What is a brand? Beyond the badge, what separates a Louis Vuitton bag from a purse that might be just as good, but made by someone else? We come to that question on the occasion of the Rolls-Royce Ghost which, in some quarters, is being considered a Rolls only in name. Autoblog got a chance to crawl around the Ghost – not the "baby Rolls," not the "entry-level Rolls" – and see if the car really is what its makers claim it to be: every bit a Rolls-Royce motorcar.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.
If we were to define what an ideal Rolls-Royce represents in three words, we'd suggest grandeur (a RR is the bright line dividing overlords from underlings), ride (Rolls being the automaker for which the term "waftability" was coined), and voluptuous (with interiors meant to please the dedicated voluptuary). The Ghost has been deemed – among other things – a really expensive BMW 7 Series, and is probably considered lacking in all of those departments.
Since we haven't yet ridden in the Ghost (let alone driven it), we can't speak for its waftability. Since it was designed to serve a different purpose, the design necessarily departs from traditional Rolls-Royce grandeur. Nevertheless, since we've been inside the car, our first impressions have been satisfied that no stitch appears to have been spared when it comes to voluptuousness.
We'll start with a long lens and work our way in. The philosophy behind the Ghost was "to create a modern, lithe and dynamic Rolls-Royce that bears all the hallmarks of the great cars that have gone before it: effortless performance, unparalleled refinement, exquisite quality and confident design." The notable phrase, however, comes in Rolls-Royce's next description of the car: "Alluring, inviting, approachable." While most people would probably say the other vehicles in the line – the Phantom, Drophead Coupe, and Coupe – meet that description, those three do so in the same way that the QE2 or Kilamanjaro or a pod of blue whales meet that description. Once approached, and not too closely, they invite you to say things like "Have you seen this?" and "Yikes."
On the contrary, upon approaching the Ghost you are meant to follow that invitation all the way through to the driver's seat. Whereas the Phantom drives like a car smaller than it is, the Ghost, in pictures, looks smaller than it is. Nevertheless, that only means that it's small for a Rolls-Royce – that does not mean it's a small car. At 212.5 inches, the Ghost is 8.3 inches shorter than the Phantom Coupe but 7.3 inches longer than a BMW 760Li. It is also is 1.4 inches wider than the car with the roundel and its wheelbase is 3.3 inches longer.
This decrease versus the Phantom family and the inclusion of finer curves and angles add up to a canyon-esque amount of "brand" distance between the Ghost and its larger siblings. So perhaps a better comparison is this: the Ghost is 0.1 inch shorter than a Bentley Arnage R, but it is also wider, has a longer wheelbase, and is 1.5 inches taller than the Arnage. The car is visually far enough from what we expect a Rolls-Royce to be that it's easy not to pick up the fact that it's bigger than an Arnage – which is itself a car that could only be called small like the sun could only be called small when compared to Arcturus. Still, a Rolls-Royce without the granite heft of Marble Arch and one that doesn't look like it's sniffing down at you? Pshaw! That's not a Rolls-Royce! That's just a really expensive... something else...
Except it isn't. Not any more.
This is a car meant to broaden the appeal of Rolls-Royce, to find buyers who enjoy driving their cars and want a little less "sense of occasion" since they aren't always wearing tuxedos and going to royal court parties. It's a new place for Rolls-Royce to be, and this is the model that sets the tone. If Rolls' client viewings are anything to go by, it's working: fully 75% of hand raisers showing interest in the car don't currently own a Rolls.
The car's ride remains a mystery, but there was one interesting tidbit we learned from Jon Stanley, Rolls' product PR manager: even components like the shocks benefit from a coachbuilt treatment. There is a tiny range of tuning allowed in the shocks, yet when individual shocks are picked for individual cars, four shocks in the same area of that range will be chosen to go on one car. So say the tuning range was numbered one to five; four shocks would be chosen that fell within a range of four or five versus three shocks at four and one at two. You don't find that on a BMW.
We must admit, though, that the only solution for getting this car is to get in it. That is where you say "Ah, okay. It's a Rolls-Royce." A smaller one, but still a Rolls-Royce. Up front, the stretch of lower dash that forms an unbroken levee of wood in the Phantom has been supplanted by stitched leatherwork and A/C controls in the Ghost. The towering center console in the Phantom is a little less towering in the Ghost, but the violin key switches are here, the eyeball airvents, the white gauges with the Power Reserve meter on the left and, most deliciously, the sofa seats with leather slathered all over them. Even better than the Phantom is the new screen atop the center stack – yes, it's from BMW, and no, it's not hidden by a clock – but it does bring the Ghost into the new millennium by not making you use two different digital readouts for various tasks.
In back betwixt those coach doors is a curved bench with sculpted seating. Those passengers get screens inset into the front seatbacks and, on the shelf behind the rear headrests, enough speakers to make Wembley roar. Knowing what kind of stereos Rolls installs, and with less interior space, we can't imagine turning the volume way up unless we liked the sensation of our eardrums erupting. And behind all of that is the largest trunk outside of a container ship. Park the car next to the beach and you can rent the trunk out as a guest house. Above everyone inside is a two-panel sunroof. Only the front panel opens, sliding underneath the rear glass.
Get inside, in any of the seats, and close the doors, and if you've been in any current Rolls-Royce you will be familiar with the feeling. A smaller, less ornate Rolls, but still a Rolls, which is what ultimately matters.
What will pull all of this is a 6.6-liter twin-turbo V12 putting out somewhere north of 500 hp – Rolls still hadn't decided on a number. The twin-turbo unit in the 760 has 544 hp, but is a 6.0-liter. We can expect the Ghost to be thereabouts or a little north of that, but the additional capacity will stress even manners as opposed to urgent speed. Again, we have no idea how it sounds, but once inside the car you probably won't be able to hear it anyway.
What is the Ghost's competition? The easy answer is that it doesn't really have any. The more involved answer is that it's hard to say. Price-wise, you could probably buy almost three BMW 760lis with Ghost money. A Mercedes S65 AMG has the same "Caw, chief!" specs, but a different philosophy... and it's not a Rolls-Royce. The Ghost is the same size as the current Arnage T and R (although about ten inches shorter than the Arnage RL limousine), but with a completely different driving brief and a price tag that could exceed the Arnage's by $25,000 - $75,000. Aston has nothing in the mix here. The Bentley Flying Spur could be a good guess, but again, the cars have completely different philosophies and missions. Besides, if you're swimming in that golden pool, chances are you'll probably own both of them eventually anyway. All of which means the car's biggest competition could simply be the other cars in a potential buyer's ten-car garage...
The most important query is, is the Ghost definitely a Rolls-Royce? Until we drive it, we don't know. But our first impressions lead us to say: "Rather!"
Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.