiched in for good measure, the Ghost rides just as serenely, with only rare hints of tire patter to break the mantra of some soothing Sade smokily insinuating itself around the cabin.
Before things grew too hypnotic, I stopped before the long, dark stretch of highway outside Camp Pendleton and dialed up some Glenn Beck and a red-eye Starbucks. Drastic times call for drastic measures. In case I'd failed in my wake-up mission, the Ghost had my back: in the modern mode, it's fitted with a safety tour de force of airbags, traction and stability controls, even a grouping of cameras that channel a near-360 image of the Ghost's surroundings for dent-free parking maneuvers. Night vision, a lane-departure warning system, active high-beam headlamps and cruise control are integrated as well.
The road home, almost
The exit for Torrey Pines is a deep, quick loop that ends in the valet stand outside the low, timbered entry. The Ghost had hardly been stressed, which made one of us. And I didn't dare spend much time in the almost lurid back seat, for fear I'd tuck myself in all the hides and woolen carpets and call it a night right there--though I'd pre-paid for a big king bed and some really swell-smelling amenities.
I'll describe the back for you in brief: it's the library you wish your Hamptons home had been built around. Open the rear-hinged rear doors to the Ghost's back seat, resist the urge to pop the in-jamb umbrellas from their housing (it's such elegant kitsch, I know, but try to maintain composure), and the back seat practically swallows you. In every direction, the veneers and leather remind you of investment-grade craftsmanship, even if you choose the gloss piano black that's become a cliche on much less expensive cars. Rolls-Royce thinks of the back seat as a lounge, and you may too, once you tune in the rear-seat entertainment to your liking, switch your zone of climate control to a personalized setting, and pull out a bottle of dry Champagne and crystal flutes from hidden chambers tucked away amidst all the finery.
We recommend you pull down the seat-mounted picnic trays, too--not because they're terribly useful at their size, but because it puts the punctuation on the sentence, screws the finial in place.
You'll pardon if I passed on too much time in back. Twelve hours total in transit, many of them spent on wireless Skype chats and Bluetooth-enabled phone calls, had drained all of my power reserves well before I consumed half of the Ghost's driving range. A pass of the keyfob and a tip to the attendants and I fairly staggered through the Lodge's exquisite wood-and-leather lobby, saving some of the time I had left on my internal clock by ordering dinner at the front desk and barely beating it to the room.
And afterward, the patio lights dimmed along with the rest of the room, I tossed the snow-white king pillows into a makeshift backrest, and flopped into bed just in time for a favorite L&O repeat. I haven't had the chance to get beyond the Ghost's driver's seat; I'd had the opposite of what traditional Rolls-Royce owners might normally experience.
Drifting in and out of TV land, I figured that was exactly as they'd planned. I know I'm planning for the next time I see a Ghost.
Only next time, for sure, I'm bringing a chauffeur.