Rolls-Royce has positioned its "cheap" model, the Ghost sedan, brilliantly, in terms of both its price and its unapologetic pursuit of comfort in a class of wannabe sport sedans.
In the past few years, ultraluxury brands have been adding models to their lineups that are priced lower than their typical ultrarich cars, but that are still more expensive than the most feature- and power-packed models from mass-market luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. In 2004, Bentley introduced its sporty Continental GT coupe at the unprecedented low price of $149,990 and promptly quintupled its sales without damaging the brand, as some had predicted the car might. A four-door Continental Flying Spur followed, currently priced at $177,600, $202,500 for a more powerful Speed version.
At a base price of $245,000, the Ghost comes in above the Spur and the new Aston Martin Rapide ($200,000), and well above the priciest versions of Maserati's Quattroporte ($133,700) and Porsche's new Panamera ($132,600), all of which have four doors.
Yet the Ghost doesn't cost as much as Rolls-Royce's flagship sedan, the Phantom ($380,000), or the 57 ($366,000) from Maybach, a Daimler brand. Though its retired 2009 Arnage was in the same range as the Ghost, Bentley's all-new 2011 Mulsanne flagship starts at $285,000.
Both its character and its price put the Ghost in a position to satisfy buyers and succeed in what's becoming a crowded subset of the luxury market.
Exterior & Styling
Everyone knows the Rolls-Royce name, but most people probably think of the cars as curvaceous, classic designs. The modern Rolls is something altogether different — more angular and blocky, as led by the flagship Phantom, a tall hulk of a sedan that has appeared in both "Iron Man" movies, including a turn on a racetrack in Monaco. With styling inspired by the Phantom, the Ghost has rectangular headlight clusters flanking a traditional Rolls grille that's large but not as enormous as the Phantom's. The edges are chamfered and the Ghost isn't as tall, but it's still more blocky than fluid. Only a nearby Phantom could make the Ghost's presence less commanding.
The Ghost is about 17 inches shorter than the short-wheelbase Phantom, but it's by no means small, at 212.6 inches from bumper to bumper. That puts it between the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban full-size SUVs.
The Ghost's best tricks include a traditional Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament that retracts when you lock the car, to prevent theft or vandalism, and "RR" center caps on the wheels that remain upright even when the car's in motion. What really sets the Ghost apart, though, is the optional Silver Satin Bonnet Finish — an aluminum-colored hood that wasn't included on our silver test car.
A Passenger's Car
Where most of the four-door ultraluxury cars emphasize sport — Flying Spur, Rapide, Quattroporte — with varying levels of success, the Ghost is unapologetically soft and luxurious. That doesn't mean slow, however: It does zero to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, which is remarkable for a car that weighs just under 5,500 pounds. I felt the same way about the heavy Flying Spur, but it's even more surprising in a big sedan whose styling gives no indication of its underlying might.
The might comes compliments of a 6.6-liter V-12 that's based on parent company BMW's 6.0-liter. Take two six-packs' worth of cylinders, add direct injection and twin turbochargers, and you get 563 horsepower and 575 pounds-feet of torque. That's a lot of engine output — more than you get in the Phantom, whose 6.8-liter V-12 has "only" 453 hp. The Ghost also weighs 132 pounds less and has an eight-speed automatic instead of the Phantom's six-speed. In the end, the Phantom is slower and gets lower gas mileage: an EPA-estimated 11/18 mpg city/highway and a $3,000 gas-guzzler tax. The Ghost is rated 13/20 mpg and bears a $1,700 tax.
Though the rear-wheel-drive Ghost isn't exactly a driver's car — eschewing such folderol as sport modes and shift paddles — it's certainly capable of high-speed handling, not just straight-line rocketing. There's just enough feedback to remind you that you're driving and not playing a video game. The steering wheel is just that, not a tiller. The engine is as quiet as, well, a ghost when it's under all but full throttle, at which point it's more a hum than a roar, or even a growl. Lexus would do well to find this compromise and distinguish itself, rather than chase the sportiness for which its competitors are already known.
The only driving anomaly I found in the Ghost was a slight rocking back and forth after braking to a full stop, as if the body were shifting to and fro without noticeably diving and squatting — a strange characteristic indeed.
Lap of Luxury
As you would expect — and buyers demand — the interior is beautifully appointed. We weren't wild about our leather's red color, though the quality is sumptuous, and Rolls ensures that the hides are pristine and all come from the same tanning batch, just as the wood in each car comes from the same tree, so all surfaces discolor — er, mature — in unison over time.
The Ghost's exterior is smaller than the Phantom, but the specs show 111 cubic feet of passenger volume, which is 8 cubic feet more than the short-wheelbase Phantom's cabin offers. The front and rear seats offer plenty of room for tall adults. The sacrifice is in the trunk, which measures 14 cubic feet in the Ghost and 16.2 cubic feet in the Phantom — midsize-car trunks in jumbo-sized cars.
The Ghost is distinguished by rear coach doors, which open to the rear. Unlike some rear-hinged doors, these open even if the front doors are closed, and they swing 83 degrees, which helps mitigate one of the shortcomings of coach doors: collisions between front and rear occupants if they get in or out simultaneously.
The main attraction, however, is a discreet button labeled "DOOR" on the inside of either C-pillar. When the passenger holds that button, the rear door closes on its own. I'm not talking about a feature that snugs the doors all the way shut if you just lightly press them closed — though it has those, too. This feature takes the coach door from fully open to fully closed. I must note, though, that every person who thrilled to this feature quickly pushed the button again and was disappointed that it didn't open under its own power, too. The owners of nearby cars and speeding bike messengers probably appreciate this.
Pay Extra for Extras
Ultraluxury cars are like luxury hotels. Bed down at the average Courtyard or even a motel, and you get a coffee maker in your room, an iron and sometimes a refrigerator and microwave. Pay more to stay at, say, a Ritz-Carlton, and you're likely to find that coffee comes only from room service, at a hefty price.
Likewise, cars such as the Ghost want extra for extras — enough to raise our car's as-equipped price to $305,750, including the destination charge and guzzler tax. You know those ventilated seats that come standard in some luxury cars? They're $2,100 if you want them in front and $3,500 if you want them for both rows of seats. A massaging feature, which everyone seems to find annoying, adds $1,100 for the front and another $1,100 for the rear. The $6,000 Individual Lounge Seat Configuration adds power adjustments to the outboard rear seats, including fore/aft, recline and even lumbar support. The center armrest that bears the controls can be raised, preserving the three-person capacity in back.
Tray tables for the outboard seats cost $2,800, and the large screens above them come in a $6,200 Rear Theater Configuration option that duplicates many of the navigation, entertainment and communication displays and controls found on the front in-dash screen.
Fluffy lamb's wool floormats cost $1,000. That seemed excessive at first, but if you think about it, floormats are always shockingly expensive — and shorn lambs get cold; someone needs to pay for those blankets.
Thankfully, most of these options — and many I haven't mentioned — are available a la carte, so it's easy to pick and choose. If I were to buy a Ghost, I'd forgo our test car's massaging seats, panoramic sunroof ($7,000), 20-inch wheels ($5,000) and Chrome Visible Exhaust ($3,200) and buy myself a respectable chase car to intercept me should I run out of Grey Poupon. (I understand the high option prices, but the Chrome Visible Exhaust is a bridge too far. They're freakin' chrome tailpipes, and they'd be more accurately named Chrome Barely-Visible Exhaust.)
There are option packages, too: The $10,000 Driver's Assistance Systems Three package adds active cruise control, a head-up display, automatic high beams, night vision and a lane departure warning system that vibrates the steering wheel gently if you stray — which I prefer to the beeping type. Optional Systems One and Two pare down the feature list and the price.
Hints of BMW
Features like the night vision and head-up display are among the only clues that the Ghost shares a basic platform and technology with the BMW 7 Series, which is nothing to be ashamed of. The column-mounted gear selector recalls that of the previous-generation 7 Series, and the turn-signal stalk springs back to center rather than staying in the up or down position until the turn is complete — something I dislike in any car.
The navigation, multimedia and other car settings are controlled through an iDrive equivalent whose menus are more ergonomic than ever, and though there are similarities between these graphics and BMW's, they're elegant enough that they don't look out of place in the Ghost. Not so for some of the Bentley Continental family's displays, which clearly come from older-generation Audis.
The $3,200 Camera System option includes a backup camera with the latest in tracer lines that show where the car's fenders will be based on the steering angle. There's also a sky-view feature that shows the ground at the sides and rear of a car graphic — a BMW feature similar to Infiniti's once-exclusive Around View Monitor. Finally, cameras in the front side-marker lights look left and right, allowing you to peek at cross traffic as you creep into an intersection.
Many of these high-tech features aren't exclusive to Rolls, and they aren't cheap, but when they appear on more mundane luxury cars you certainly expect them on a model like this, and the Ghost delivers. Ultimately, the head-up display's liability isn't about lineage; it's the fact that the display vanishes completely if you don polarized sunglasses, as all discerning drivers do. Another anomaly is that the large side mirrors stick up so high they can block your forward view; even at 6 feet tall and with the driver's seat fully raised, it happened to me a couple of times.
Typical of ultraluxury cars, the Ghost hasn't been crash-tested. In addition to the optional active-safety features mentioned above, the Ghost has standard front and front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags, as well as side curtain airbags for the front and rear seats. Also standard are antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control. See all the standard safety features listed here.
Ghost in the Market
Automakers take a chance when they go "downmarket" in price. Entering a vehicle segment dominated by rivals is another risk, and sharing components — not just a parent company — with a "lesser" brand is risky as well. Though Rolls-Royce faced all three risks with the Ghost, the company has nailed the transition. It's beautifully executed and very much a Rolls, and the company has no excuses to make. The comfort orientation sets it apart from competing four-doors, and even the price seems well selected to compete without watering down the brand.
The option pricing is a bit much, but that's not uncommon in the ultraluxury class, and at least Rolls is generous enough to offer many as independent options rather than in packages. Most are worth considering. But those chrome tailpipes ...
Starting MSRP $245,000
EPA Fuel Economy:
563-hp, 6.6-liter V-12 (premium)
8-speed automatic w/OD
New or Notable
• All-new for 2010
• Based on 200EX concept
• 563-hp, twin-turbo V-12
• Eight-speed automatic
• Four- or five-seat configurations
• Rear-opening backseat doors