There’s an old adage that says a musician is the only person who will take a $5,000 guitar in a $500 car and drive 50 miles just to make 50 bucks. Having a 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost in my possession for a few days, I would love to be able to turn that saw on its head and arrive at my $50 gig in a $500,000 car. But with COVID, that ain’t going to happen. So I’ll settle for a scenic lockdown tour of the Niagara wine region in this newest offering from Rolls, which is a ground-up reinvention of its Ghost sedan – the most affordable in the stable (we can’t really say “entry-level”) and the best-selling Roller since its reintroduction in 2009.
I’m gliding westward on the Queen Elizabeth Highway (wholly appropriate), the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament parting the proletariat while the 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 hums lazily away just aft and south of her derriere. I’ve had the good fortune of driving all the latest Rolls-Royce vehicles, and I don’t think I’m wrong in stating this new Ghost comes closest to the magic carpet sensation of flying above the tarmac. It is uncannily smooth yet manages to avoid most nautical comparisons. Yes, there is a touch of float and a tad of listing in hastily encountered bends, but overall, this Ghost moves Rolls-Royce’s game forward with its impressive body control. After all, this is the Rolls-Royce sedan most owners actually drive as opposed to being chauffeured in.
So what’s going on below decks to make my drive so serene? It starts with the new Ghost riding on the British brand’s fresh Architecture of Luxury aluminum platform that was introduced with the latest Phantom and now underpins the Cullinan SUV. The previous Ghost hung its opulence on a BMW 7 Series chassis. This platform is lighter, stiffer, and bestows standard all-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering – neither of which were on the outgoing Ghost’s menu. Neither was a heated steering wheel or blind spot warning, if you can believe that. Such is the wonderfully strange world of Rolls-Royce.
The 2021 Ghost’s remarkable smoothness comes courtesy of its Planar Suspension System that comprises three elements. Carrying over from the previous Ghost is the eight-speed ZF transmission that gleans upcoming topography information from the satellites above, then selects the appropriate gears for unruffled progress. Planar’s second pillowy pillar consists of a clever auxiliary damper system for the upper front wishbones. Essentially dampers for the dampers, this is a new tech for Rolls-Royce that will surely make it to other models. The third element is dubbed Flag Bearer – a nod to Britain’s Red Flag Act from the dawn of the motoring age that required some poor sod to walk in front of Lord Swatbottom’s smoke-spewing motorcar, clearing the way of gawkers and horses while keeping a lookout for ruts and potholes. Flag Bearer is considerably more complex, using a stereo camera to read the road surface ahead, and then instantly adjusting the air suspension to iron out those pesky undulations.
My first stop is the Megalomaniac Winery where I place the Ghost in front of a big iron gate for a few beauty shots. This tester is painted in a trendy non-metallic Tempest Grey, sporting a single “Tailored Purple” coachline that runs perfectly along its upper flanks. Ah, but this is no ordinary pinstripe, if I dare use that crass descriptor. This $1,924 accent is applied by one man, Mark Court, with his squirrel and ox-hair brush at the Rolls-Royce factory on the Goodwood Estate in Sussex, England. A local sign painter, he came on board when BMW opened this new facility in 2003, and his skill is extraordinary.
Rolls-Royce is as much about the history and mystique as it is about the driving experience. And this is what you pay for. In fact, Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös sayeth, “We are not in the business of selling cars. We sell aspirational luxury items. Pieces of rolling art. A reward or a gift.”
The SWB (standard wheelbase) 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost starts at $343,140, but you’ll see a three-headed unicorn before finding a “base” Rolls-Royce. This one has been beautifully spec’d by Grand Touring Automobiles of Toronto to the tune of $461,074. Most of the pricey bespoke bits are found within the cabin, but as I peer through my viewfinder I spy a few exterior upgrades: An uplit Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament ($4,956), visible chrome-plated exhausts ($5,454), wheel centres matched to wheel ($1,335), wheel centre pinstripes ($2,557), and an illuminated grille that is part of the $32,137 Ghost Package. The latter sports 20 LEDs that give this Roller some extra nighttime presence.
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For this car, Rolls-Royce is touting its “post-opulence” design mandate that rejects superficial expressions of wealth. Lead designer Henry Cloke says the Ghost “doesn’t shout, but whispers.” There certainly is an element of understated elegance with this 2021 Ghost that is longer, wider, and cleaner of line than the outgoing sedan.
I slide back into the gorgeous cabin that is an intriguing blend of old and new. The Power Reserve meter harks back generations, yet this being the most technologically advanced vehicle Rolls has ever produced, the Ghost bristles with pretty much all the safety and driver aid tech BMW has in its arsenal. A big part of the marque’s ergonomic philosophy is ease of use. One simply hops into the Rolls-Royce, slides the pencil-thin column-mounted gear wand down to Drive, and glides away. There are no drive modes to choose from, nor paddle shifters. The iDrive control system with its big rotary controller and logically placed buttons plays perfectly into this.
With its lazy, turbine-smooth V12 power and long throttle travel, the 2021 Ghost is the very definition of silken, effortless progress. Nonetheless, if one wishes to leave the less fortunate in this sedan’s formidable wake, pressing the right loafer firmly into the wool carpet releases the beast within. A total of 563 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque has one catapulting towards the horizon at an alarming rate.
Spotting a cool photo op in front of the Wayne Gretzky Estate Winery and Distillery, I pulled in and placed the car. This “post opulence” thing certainly seemed to be working, as me and my Roller went largely unnoticed for the three days we spent together. Yet it’s from within where the lucky few who snagged a ride with me were the most gobsmacked, starting with the standard Shooting Star Headliner that has hundreds of stars twinkling overhead, with the occasional shooting star programmed in. While Rolls-Royce has a couple of standard templates it works with (northern and southern hemisphere), for a sum neither you nor I can comprehend, one can spec any heavenly display – say, the array from the location and night of your birth. Another marquis feature is an illuminated fascia ($5,160) that echoes the headliner with its own constellations surrounding a backlit Ghost graphic.
The supple Grace White hides come from the marque’s own herd of large bulls that live a pampered life free of bugs and fences in the high altitudes of Bavaria. This tester is fitted with many lashings of bespoke Open Pore Obsidian Ayous trim totalling $8,293, a central champagne-cooling chamber with two flutes ($3,463), Bespoke Rolls-Royce Audio ($10,931), an Indulge Bespoke Clock ($6,405), and the list goes on.
It must get tiresome for the Rolls-Royce people having us impecunious auto writers go on and on about how expensive all this stuff is. But hey, it’s the only slice of this rarefied world we can grasp and ponder, mulling over in our grimy paws and spitting out to other mortals who read our words. Those who actually buy Rolls-Royces (and if you’re wondering, Grand Touring Automobiles’ 2021 allotment of 38 vehicles is essentially sold out) couldn’t give a rat’s… er, purebred Siberian hamster’s rump that their rear picnic tables add $5,499 to the bottom line.
I’m just grateful Rolls-Royce releases the occasional car for us to sample from time to time. But, dang, as an unemployed musician, I sure missed out on the chance to arrive at a gig in style. My bass guitar would have loved snuggling into that cozy boot with its bespoke colour-keyed trim ($1,765). Ah, but I did get to share this fabulous Roller with a few friends and neighbours. And that’s the best part of this job.