2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost review: less bling, more tech and a lot of fun
We check out the British brand's new "small" and "understated" option
The press presentation for the new Rolls-Royce Ghost was one of the funnier ones I've witnessed. It was hosted by the (annoyingly young, handsome and intelligent) engineering and design chiefs for the car, who introduced the assembled journos to some of the more ridiculous factoids from the new Ghost's development.
This is a car aimed to give Rolls customers a less ostentatious and smaller saloon than the flagship Phantom. It's the Audi A4 to the Phantom's A6. It's a 3 Series rather than a 5 Series. But all those analogies seem laughable when you realise the Ghost's rear doors contain little gyroscopes that gently and invisibly govern brakes on the self-opening system. This means that, when you're parked on an incline, gravity doesn't yank the door open faster than is ideal into the Michelangelo sculpture you keep next to the kennels. It's nuts.
Then we were told the starlit headlining now has a couple of 'audio exciters' attached to it, which turn the entire headlining into a flat speaker cone to fill out the frequency response of the sound system. Just in case the subwoofer that pumps bass notes through the Ghost's chassis rails wasn't fancy enough. The amount of geeky detail in this car could fill an anthology – but watch my video below to see what it's really like on a soggy UK day, or read on for more thoughts.
Despite all the techy details and wonderful attention to design detail, the Rolls-Royce Ghost is, at the end of the day, 'just a car'. So that's how we should view it.
So what do you get for your £250,000 (before options and local taxes)?
The oily unmentionables include the iconic 6.75-litre turbocharged V12, here with 571hp and 850Nm of torque, which gets you from 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds and on to a limited 155mph, at which point the cabin will probably be as noisy as a BMW 7 Series at tickover.
Power is sent through all four wheels, and all four wheels can steer – a first for a Rolls-Royce. That means the Ghost's 5546mm length can slip in and out of parallel parking spaces with ease, while feeling incredibly stable at unlordly speeds.
It shrinks around you
As a driving experience, the new Ghost is not-at-all intimidating, and it's a joy to drive whatever your preferred pace. From behind the wheel the bonnet slinks away, with the Spirit of Ecstasy as its vanishing point. Even my 6'3" frame feels small in the exceptionally roomy cabin, and the view out is largely good – with a significant caveat.
Yep. Very purple.
The car I was driving was specced with electrically controlled blinds on all the rear windows, and they only retract halfway, leaving you with a huge blindspot over your right shoulder from the bunched-up blind. Unless you're getting the extended-wheelbase version, I'd leave these shades off the spec sheet.
This is probably the world's prettiest speaker
At motorway speeds, the cabin is more hushed than anything this side of a Phantom, thanks in part to the huge amount of work Rolls has put into throwing cabin noises firmly into the sea.
Each door contains four types of sound deadening, and the parcel shelf in the boot contains lots of tubes of varying diameter and length to alter the way air travels between the cabin and boot, reducing boominess from the rear wheels.
There's plenty of room back here for tall people, even in the regular wheelbase version of the Ghost
The result is remarkable, if not completely silent – rumour has it that removing too much sound resulted in occupants feeling a bit queasy, but it may be worth taking that with a pinch of artisanal pink Himalayan salt.
How does it feel?
What is worth paying attention to is how this thing corners. The Ghost's air suspension does a remarkable job of cancelling body lean, and you're always given enough of an idea about how much front-end grip you have. I was driving in hammering rain on partially flooded roads and – aside from a few scary moments where I was aquaplaning in something that costs more than my house – the Ghost always felt secure and capable of impressive cross-country pace. It's not quite an RS6 for the next-level wealthy, but it's not far off.
The sheet metal on the side of the Ghost may look like one piece, but it's hand welded from several pieces
The ride is predictably sublime, thanks in part to a new technology that includes mass dampers on the top of the front wishbones, removing harshness and better controlling the suspension movement over undulations. This is coupled with a stereo camera that can actively prepare the suspension for upcoming imperfections at up to 62mph. The result isn't perfect smoothness over all surfaces, but it's more comforting than any other car I've driven.
Performance isn't an ugly word
Despite weighing 2.5 tonnes, the new Ghost has an impressive amount of pace to go with all that grace. A delicious and refreshing lack of driving modes means you can always be assured of impressively stately acceleration away from every set of traffic lights, and between 40 and 70mph (and more), the Ghost feels properly rapid. Click the 'low' button on the column gearshifter and the gearbox will hold on to each of its ratios for longer, and the throttle response is sharpened. The V12 makes itself heard in the cabin, and although not the most beautiful of sounds, it certainly doesn't discourage you from thrashing it.
The Pantheon grille lights up with a gentle glow at night
The Ghost flows over a road with an unbelievable amount of control, and it will let you hurry along at an impressive pace even on twisty roads. There's still something about the Ghost – like any Rolls – that encourages a more genteel and unhurried mindset, but when you really need to drive like your country needs you, it responds well.
This is probably down to the Ghost using Rolls' in-house aluminium spaceframe construction, which has given the brand the chance to put the engine, suspension and cabin exactly where they all should be – and it's worth noting the engine is entirely behind the front axle. You finally sense that this isn't just a blinged-up BMW, but its own majestically capable beast.
Does it feel special?
Yes, obviously. But in a slightly different way to normal. As we've mentioned, the Ghost is designed to be a bit less showy than a Phantom. This means the interior is pared back.
It took Rolls' craftspeople 10,000 hours to make these lights disappear completely when the car's switched off
Sure, the leather used throughout will still make the Queen's newest clutch look like a hessian Bag For Life, but there's no fussiness in its use. The door cards are just one big swathe of cow. The centre console is just incredibly neat. The dashboard in front of the passenger displays the car's name along with 850 stars shining through a piano-black veneer. It took 10,000 hours and lots of messing about with lasers to make this feature totally disappear when it's disabled.
The Ghost's daytime running lights give it a bit more of a youthful look that we're used to from Rolls
Rolls-Royce says the Ghost has been stripped back a bit, but that it still had to be perfect. Have they managed it? Absolutely.
This is Rolls' most high-tech car ever, yet it's the driving experience that has stayed with me. No other car blends comfort and the opportunity for downright-dirty hoonery as well as the Ghost. I doubt they'll put that statement on the adverts, but for people who like driving, the Ghost is not going to disappoint.
And I didn't even mention how the air-con vents are felt-lined to reduce the noise of air rushing out. Or how the rear of the grille vanes have a matt finish to give the new backlighting a subtle glow. Or how the bonnet hinges can lift the huge sheet of engine cover over the Spirit of Ecstasy without giving her a concussion. In terms of the details, the new Ghost is impressive, and also sort of ludicrous – in a good way.