Stand near the all-new Rolls-Royce Ghost and it is hard not to be impressed. In photos, it may look quite similar to the previous model, built from 2009 to earlier this year, but the newcomer is different in every little detail.
It is filled with superb design touches — as you’d expect with the substantial asking price. These include an enormous unbroken exterior panel that takes in the windscreen pillars, entire roof and rear pillars and then sweeps back to the tail lights. There are crisp lines pressed into the roof, bonnet and other large panels, with minimal shut lines (the gap where two panels meet), beautifully integrated chrome highlights and spectacular lighting. There are even small downlights within the famous grille, to ensure your arrival has maximum impact.
The version we sat in was the extended wheelbase derivative, with an extra 170mm of rear passenger room, taking the total length to 5,716mm. The sumptuous rear contains a whisky decanter, a couple of glasses in the centre console and, behind the pull-down centre armrest, a Champagne bottle-sized fridge with two crystal flutes nestled in its lid.
The leather inside is beautifully done; this car was also fitted with the starlight roof lining (which lights up like a night sky) and a new panel on the passenger side of the dashboard that mirrors this heavenly effect.
If the real proof of progress is in the driving, that’s the one thing we weren’t actually able to do; the display car is an unregistered left-hand drive model making its way through South-east Asia to be showcased to media and potential customers. The first Singaporean buyers will receive their cars in early 2021.
We did, however, have the chance to speak via Skype to Jon Simms, the head of engineering, about the new model. He’s based at the Rolls-Royce headquarters at Goodwood in the south of England.
“Very pleased,” he says to our first question, about whether he is relieved to finalise the project (well, to almost finalise it; he now has to follow the new Ghost through the first few months of production).
“When you’re involved in years of testing and development, you never really dwell on the good. You’re constantly looking for improvements and the next iteration. So when you have that moment where you reveal the car, wow, suddenly you think, yeah it’s something fantastic we created.”
Simms is particularly proud of the Planar Suspension System, a new feature that incorporates an additional upper wishbone and damper on each front wheel. “I think Rolls-Royce has become very well known for its magic carpet ride… the way that the vehicle is able to very much smooth off any of the larger impacts that you would [feel] in a vehicle.”
The Ghost now, he claims, does even better. “As you get an impact into the suspension from the road wheel, as the wishbone travels up, some of that force is taken out by it moving the wishbone on the upper wishbone. Basically, there’s less energy transferred into the body, so much less of that impact transfers itself into something that the client would feel.”
Simms delights in the fact that the solution is a mechanical one. “That’s probably the slightly obsessive geeky engineer in me,” he says. “Obviously, what we do nowadays in vehicles is software and is very technical in terms of electronic integration. So using a very simple mechanical principle here is quite exciting.”
Many of the other solutions — and even other parts of the suspension — use extensive electronics and software, even if the cleverness is largely hidden (see story below, on the Ghost’s “zero gravity” coach doors).
The illuminated grille was a difficult balancing act. Customers asked for such a feature in the past, and engineers experimented without much success.
“You had a lot of reflections and it just looked too much,” Simms now admits. “We’ve reduced the illumination level, we’ve recessed the LEDs right into the underside of the grille, but really the major difference was we blasted the rear of the grille vanes to create a matt finish… It is a much more subtle effect.” It’s worth noting that the marque asserts the new Ghost “reflects a post-opulent design philosophy”.
The new iteration is slightly wider and longer than its predecessor, but the improvement in interior room is minimal. This is because some of the extra space has been used to create cavities for sound insulation. Other cavities in the body structure have been used for the audio system, turning the car into a giant subwoofer.
The engine is a further development of the familiar 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12, delivering a maximum of 420kW and 850Nm to what is now an all-wheel drive, all-wheel steering set-up. A greener drivetrain — probably hybrid first, then full battery — is coming, but not yet. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, those who believe an electric Rolls-Royce will be quieter might be disappointed. This car, with its abundance of soundproofing, whisper-quiet mechanical components and a conscious effort to tune the components to the one frequency, proved so quiet that Simms said they had to dial some sound back into it.
“When we started off with the new Ghost, we threw everything at it to make it quieter, and actually what we found is that in certain circumstances it creates an almost disorientating feel.”
Simms says the solution was not complete silence but careful management of noise differentials.
“You should have a very uniform, very harmonious noise level in the car, within reasonable limits, regardless of what speed you’re driving.”
- Engine 6.75-litre twin turbo V12 (petrol)
- Power/torque 420kW/850Nm
- Performance 0-100 km/h 4.8 seconds; top speed 250km/h
- Fuel economy 15.2l/100 km (combined cycle)
- C02 347g/km
As before, the new Ghost has forward-opening coach doors at the rear and once seated, back-seat passengers can close them at the touch of a button. What’s new is that these doors can be electrically opened too.
Jon Simms, engineering lead for the Ghost, says the rear doors require a hand on them while being opened from the inside, for legal reasons. “The idea being that the [passenger] is able to check for any obstacles or any risks. Then you simply pull on the handle, and as long as you hold it, the door will continue to power. The moment you release it, the door brake will engage.”
The coach doors are large and heavy but when closed from the outside, finger pressure is all that’s needed. The door moves without any perceptible effort, and locks tight into its frame.
“It really sounds like we’re spinning a story when we say it almost has zero-gravity effort on the door,” says Simms, “but when customers utilise it, it’s very obvious. There are no additional buttons, there’s nothing special you have to press. The client just goes to the car, operates the door and is delighted when they find it actually assists them.
“For me, that’s the essence of Rolls-Royce, that sort of effortlessness that you don’t need to shout about… it just does it when you use a normal mechanical door handle.”
This story first appeared in the November 2020 issue of A Magazine.