2015 Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II [w/video]Fri, 10 Oct 2014
Rolls-Royce Director of Global Communications Richard Carter tells me that his storied employer is "a company that does not chase volume." In a perfect world, mused Carter, the carmaker would sell "one less" of its ultra-luxury vehicles than the fast-expanding world market demands.
And, thanks in no small part to the unprecedented success of the Series I Rolls-Royce Ghost that launched in 2010, the Brit brand seems well positioned to strike that perfect balance between exclusivity and record profits. In 2003 (the year in which the first BMW-backed Rolls rolled off the line in West Sussex), the company managed to sell around 500 cars. This year, with the first run of already-back-ordered Ghost Series II models still weeks away from delivery, the marque will top 4,000 units for the first time in its history.
Considering that each one of those "units" – a somewhat unsatisfying term for motor car this special – will gross Rolls-Royce $300,000 if we're being very conservative, you'll quickly see that creating a very desirable product for one of the best brands in the world negates the need to chase volume. The rich and free-spending are chasing this Ghost, instead.
So, how do you refresh (I'm told that a Rolls-Royce would never be subjected to a "facelift") a luxury sedan that is already so affecting to drive, be driven in and to behold? I flew south to Dallas, TX, to drive the new Ghost Series II in and amongst the genuinely rich folks to find out.
"Facelift" may be a term too gauche for company minders to utter, but it does succinctly convey the cosmetic revisions that the Ghost has seen for its second act. A dead-front view reveals just about everything that is visually new on the exterior. The brand-making grille is slightly more imposing that on the previous model, now flanked with LED-lined headlamps that have evolved into a bigger, slightly teardrop shape. Aside from the new lamps, the most obvious giveaway for the new model is the wake-shaped channel in the hood that the runs from the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament back to the windscreen.
A dead-front view reveals just about everything that is visually new on the exterior.
In reference to the subtly of these design changes Carter said, "the body shape is, in any event, classic," hinting that dramatic model-year-rewrites are the stuff of more ordinary cars. The Ghost looks as it should, in other words – different enough to keep the nameplate fresh I suppose, but very much hoping that its silhouette and prow have already reached eternal status in the globe's automotive annals.
Inside there are more changes – both obvious and below the skin – than on the exterior, but the sense of regality remains. A new Rolls-branded iDrive controller adorns the center console, front and rear, with a slice of crystal protecting two more iterations of that lovely Spirit lady. What's more, the controllers are now touch-sensitive, too, so Sir or Madam may spell out letters with his or her fingertip, rather than having to scroll-wheel through the alphabet. A new styling theme calls out the improved software of the infotainment system, as well, complete with the current top-tier of BMW computing power.
All of that works reasonably well during my day-long experience, too, with the exception of the touch-capacitive bar under those jewel-like numbered buttons on the center stack. That item proved a little finicky for my fat finger, once even resetting the destination on the navi system inadvertently. Don't worry, a chauffeur was standing by to undo my cockup.
Attention to detail in every area that isn't run by a computer is, of course, without match in the industry.
Attention to detail in every area that isn't run by a computer is, of course, without match in the industry. My standard-wheelbase Ghost II was trimmed in creamy seashell and black, with piano-black veneers laid thickly in every spot that leather or metal was not. It was actually kind of a tame treatment compared to some of the other dozen or so interiors I peeked at, but nevertheless cozy, authentic and lamb's-wooly in all the right places.
The car is also "just right" when it comes to its impressive powertrain, even though those oily bits are practically unchanged from Ghost I. Under the newly shaped aluminum bonnet is the same twin-turbocharged 6.6-liter V12, producing an equally monumental 563 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque – the latter produced at a mere 1,500 rpm. This muscle-bound butler of an engine answers calls for more thrust at just about any speed, with just a heartbeat of turbo'd hesitation followed by gobsmacking results.
Within the first half-mile of driving, leaving downtown Dallas by way of a free-flowing highway, I summoned up a wide-open-throttle pull from a starting point of around 60 miles per hour. The big Ghost – don't believe all the "Baby Rolls" hype, this is a large lady – crouched at the rear and rose its singular prow by just a fraction of an inch, and then pushed forward like a bullet train.
There is something in the way that the Ghost just barely issues an audible rumble while pulling past triple digits that make the speed even more impressive.
As much as I like the clash and howl of a great engine at speed, there is something in the way that the Ghost just barely issues an audible rumble while pulling past triple digits that make the speed even more impressive. As is the unobtrusive action of its eight-speed automatic gearbox, which mostly keeps the business of ratio-changing an inaudible, undercover affair.
Which isn't to say that the Ghost II is completely silent. For all that's made of its supremacy of silence, I think I was just a tiny bit disappointed with the highway-speed noises I could hear: wind rush off of the huge, square sideview mirrors and persistent roar from the meaty tires being chief among them. The last Mercedes-Benz S550 I drove on the freeway was the Ghost's hushed equal, no question.
Fair to say though, that at slow speeds, being driven around the city, the Ghost is just about the quietest machine I've yet ridden in. What's more, even if it's slightly louder at pace, the ridiculous power and fidelity of the 18-speaker audio system is more than enough to take one's mind off of wind noise.
Driving through town is really the thing to do with this big Brit, too, rather than using it to seek out your most challenging coastal road or backwoods lane. My drive route north out of Dallas for fifty miles or so was composed mainly of pin-straight country roads once the highway ran out. I did occasionally encounter a curve or three in the road, but only enough to quickly understand that this isn't a car to chuck hard from corner to corner.
The fun to be had in the Ghost is with the slow roll, not the sharp turn.
Don't get me wrong, there's some pretty impressive body and chassis control exhibited from a car that weights more than 5,000 pounds. And company hotshoes had tales to tell of customer demonstrations at racetrack, showing just exactly what the car is capable of. But the steering wheel is completely detached of road feel, and I never quite felt confident pushing to the edge of adhesion. Perhaps if I'd had more time on curvier roads I may have, but I doubt it – the fun to be had in the Ghost is with the slow roll, not the sharp turn.
Not that I didn't have some, ungentlemanly fun with the Ghost. My driving partner for the event was Scott Evans of Motor Trend, who had the inspired idea to 'test' the floating, "RR"-emblazoned center caps by filming a big smoky burnout on a dirty stretch of abandoned road. After a day of driving like princes, it did feel pretty good to get the Roller a little street cred with a set of elevens.
Now, most Ghost II buyers won't be interested in lighting up the rear rubber, but I do think that our little prank speaks to the precipice of change that the company finds itself on: the bid to attract new buyers while maintaining the traditions and quality that give the brand such gravitas. Especially in a marketplace that sees practical competition from cars that cost half as much.
The slightly quicker and slightly smaller Audi can be had for $230,000 less than the as-tested price of my Ghost.
Before hopping a plane to drive the Ghost in Texas, I drove to the airport in an Audi S8 with an out-the-door price of about $135,000 over a base of roughly $115k. These aren't direct competitors, to be sure, but the slightly quicker and slightly smaller Audi can be had for $230,000 less than the as-tested price of my Ghost. Read that sentence again.
Rolls stacks the chips high for its options sheet, to say nothing of the virtually unlimited top-end of its bespoke program. Yeah, the $54k price tag of the rear massaging seats and the $10k platinum-colored paint are bonkers, but they're certainly nothing compared to the price-no-object requests the company gets from its billionaire following every week.
That is a model that has worked to make record profits for the company in recent years, but it's also one that insists the company never sell a bad car. Even as a rather mild refreshening then, the pressure is clearly on this second-series sedan.
Ultimately, the job Rolls-Royce must do to continue selling cars at this unprecedented pace, is straightforward: don't disappoint. The PR team talked a lot about the 'new' Ghost customer; entrepreneurs who are creative, driven and successful, with standards that preclude all but the very best. That profile passes the sniff test to me, but I would add to it that anyone with the cash and the predisposition to purchase this car probably has some idea that it's at least in contention for The Very Best Car In The World. For $350,000 and up, it had better be.
You either want to own a Rolls-Royce or you don't, and the final product either delivers on that self-assured assumption, or it does not.
But I don't think the same buyer says "yes" or "no" to the purchase based on in-car wifi or the touch-capacitive control knob or even the quality of the seat massage. The Ghost's "killer app" as it were, is far more likely to be the first time a prospective buyer dares to reach down and explore the two-inches of lamb's wool under his or her feet. Or pop the monogrammed umbrella out of the door casement. Or quietly click through a sample selection of bookmatched wood trims. Or see the morning sun glance of the hood-ornament's wings as the throttle is depressed hard on a test run.
Ghost II doesn't try to win the test of comparison shopping, in other words. It prefers, instead, to win by defying comparison altogether. You either want to own a Rolls-Royce or you don't, and the final product either delivers on that self-assured assumption, or it does not. As a terrific steward of both the marque and the nameplate it continues, this Ghost II most assuredly does.
- Twin-Turbo 6.6L V12
- 563 HP / 575 LB-FT
- 8-Speed Auto
- 0-60 Time:
- 4.8 Seconds
- Top Speed:
- 155 MPH (limited)
- Rear-Wheel Drive
- Engine Placement:
- Curb Weight:
- 5,490 LBS
- 17.3 CU-FT
- 13 City / 20 HWY
- Base Price:
- As-Tested Price:
By Seyth Miersma
See also: Rolls-Royce Phantom Metropolitan Collection wafts into the annals of exclusivity, Rolls-Royce starts a turf war in the Garden of Wraith, Rolls-Royce to reach 4,000 units this year.