x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rolls-Royce Ghost has the spirit of a speedster

The Rolls-Royce Ghost is a huge car built for comfort and luxury but, as Kevin Hackett finds, it's no slouch on performance.

The Ghost gives you the best of both worlds; quality styling and impressive attention to detail, as well as power and agility. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
The Ghost gives you the best of both worlds; quality styling and impressive attention to detail, as well as power and agility. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Size matters. Well, it does in certain markets, for certain commodities. And here in the UAE, size is evidently high on the agenda when it comes to choosing a new car. I can't think of anywhere else in the world where you'll see just so many Toyota Land Cruisers, Hummers, GMCs, BMW X6s or Nissan Armadas. These cars are four-wheeled nuclear deterrents: everyone else has a big car, therefore I need to protect myself by driving something even bigger. Where will it all end?

The problem with these gargantuan automobiles is that many of them are nowhere near as capacious inside as their external dimensions would suggest. If I am going to drive a big car, I want it to feel, as well as look, big. And yet, because I actually like driving, I don't want it to feel big from behind the wheel. I want maximum interior space yet I want to experience a car shrinking around me when I put my foot down. And Rolls-Royce reckons its new Ghost, the EWB (extended wheelbase), meets this very specific criteria.

It's a Rolls-Royce for drivers, the company says. Yet it offers all the luxury trappings that might make those drivers prefer a stint in the back. The best of both worlds or a confused mess? My mission is to try it out for myself, to take this humongous machine and wring its neck after, of course, ensconcing myself in its opulent rear quarters for a while.

The Ghost has been around for a couple of years now, offering the gravitas of the inimitable Phantom but in a smaller, more focused, driver-orientated package. It's the baby Rolls-Royce. But it's still absolutely enormous compared to any "normal" automobile and yet, despite the fact that the Ghost was big enough to sate the desires of most of the world's plutocrats, emerging markets such as China and India started to pressure Rolls-Royce into offering a longer variant. And, with size being all-important in the UAE's car culture, this is an important market for the company, too.

Let's start with a few figures. When I was growing up and getting interested in cars, the likes of Rolls-Royce and Aston Martin didn't disclose the power outputs of their models. Apparently they were "sufficient". Now, though, it's all a game of one-upmanship and Rolls-Royce is rather proud to say that the Ghost is powered by a 6.6L, twin-turbo V12 that generates 563hp. That's impressive enough but here's the figure that really leaves your chin on the floor: 780Nm of torque from just 1,500rpm. If you've no idea what that means, we'll pick up on it later.

Maximum speed is electronically limited to 249kph and 100kph from rest comes up in five seconds flat. The ZF automatic gearbox has eight speeds. The computer that controls the air suspension takes readings from various sensors around the car and makes calculations for the damping settings every 2.5 milliseconds. It takes 60 incredibly skilled people to piece together the Ghost EWB, who perform 2,000 individual operations over a period of 20 days. The interior boasts three square metres of wood veneer in 18 parts, all from the same tree, and takes 16 days to complete. Impressed yet?

I could go on. I could fill this entire page with fascinating facts about the attention to detail in this car's construction because it's extremely rare to see something - anything - so exquisitely pieced together. What parent company BMW has done is taken a name and a mascot, created an all-new factory and produced an all-new car that seamlessly blends cutting-edge technology with olde worlde craftsmanship.

The EWB will set you back roughly Dh180,000 more than the regular Ghost, so where is your money going? Firstly, the wheelbase has been stretched by 170mm. That might not sound like much but altering a car's physical dimensions like that can often ruin the flow and proportions of a car. Not so here, because care and attention to detail is absolutely everywhere and the balance of the Ghost's lines has remained unsullied, mainly down to the fact that the rear doors are just 35mm longer than those up front.

Of course, rear legroom is what it's all about here and that has more than doubled from 160 to 330mm. Again, that might not sound like much but step aboard, take a seat and stretch out. Granted, it doesn't feel like you could host a ballroom dancing competition in the back like it does inside the extended wheelbase Phantom, but the Ghost's accommodation is not lacking. To be honest, I think I could move in. There's anything you could possibly wish for: television, DVD player, a fridge, plush wool carpeting, polished wooden tables, individual climate control and the finest upholstery known to man. And, just like being at home, when you want to shelter yourself from the sun or prying eyes, you simply close the curtains. Seriously, at the push of a button, the rear window and the two rear door windows are covered, not by some plastic mesh blinds but by actual black curtains that run on rails. It's very, very cool.

So it's fair to say that when Jeeves, Perkins or whatever your chauffeur is called, is at the helm, life doesn't get much better. Serenity is the word here - it's a majestic thing to ride in. But there's a problem for people like me, and it's an even bigger problem for the guy up front: I actually want to drive it myself. So I put down my newspaper and unceremoniously eject the incumbent from the driver's seat. Sorry Jeeves, you have to go, but there'll be a taxi somewhere with your name on it.

The driving position is nothing if not commanding. You sit up high and the view ahead is dominated by a huge, polished bonnet with its world-famous Spirit of Ecstasy mascot providing the most glamorous reference point for the car's extremities. The thin-rimmed steering wheel provides delicacy and tactility and the seats are extremely comfortable and supportive. First impressions, then, are superb. But the BMW influence can't be entirely hidden, not up front anyway. Because the infotainment system is straight out of a 7 Series, not that there's anything wrong with that. Its screen is suitably sizeable and the iDrive is simple to operate after a while of familiarisation.

Fire up the V12 by pressing the start button (no key - another clue to its parent company identity) and there's only the merest hint of anything mechanical happening with the oily bits. The quite marvellous Power Reserve meter, which instead of displaying the engine's rpm, shows how much power is available to the driver at any given time, rests at 100 per cent, and the a/c chills the cabin in seconds.

Negotiating the manic roads around Dubai Marina takes some getting used to. It's like a four-wheeled Learjet. Enormous, unwieldy and extravagant. But when you get it onto a suitable stretch of road you soon discover that the Ghost, even in EWB guise, is not unwieldy at all. When there's enough space ahead, I put my foot down and experience that 780Nm torque I mentioned earlier. The effect is astonishing. Like your house sprouting four alloy wheels and moving across town with the speed of the Starship Enterprise. Something this big should not be able to move with such speed or with such agility.

Throw the behemoth into a tight bend while carrying too much speed and, instead of the ocean liner capsizing, the Ghost's complex air suspension simply apportions the right settings to each corner, meaning the car remains unflustered, refined and utterly composed, no matter how the driver tries to show himself up.

After a day of driving the Ghost EWB in a style more suited to a mid-engined supercar with two seats, my verdict is this: it is indeed a car for enthusiastic drivers. You wouldn't want to spank it at Yas Marina, granted, but it is enormous fun behind its elegant wheel. And yes, it is a perfect environment for passengers who want for nothing. The best of both worlds? Yep, I reckon so.