BMW Remaker goes to Dallas to test drive the new 2015 Rolls Royce Ghost Series II
When is a car not a car? An odd question, but appropriate for the buyer who views an automobile as something other than mere transportation. How do you celebrate success, indulge your personal sense of style, and insure that your entrance on the world’s stage is grand? At what point is a car’s competition a piece of art, or a yacht? These are questions that are answered in the stratospheric heights of an ultra high net worth individual’s existence – an environment steeped in haute luxury.
A glance at some examples of websites and stores claiming haute, or high class, living give off more of a trendy vibe than true haute luxury – attuned more to those that aspire than to those already there. Bear in mind that fashion is not style, and that fashion is fleeting while style is timeless. And Rolls-Royce cars are styled to stand the test of time. Changes are not made for the sake of change, but are undertaken to improve the line – there are not yearly model changes at Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce cars are rarely ‘prêt à porter’, 100% of Phantoms are bespoke – built to individual specifications, and 82% of all Ghosts delivered are bespoke. Even the dealers’ factory orders are often tailored for a specific client – whose tastes the dealer is quite familiar with. The dealers also know that their clients’ expectations are demanding and that their clients’ attention to detail pegs the meter.
However, after having seen some of the client requests, and the resulting cars, you have to wonder if Rolls-Royce is being overindulgent. The client’s taste can vary significantly from accepted norms (within certain cultural constraints) – and one wonders if Rolls-Royce would really rather not build some configurations. However, personal taste is just that, personal – and Rolls-Royce will tailor the paint and interior of a vehicle to a client’s exact specifications as long as there is no compromise to legality or safety.
The Ghost series has brought a significant increase to Rolls-Royce sales since its introduction. While sales dipped during the Great Rescission, starting in 2008, they have since recovered and it is projected that Rolls-Royce may sell over 4000 vehicles this year. The sales dip was not due to potential owners’ economic uncertainty, but it is believed that during difficult times there may be a socio-psychological purchase prohibition. Not unlike the Scandinavian notion of the ‘Law of Jante’, the acquisition of some luxury items will be postponed; the money is there, but the social permission to spend it on an extravagance is not.
When Rolls-Royce developed the original Ghost, they had a particular idea of who their clients for the new model would be. Rolls-Royce expected Ghosts would be purchased by successful entrepreneurs, job creators, innovators, the independently wealthy. And Ghost owners would still be actively engaged in business ventures. Many would see the Ghost as means of celebrating their continuing success.
Rolls-Royce chose to show off the new Ghost Series II in Dallas – a successful city, in a successful state. At first glance one may not appreciate a number of the refinements over the previous Ghost, but everything from the A pillar forward is new on the Series II Ghost. The new LED headlamps include an uninterrupted illuminated band that are the daytime running lamps. The hood now has a ‘vapor trail’, a set of creases running back from the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament towards the cowl. And the new Ghost continues to offer a tastefully elegant and refined driving experience to its owners.
Rolls-Royce knows that, unlike the Phantom, Ghosts would very often be driven by their owners. To put the assembled group of journalists in the proper frame of reference for driving the Ghost, Rolls-Royce chauffeured them in Ghosts from the airport to the Joule, a boutique hotel in downtown Dallas, and later assembled them for dinner at the innovative and impressive Stephan Pyles Restaurant.
The drive event itself took the journalists in a clockwise loop west beyond the center of Dallas, to well north and then back towards Dallas from the east. Prior to returning to the city proper, the Rolls-Royce drivers team met the cars and chauffeured the journalists into the city – another opportunity to sample the creature comforts of the rear seats.
One of the first impressions formed of the Ghost while underway is a sensation of calm, there is nothing really frenetic occurring – but, on entering a freeway, it is apparent that the Ghost is not lacking alacrity. This is a quick car. The quoted zero to sixty times are sub five seconds for the both the regular and extended wheelbase versions of the Ghost. Beyond adequate – by a large margin.
An item of note is how big the extended wheelbase Ghost is – I tried to remember the last vehicle that I drove, outside of a box truck, that had similar dimensions to the Ghost. It was a Ford Excursion, the Excursion being 3” wider, much taller, but nearly the same length and wheelbase as the Ghost. And, as an aside, the key to figuring the height of a modern Rolls-Royce is that proportionally the height will be two times the height of the tire and wheel, good for a trivia question.
The Ghost is not a difficult car to drive, even at, ahem, extra-legal speeds. It is biased towards mild under-steer and, with the electronic nannies enabled, it allows very little in the way of hooliganism. It cannot be compared to a sports car (and it is not shopped as an alternative to a super car), but it acquits itself well with the task of providing an excellent ride to its occupants while remaining sufficiently engaging for the driver. The air bag suspension is an excellent compromise between control, compliance, and comfort.
Keep in mind, owners do not use their Ghost as daily drivers – nor long distance highway cruisers – they are used in much the same way as town cars were in the 1920s, they are there for nights out in the city, to the opera, to impress a potential client. It was mentioned that, when asked, owners acknowledged that they sought other means of transportation at their disposal if the journey would be much over an hour – usually a private airplane (what, you expected the Megabus?).
The notion of luxury is evolving. It is personal, exclusive, and connected. And that was reflected in the venues chosen – and it shines through in the Ghost. Rear seat passengers have a duplicate of what is called, the Spirit of Ecstasy rotary controller. With it they can manage the connected systems, entertainment, and navigation. The controller incorporates a touch sensitive surface on the top of the rotary knob allowing the user to input characters by touch. Business can be conducted in the back seat seamlessly using the connected capabilities of the Ghost.
And there is also an uprated option for entertainment in the Ghost. Rolls-Royce choose to produce an internally uprated audio system for the Ghost – rather than attach the brand name of another recognized audio manufacturer. A variety of music was sampled in the Ghost, from classical to jazz to rock, even to Bob Brozman’s Hawaiian steel guitar – possibly the first and last time Brozman’s rendition of Body and Soul will be played in a Rolls-Royce Ghost.
After some fiddling with the settings, using the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ controller, very good sound reproduction was obtained. In particular, the sound system accurately reproduced the quite low frequency organ notes of the Pie Jesus from Voices of Ascension’s Delos recording of Durufle’s Requiem. Something that many home audio systems have difficulty with.
After driving the extended wheelbase Ghost – and having had an opportunity to lower and then raise again the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, to the delight of the occupants of a car stopped next to the Ghost at a traffic signal, it was time to let the chauffeur take over. The impressions from the back seat? Serene, satisfying, special, sublime – a very rewarding experience. Even better when that experience is shared with a good conversationalist – for the rear seats are ever so slightly angled inward to facilitate conversation.
The new Ghost certainly represents the rarefied heights of personal transportation. The notion of when is a car not a car can be extended to when is a car company not a car company. In the case of Rolls-Royce it is best viewed as a car company that is a brand, representing the ideal of a conveyance beyond mere transportation.
[Photos: Greg Jarem for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars NA]