The most inescapable thing about driving a Rolls-Royce Ghost is never being able to forget how much it costs. So let’s get that out of the way: with a sticker price of $460,350, it’s a car that costs more than a house in many parts of the country. This knowledge never escapes you, a constant reminder that you’re visiting a world where just the cost of the options fitted to the car seen here would buy a pretty good pre-owned Mercedes S-Class.
You remember it when you park or whenever another car gets a little too close in traffic, given the pricey consequences of a scratch or scrape. But the price tag also looms when you feel the weight of the metal switchgear or your feet sink into the deep shag of the lambswool carpets. You quickly realize the amount of time and materials that went into putting everything together.
The award for most improved goes to…
Despite the above, it was hard not to like the 2021 Ghost. When we tried the previous model a couple of years ago, it was similarly solid and sumptuously trimmed, but it thoroughly underwhelmed, particularly from behind the wheel. Part of the problem, perhaps, was that car sharing a platform with BMW’s 7 Series.
But that’s a problem no more, for the bones of the new Ghost come from Rolls-Royce’s new aluminum spaceframe platform (called Architecture of Luxury), shared with the Cullinan SUV and the even more expensive Phantom. The result is a car that’s as enjoyable to drive as the previous one wasn’t.
In the past, writers have likened the experience of driving a Rolls-Royce to piloting the drawing-room of a British stately home. I don’t think that’s an accurate analogy for the 21st-century Ghost, though. The chassis—made from extruded aluminum box sections—is too stiff and the ride and handling too composed to draw unfavorable comparisons with masonry and furniture.
Ironically, that very stiff chassis is one of the reasons the Ghost really does offer a magic carpet ride. It has a rather clever “planar suspension system” that does things like use GPS data and the Ghost’s forward-looking optical sensors to anticipate how firm the air springs should be at any given moment. It does a remarkably good job of soaking up big bumps, and this “road preview” function is now beginning to show up on other vehicles, too. But no other car also features an extra damper for each of the front upper wishbones. These soak up the high-frequency shocks and jolts that aren’t filtered out by the air suspension.
As a result, the Ghost seems to float, but never wallow, down the road, almost devoid of mass; in fact, it tips the scales at 5,445 lbs (2,470 kg). There are no drive modes, nor paddle shifters for the eight-speed automatic transmission, just a column stalk to select drive, neutral, reverse, or park. Instead, like the suspension, the gearbox—yet again ZF’s 8HP for those keeping score—uses GPS data to select the appropriate gear at the appropriate time. It all goes on behind the scenes and just works.
In the city, the Ghost is not a car you feel like driving quickly. A lot of that is its size: at more than 218 inches (5,545 mm) long, it is one of the bigger cars on the road, and as mentioned already it’s hard to be anything but hyper-aware of the inevitably massive bill that would result from even a little scrape. That slight hesitation before the power arrives also contributes—this just isn’t the sort of vehicle that you throw into the first available gap in traffic.
That sort of behavior might upset whoever is fortunate enough to be riding in the back. And in this particular Ghost, rear passengers would be very fortunate, with not one but two drinks cabinets: one refrigerated with a pair of champagne flutes, the other with a decanter and glasses. The rear seats recline this way and that, and you’re ensconced behind a thick C pillar, hidden from potential paparazzi. Large screens are concealed behind the seat-back tables, giving either rear seat occupant full control over the Ghost’s infotainment system, and my wife spoke highly of the passenger experience.
On a winding road you tend to give the throttle just a little touch here and there, coasting along using the car’s momentum to make progress. The steering is fingertip-light, but it’s accurate and precise at the same time. You can purr along with the engine power gauge—nothing so common as a tachometer here—reading just 10 percent, almost completely isolated from the outside world. Honestly, the more I drove it, the more I understood why people get the urge to turn them into rally cars.
If you do decide to explore the higher reaches of the 563 hp (420 kW) engine’s output, the 6.75 L twin-turbocharged V12’s characteristic growl is present but quiet; this is no Ferrari or Aston Martin, after all. There’s a little too much of a delay between the initial input of the throttle pedal and the power arriving, noticeably from a standstill. It’s as if the engine is taking a deep breath in those first couple of hundred milliseconds—whether it’s the turbos spooling up or simply a pedal programmed to German tastes (which prefer a 0.25-second pause between input and reaction, according to some engineers in the industry), I’m not sure.
The downside to all of this is a fearsome thirst, even when driven gently. Although rated at a combined 14 mpg (16.8 l/100km), the onboard data revealed this particular Ghost had averaged 16.5 mpg (14/3 l/100km) over the course of nearly 700 miles (1,100 km). You can’t help but think that an electric Rolls-Royce is the answer. The more immediate torque of an electric motor would overcome the car’s substantial mass from a standstill, for one thing. Adding batteries would obviously involve adding even more weight, but there might be a quite significant weight saving without the need to insulate the occupants from engine noise. And the designers could get away with much shorter overhangs, which would result in a Rolls-Royce better optimized for life in town, where most of them spend most of their lives.
Wouldn’t an electric Rolls-Royce be even better?
The good news is that Rolls-Royce agrees with that assessment. “We’ve gone on the record saying that we will have an electrified Rolls-Royce within this decade, and quite possibly sooner,” Ghost engineering lead Jonathan Simms told Ars. The company has yet to confirm if it’ll be a standalone model or an EV based on something currently in the company’s line. “So the nice thing for us, at Rolls-Royce, is we fully agree with your comments.”
Simms said perhaps the biggest challenge to fully realizing a Rolls-Royce EV is just the limitations of electric vehicle ownership in general—not every community is currently set up with reliable charger access or other niceties that may normalize the experience. “You’ll never get past a Rolls-Royce press release without reading the word effortless,” he said. “And as you’re surely aware, at the moment, in many places in the world, owning an electric car is not described as effortless. There’s very pleasant elements to driving and owning them, for sure, but the entire experience end-to-end is not one that’s marked by that word.”
Still, an electric Rolls-Royce is coming, sometime. And without hesitation, Simms said the company has the technology and they are working to bring it to market.
“There’s a number of brands at the moment you see are really struggling to get their head around what electrification means with their brand values—everything from creating standalone model lines through trying to integrate some kind of hybrid into a hypercar, and everything in between,” he said. “Actually for us, it’s very simple, because electrification is perfect for our brand values. As you say, it’s silent, it’s instant torque, fairly often our cars are used at lower speeds—it fits perfectly.”
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin