The British are famous for their understatement, so much so you’d believe it if I told you it was codified in common law. Rolls-Royce, the most British of British automakers, treats understatement in reference to its products with the same reverence it treats the Spirit of Ecstasy that adorns them: the utmost. Six years ago, Rolls-Royce launched the Ghost Series II, insisting it was a “subtle” update. Now it presents us with a third-generation 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost (no “series” appellation) described by a design movement Rolls-Royce itself made up: “post opulence.”
A New Sharpness for the 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost’s Design
Much as no Rolls-Royce is ever subtle, it is never unopulent, either. But the new 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost is better considered “post ostentatious.” Opulence is most commonly associated with frivolity and excess. Ostentatiousness; that’s what Rolls-Royce is trying to get past—and where it succeeds (measured, of course, in the context of $300,000 personal vehicles). How? This Ghost is no less opulent by the strictest definition of the word, it’s simply more serious. It’s more dignified in design, in accommodation, and in driving, but no less lavish and excessive.
To my eye, the old Ghost’s greatest sin was its softness in design, its lack of presence in the shadow of the audacious but resolute Phantom. The softer lines, the less aggressive posture, to me always read as unserious, whimsical, and that just isn’t what you think of when you think of a Rolls-Royce. Goodwood’s designers and I must agree, because the new Ghost suffers no such dilettantism. Small changes like moving the front axle forward, sharpening the creases, and flattening the surfaces make this Ghost far more assertive, more imposing. More like the Phantom.
. . . And a New Sharpness to the Ghost’s Dynamics
This self-confidence is imposed on the driving experience, as well. The old Ghost was the handler of the Rolls-Royce lineup, an admittedly easy bar to clear at the time when the old Phantom was designed to dispatch a corner at nothing less than a highly dignified pace. In amping up the driving appeal, though, some of the trademark Rolls-Royce isolation was lost, unrefined pavement sending unbecoming shimmies through the highly modified BMW 7 Series chassis. No more. The new Phantom greatly expanded its driving repertoire while maintaining its “magic carpet” ride, thus raising the fence for the new Ghost.
Both are now built on the exclusive “Architecture of Luxury,” which Rolls-Royce insists adamantly is not related in any way to the 7 Series, thank you very much. Doing so has had reciprocal benefits, with the Phantom gaining some of the Ghost’s dynamic capabilities, and the Ghost gaining the Phantom’s refinements. Simply put, the Ghost handles better than it ever has before while simultaneously riding better than it ever has.
Although the Ghost has indeed always handled quite well for a 5,400-pound sedan, there’s a new confidence to it, and there’s no longer the caveat. It used to be enough that the Ghost was surprisingly flat around a corner and turned in remarkably crisply. Thanks to sophisticated all-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering, the 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost feels less like an obedient servant and more like a willing partner. It enjoys a spirited drive rather than simply enabling one. There’s a mature playfulness to it, a willingness to loosen its collar a bit. Customers living in the Hollywood Hills or deep in Malibu, or any other home to genuinely fabulous driving roads will immediately appreciate the difference. After all, Ghost owners are the type to drive themselves rather than be chauffeured like Phantom owners.
Doing so, they’ll find the Ghost moves much like the new Phantom, just smaller. Acceleration is by way of an ethereal force drawing the car forward, something no other powertrain of any kind, combustion or electric, can reproduce. There’s no gauche squatting or nose lifting, it just goes. Unless you’re really being naughty, the cheeky “Power Reserve” meter never dips below 70 percent, just to remind you how over-spec’d the car is. Braking is like driving into sand, then simply settling down onto the earth; it’s incredibly easy to overbrake and stop far shorter than intended. Everything outperforms.
At the same time, there’s less compromise in ride quality. Rather than shimmies throughout the body structure, road blemishes now feel like the gaps in the tracks as your high-speed train glides across the countryside. Speed bumps are optional, and potholes are only to be avoided lest they pop a tire. What you feel inside the cabin seems to be there only to remind you you’re driving a car and not completely isolated from the outside world.
The Details Add Up
The lack of complete and total isolation is actually by design. In an uncharacteristic moment of boastfulness, Rolls-Royce engineers say they tried building a car that was completely silent inside, and customers found it unnerving. Therefore, they allowed a certain amount of white noise back in. You also hear a bit of engine throat-clearing at times, the soft rustle of air rushing out of the vents, and a distant thrum of rubber on asphalt. What you don’t hear, thankfully, is the unbecoming wind noise around the door mirrors that marred the experience in the last Ghost.
This deliberate inclusion of noise speaks to the direction of the interior redesign, which mirrors that of the exterior. Every choice feels deliberate and unrepentant, whimsy traded for directness. The old Ghost’s interior walked a tightrope of old-world design cues and designers’ attempts to hide necessary and desirable modern technology. The 2021 Ghost wastes little time trying to hide modern technology and craftsmanship, often embracing them head on and forcing them to work together. Cutting the Ghost name into the dashboard and surrounding it with 850 hand-drilled stars, and backlighting the whole menagerie is plenty opulent, but it comes off as high-tech and cool, not ostentatious and boorish. The same applies to the night sky headliner with its customizable constellation of stars, including shooting stars.
It isn’t just appearances, though. That purposeful approach to change has resulted in many functional upgrades. All four doors are fully electrically operable now, opening or closing. The fold-out picnic tables and multimedia tablets embedded in the front seat backs are now motorized and hide the tablets when not in use. Similarly, the BMW iDrive-based rotary controller for the rear seats now hides behind a wood cover when not in use. In front, where the infotainment system and controller are both expected and necessary to the vehicle’s operation, they’re embraced rather than hidden away.
This is an essential theme of the modern Rolls-Royce. Make no effort to hide what doesn’t need to be hidden. Pull no punches. Meet the necessary straight on, and pick which features actually need to be out of sight. Find ways to enhance the luxury experience without inhibiting functionality or hiding things unconvincingly. Pick your battles and win them decisively.
Since its debut, I’ve considered the Ghost the Rolls-Royce for people not rich or sophisticated enough to buy the real thing, the Phantom. To me, it’s always been the Rolls-Royce for people who appreciate the marque but don’t really get it.
It’s wrong to maintain either of those beliefs when it comes to the new 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost. It is, even to this snob, a real Rolls-Royce through and through, and better in every way for it.
|2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost Specifications|
|PRICE||$332,500/$428,625 (base/as tested)|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 4-passenger, frong-engine, AWD sedan|
|ENGINE||twin-turbo 6.7L/563 hp/627 lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,628 lb|
|L x W x H||218.3 x 84.6 x 61.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.6 sec (est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON, CITY/HWY/COMB||12/19/14 mpg|