Long before the pandemic forced everyone into their own little social bubbles, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, the British maker of the world’s most extravagant vehicles, happily existed in a bubble of its own. How could it not? Since 1906, the company has made cars for heads of state, celebrities, dictators, oligarchs, royalty, self-made tycoons and their offspring. The Rolls-Royce dealership in Toronto has customers in their teens and 20s, according to the shop’s brand manager.
Only within such elite social circles could a car like the new Ghost, a sedan with a light-up chrome grille that resembles the Parthenon, be considered anything other than wildly, extravagantly opulent. For Rolls-Royce, the new Ghost represents what the company calls “post-opulence.” The term describes an aesthetic of refinement, reduction and simplicity, according to Rolls-Royce designer Henry Cloke. Think less Palace of Versailles, more Kim and Kanye’s (former?) suburban Los Angeles mansion.
The pandemic sent global Rolls-Royce sales down 26 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year’s record high. But Paul Gilbert, brand manager at Rolls-Royce Toronto, said the decline was due more to supply constraints than a lack of demand.
To drive the new Ghost is to be welcomed into Rolls-Royce’s reality-distorting bubble, where extreme luxury isn’t extreme at all. Needless to say, life in here is good. You don’t notice how noisy the world is until you get into the Ghost. On the move, the car emits only a feint hum, a noise Rolls-Royce had to engineer into the cabin so it wasn’t too quiet. Rest assured, it’s much quieter than your private jet.
If it was from any other company, the Ghost would be called an entry-level model. It’s the smaller of the two sedans offered by Rolls, but it feels wrong to call a $343,140 car entry-anything. Our test car’s price, including options, was $461,074 before tax.
For Rolls-Royce, the all-new 2021 Ghost is a follow-up to the most successful model in the brand’s history. The first Ghost, introduced in 2009, brought new, younger customers to Rolls, according to a company spokesperson. That success paved the way for an expanded lineup that now includes a new coupe, convertible and SUV. The Ghost, however, is still a gateway into the brand.
Unlike other luxury cars – including the Ghost’s only real rival, the Bentley Flying Spur – there’s nothing aggressive about the way the Ghost drives. It’s not a car that begs you to go faster or dart through traffic. Why would you? You’re in a Rolls-Royce; there’s nothing left to prove. Wafting down the road, almost everyone turns to glance at this monolith.
Its 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 engine is big enough to shake the earth, but from inside the car, it’s like it isn’t there. The automatic gearbox swaps cogs so smoothly you can only detect gear-changes if you concentrate.
The engine makes its maximum 627 lb-ft of torque just 600 rpm above idle, but drivers need not concern themselves with such oily details. Merging onto a highway with the accelerator pressed firmly into the thick-pile carpet, the car’s power-reserve indicator shows the engine’s only using 40 per cent of its available power. The car’s nose points ever-so-slightly skyward, led by the company’s Spirit of Ecstasy mascot – a statue of a woman in a flowing dress mounted on the hood – who leads the way as the whole machine rushes forward as if propelled by a divine gust of wind. Other cars suddenly seem a bit rough around the edges.
New technology helps make the Ghost less ungainly, less like driving a mega-yacht than you’d expect. Rear-wheel steering ensures U-turns are worry-free. The Ghost’s shock-absorbers have shock-absorbers, so Toronto’s roads have never felt smoother. The steering is so light that, as per Rolls-Royce tradition, you can direct this near 2.5-tonne behemoth with only your fingertips on the skinny steering wheel.
Where the old Ghost felt like a BMW 7 Series in fancy dress – since that’s essentially what it was – the new Ghost shares only a few buttons and switches with its corporate stablemate at BMW. That’s because the new Ghost is built on a dedicated architecture shared only with other Rolls-Royces.
You might imagine it would feel strange or slightly unnerving to be at the helm of such a gargantuan machine, but it’s not. The magic of Rolls-Royce is that it makes this sort of extreme luxury feel perfectly natural, as if this is how driving was always supposed to be. It’s the platonic ideal, achieved.
Only once you get out of the Rolls – realizing it doesn’t even fit on your driveway – and go back to your noisy everyday transport do you get some perspective. If you’re not already a part of Rolls-Royce’s elite bubble, then this car isn’t is simply not made for you, or me, or 99 per cent of the population.
2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost
- Base price: $343,140 ($461,074 as tested)
- Engine: 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12
- Transmission/drive: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 21.9 city, 10.9 highway
- Alternatives: Bentley Flying Spur, Mercedes-Maybach S 650, a gently-used 50-foot yacht