2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost first drive review: The fun-size sedan from Rolls

2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost

2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost

Think of the Rolls-Royce Ghost as “fun sized”.  You know fun sized, of course, from Halloween, when fun sized meant smaller-than-normal candy bars that as a result of the downsizing, weren’t particularly fun, at least not compared to the real thing. But the Rolls-Royce Ghost, smaller than the Rolls-Royce Phantom, is just as plush and ultimately desirable as the larger version but smaller and just, well, just more fun.

The Rolls-Royce Phantom, for all its technological virtuosity, is a car more to be driven in than to be driven. Perhaps unfairly, when behind the wheel of a Phantom, one might be mistaken as the chauffeur. Not that it should matter to an “owner-driver” of the Phantom.  At that price, one can hire someone to worry about such things.

2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost interior

The 2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost interior, period-correct to the 1930, down it the “organ stop” controls. (click to enlarge)

However, the Rolls-Royce Ghost, by virtue of a more manageable size, is more pleasant to drive in traffic, as we learned driving up Kelly Drive along the north side of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River.  The lanes are narrow, designed many years ago for a smaller sized vehicle and never upgraded. Even the Ghost feels like a ten year old in an eight-year old’s suit, the Ghost’s lane departure warning system vibrating the steering wheel as we edge over the white lines, which everyone else does as well, but there’s no use telling the Ghost that.

Indeed, the Ghost, a sedan–“saloon” using the Queen’s Own English–fit for a regal four and weighing in at 5,445 lbs is hardly flickable. That it is made in the same country that gives us the Lotus Exige is irrelevant. Yet the Rolls-Royce Ghost does change lanes with authority. We’re told that lane changes at 130 mph are serene, although of course we didn’t try that on Kelly Drive. “Intelligent” air springs, with all-aluminum muti-link suspension at all four corners, are adjusted in real time to maintain a level attitude and control.

2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost rear controller

All non-driving functions of the 2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost can be managed via this controller in the back seat. Don’t let the kids near it. (click to enlarge)

Rolls claims air suspension system in the Rolls-Royce Ghost is so sensitive that it can detect the movement of a single rear passenger from one side of the seat to the other and then compensate accordingly, thanks to multiple sensors around the car. The shock absorbers alone make individual load calculations every 2.5 milliseconds. The air suspension system also has a lift and kneel function, raising or lowering the Ghost by 25mm.

However, if the Rolls-Royce Ghost is a smaller Rolls, no one told the underhood guys. The all-new 6.6-liter twin-turbo  V-12 not only fills the engine compartment (under the typical plastic cover), it also quickly changes the road in front of the car into the road behind the car. That, however, is only a base requirement for a fun-sized Ghost.  One is propelled zero to sixty in only 4.7 seconds, with a top speed electronically limited to 155 mph, though it’s certainly gauche to mention it.

Similarly, Rolls-Royce once listed power output of its engines  as “adequate.” Modern regulations are more intrusive, however, and Rolls credits the twelve with 563 horsepower and 575 lb-ft of torque. The flying lady blushes.

2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost instruments

The instruments of the 2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost exude an aura of precision. (click to enlarge)

Whatever else, the Rolls-Royce Ghost  excels at presence. Fun-size presence, of course, but presence, eliciting envy, admiration or anger in a sort of a rolling Rorschach test for curbside pedestrian psychoanalysis. What one says about the Rolls-Royce Ghost says as much about the observer as the Ghost. Yet there it is, with its artfully modified classic Rolls grille–“We wanted this to be less reminiscent of the traditional Parthenon style and more like a jet intake,” said designer Ian Cameron–the long hood, “yacht line” styling, tall tires and rear-hinged rear “coach doors” (that open to 83 degrees for easy rear seat access) define the exterior.

Inside, of course, the Rolls-Royce Ghost is a match for the Phantom, only smaller. Duly notes the “traditional violin key switches” and eyeball air vents controlled by “organ stop plungers.” instrument panel eschews a tachometer in favor of a reserved power dial, which swings from 100 percent at idle to zero at full throttle. It’s not particularly useful, rather more a Jules Verne-like novelty gauge. The gauges–reserved power, speedometer and fuel and temperature–have needles that float above printing on glass. The gauges, one might say, have classic written all over them.

2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost

2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost (click to enlarge)

Like the Phantom, the Rolls-Royce Ghost comes with a pair of Teflon-covered umbrellas mounted in the rear doors. It’s a minor touch but indicative of the overall cosseting of the Rolls-Royce passenger.

And cosseted the Rolls-Royce Ghost passenger is. Don’t look it up in Snopes because it’s true: As with the Phantom, leather is sourced from bulls raised in pastures with no barbed wire fencing, lest any of the honored bovines rudely scar their hides. Of which it takes eight, all from the same dye lot,  to upholster a single Ghost. Rolls says its drum-dyeing process leave the leather more supple than the conventional “painting”.