One word: waftability.
Driving this cocooned luxo barge puts one into a state of serenity that seems to evaporate any notions of road rage — although I concede I might feel differently if I’d been driving in peak hour on William Nicol Drive, or having minibuses overtaking me in the emergency lane.
But, ushering this grand dame through the eased-up late-morning traffic of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, things were just peachy.
This may be a smaller car than the brand’s top-echelon and nearly six metre-long Phantom, but there is no sense of “juniorisation” to it. The granite-like solidity and the sense of grandness are pure Rolls-Royce.
The Ghost’s imposing 5.4m-long size and 2.5-ton weight are always palpable as you waft through traffic, but in a good way; it adds gravitas to the driving experience and a Rolls-Royce simply wouldn’t feel right as a lighter, nimbler car.
That said, the Ghost is not a handful to drive for such a barge. The oversized limo isn’t conducive to darting through tiny traffic gaps, but one generally doesn’t need to as other road users tend to briskly move out of the way when this car looms large-and-in-charge in their rear-view mirrors.
“It’s a built-in lane-clearing feature,” jokes Rolls-Royce SA’s GM Marek Letowt from the passenger seat.
Letowt has come along for the ride in a UK-registered demo vehicle that is in SA for a short visit, as a sort of farewell tour ahead of the next-generation Ghost being launched in the next year or two. Rolls-Royce is part of the stable of luxury cars imported to SA by Joburg-based Daytona, alongside the McLaren, Aston Martin and Pagani brands.
So what has changed in the Ghost in the past 10 years, I ask?
There have been technological tweaks to keep it up to date, says Letowt, along with a subtle facelift. The headlights are slightly reshaped and have become powered by LEDs, while the car’s bluff front end has received a minor reprofile to conform to latest pedestrian-friendly regulations. That may be so, but I still wouldn’t want to be a jaywalker on the receiving end of that cliff-like grille, at any speed. Look left, look right remains the preferred survival strategy.
The car has also been updated with the latest infotainment, including the ability to screen-mirror a smartphone onto the entertainment screens in the back seats. These rear seats have also been re-angled so that passengers can more easily easier talk to each other.
Before driving the car I’d sat in the rear to get a taste of the experience awaiting chauffeur-driven Ghost owners (using a button to electrically close the door), and as much as luxury German brands are making top-class car interiors, the verdict is that they still don’t match the sumptuousness of the Brits.
This Ghost oozes a luxury that quickly silences any cynical notions of the car being a “7 Series in drag”. Yes, the car is based on a heavily modified platform shared with the previous-generation BMW 7 Series, but the design and all the touchpoints are almost pure Rolls-Royce, with the grandiloquence notched up to match the R5.8m price tag.
It’s all wood-veneered, leather-lined affluence in the grand cabin, and chrome trimmings galore. There are no fiddly switches. Instead, it’s a feeling of over-engineered solidity, including the chromed metal levers that open and close the air vents, and the leather-and-wood fold-out picnic tables in the rear seat.
The iDrive operating system is the only BMW-obvious feature, but it’s been given an elegant Rolls-Royce reskin.
Ghost a compelling super-luxury car, even though it’s now in its twilight years
As one peers over that long bonnet, the modern head-up display alongside the historic Spirit of Ecstasy mascot underlines the Ghost’s technology-meets-tradition appeal.
The big Anglo-German car rides on air springs, which is where the aforementioned waftability comes in. It gives the Ghost a feathery ride quality that invites one to drive through smaller potholes rather than swerve around them.
This cosseting ride combines with the sound-proofed cabin to muffle out the bump and grind of the outside world, leaving occupants in a relaxed cocoon of contentment.
Serving up fast-paced finesse is the same 6.6l turbocharged V12 that’s served duty under that imposing snout for a decade. The 419kW and 780Nm outputs are capable of whooshing the weighty car along with fast decorum, maintaining high speeds with a singular lack of aural drama.
As part of its most recent upgrade the Ghost became available with Satellite Aided Transmission technology which utilises GPS data, as well as analysing the driving style of the driver, to anticipate and select the most appropriate ratio in the eight-speed auto. For instance, if the system determines a corner is approaching, it knows to hold the gear it’s in, rather than upshift as it might if it were going straight.
It’s an example of how technology and old-school elegance combine to make the current Ghost a compelling super-luxury car, even though it’s now in its twilight years.