Car Culture

Baby Rolls maintains luxury rep

CNET Car Tech goes for a ride in the 2010 Rolls-Royce Ghost.

In general, Rolls-Royce keeps the dashboard simple. Buttons are kept to a minimum, and all are clearly labeled.
Wayne Cunningham/CNET
2010 Rolls-Royce Ghost
The Ghost is an all-new model from Rolls-Royce, designed to be less ostentatious than the Phantom. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The first thing the Rolls-Royce representative explained to us as we got ready for a drive in the all-new Rolls-Royce Ghost was how to get into and out of the car. We've put our butts in the seats of many cars before, but the Ghost, despite its more modest dimensions when compared to the Phantom, still requires a certain decorum.

To get into the Ghost, we were advised to face outwards and sit down, then swing both legs into the footwell. Reverse the process for exit. This technique allows ladies to keep their knees together. Try it in a normal car and you will bang your head and scrape your knees on the door sill. But the Ghost, with its carriage-style doors (called suicide doors in some circles), accommodates this maneuver easily.

Rolls-Royce built the Ghost, which is about a foot and a half shorter than the Phantom, to be less imposing than its older stable mate. While the Phantom is a car you might reserve for special occasions, we were told that the Ghost is supposed to be an everyday driver, as long as $240,000 is in your practical car buying budget.

As such, the big chrome grille is inset into the front of the car, topped by the graceful curve of the hood, rather than the imposing structure on the Phantom. The sides show simplicity, with a single belt line stretching back to the taillights. And with the roof almost a foot and a half lower than the Phantom's, the Ghost cuts a more modest silhouette.

Rolls-Royce doesn't skimp on the coachwork. Like the Phantom, the Ghost boasts wood trim made from a single tree, so all the grain will match. The floor mats are lamb's wool, and the leather comes from bulls and is thicker than cow hide. And like the Phantom, it also has a rear lounge seat, although the C pillars are not quite as wide.

Carriage doors open wide, offering easy access to the Ghost. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

While the coachwork uses old-world craftsmanship, the electronics are thoroughly modern, thanks to company owner BMW. As such, we were familiar with the layout of the cabin tech, despite the fact that Rolls-Royce redesigned the interface. Controls on the console follow the current iDrive format, with Rolls-Royce style.

The maps for the navigation system use the same topographical richness we've seen in models from BMW, and they look fine in the Ghost. With our short preview drive, we didn't get a chance to dig through the menus, but the Ghost has all the same capabilities as a well-equipped BMW 7-series, including iPod and Bluetooth cell phone integration, along with 12.5 gigabytes of onboard music storage.

The Ghost's audio system is also configured similarly to the Phantom's, with a 10 channel 600 watt amp pushing sound through 14 speakers and two subwoofers on the floor. Where Rolls-Royce previously used the Lexicon brand on its audio system, that name was sold to Hyundai. We were told that, currently, Rolls-Royce has no plans to work with a name-brand audio company, partly due to the possibility that other automakers will use the audio brand. Rolls-Royce insists on exclusivity.

Useful driver aids in the Ghost include adaptive cruise control, which is capable of bringing the car to a complete stop, lane departure warning, collision warning, and night vision. These technologies can also be found in the BMW 7-series. To ensure that this very expensive car doesn't get scraped in a parking garage, Rolls-Royce fits it with an around-view monitor, using cameras to show obstacles with a top-down perspective.

If you owned a Ghost, you could boast about the twin turbo 6.6-liter V-12 making 563 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque, but no one would believe you. When we pushed the start button the gauges lit up, but there was little notice from the engine that it was turning over. The cabin is well-insulated from engine noise, and vibration is just a rumor.

All of that engine power is designed to move the 5,445 pound car effortlessly, as if it were being propelled by the breeze from angels' wings. But step on the gas, and it will go like a bat out of hell, with time to 60 mph at 4.8 seconds, according to Rolls-Royce. It just doesn't feel like it's going fast.

We gracefully wafted around the Monterey hills, enjoying some lush California scenery, ensconced in the welcoming arms of the Ghost. The hills posed no challenge to the mighty engine. In Rolls-Royce tradition, the car lacks a tachometer, instead using a gauge showing available power as a percentage. We only peaked at using 40 percent of what the engine had to give, as anything more would have put us into serious high-speed territory.

The Ghost is a fine driver's car, so you can fire the chauffeur. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The Ghost's air suspension serves a dual purpose, delivering a smooth ride over the asphalt and countering body roll. The sort of insulation from the rode provided by the Ghost was inductive to easy conversation in the cabin, but the steering wheel feel wasn't exactly numb. As we gave it some speed in a couple of corners, the steering wheel delivered enough road feel to let us know we were driving the car.

Figuring the Ghost has some guts, we looked around for sport settings, but were informed that the Ghost's suspension handles its mode automatically. As we were driving on a road with many turns, the suspension hardened up enough to keep the car on an even keel. On a long, straight road it would soften up more.

Likewise, there are no modes for the transmission besides drive, park, and reverse. A delicate stalk coming off the steering column controls the transmission. It shifts through its eight gears quietly, keeping drama to a minimum. At any given time, we couldn't have guessed which gear it was in.

These eight gears and direct-injection technology on the engine lead to a surprisingly good 17.3 mpg under the combined European drive cycle. We usually expect cars with engines of this size to come in below 15 mpg.

By any other automaker's standards, the Ghost is beyond the top-of-the-line, but for Rolls-Royce, this car is a downsized model, in keeping with the general trend towards more efficient, eco-conscious vehicles.