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Readjust your senses - First drive: Rolls-Royce Ghost

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There's more to the Ghost than meets the eye.

Prepare to readjust your senses: this is the new, more affordable, less ostentatious Rolls-Royce, the one you could drive everyday. The ‘small’ Rolls-Royce to the ‘big’ custom-order one, a pairing that the company had always ensured existed in its model line-up until its split from Bentley back in 1998.

View this new, ‘small’ Rolls-Royce – the Ghost – alongside any current executive car and, well, it doesn’t look small or especially unostentatious. And its £195,000 price tag is hardly small. But park it next to a Phantom and the point is made. It actually is shorter, narrower and lower, but crucially, it’s also more subtle, far less of an unmissable statement of wealth and power.

The Ghost, then, should appeal to those who want the unmatched mystique and quality associations of the Rolls-Royce brand, without the £275,000 on the road price (without options) and overbearing presence of the Phantom. But what will they actually get?

A surprise, probably, is the answer to that. We’re becoming accustomed to these large, two-plus ton top-end machines that are capable of supercar levels of performance – Bentley are the champions in this arena – but the Ghost busts the performance envelope in an altogether more gentlemanly way. The Rolls-Royce way, you might say.

A 0-60mph figure of 4.7 seconds and a top speed that’s electronically limited to 155mph are mere numbers. The experience is key, starting with the uncanny silence of the engine at idle (you honestly, genuinely, cannot tell if it’s running or not without glancing at the power reserve meter, Rolls-Royce’s contrary alternative to one of those dreadfully unseemly revcounter things).

The ZF eight-speed auto gearbox is engaged with a column stalk, a gentle fingertip stretch from the steering wheel, and from this point the unique 6.6-litre, 563bhp V12 twin-turbo engine is poised for take off, whether it be a gentle glide away from the kerb and into the distinctly nondescript traffic (nearly everything seems nondescript when viewed from the cabin of a Ghost) or a crowd-pleasing burn from the traffic lights.

Either style is equally undramatic in many ways. The car remains perfectly level, engine noise rises little above the imperceptible, driver and occupants remain 100% unflustered. But if you’ve chosen the traffic light grand prix style getaway, you’re now several hundred metres down the road with nothing in your wake, and, oh, 60, 70, 80-plus mph showing on your speedometer, or maybe the head-up display that looks for all the world to be hovering somewhere halfway along the bonnet.

It would be foolish to drive this car without the head-up display to be honest. There are very few other cars in which a 15 or 20mph rise in cruising speed occurs as easily, and as unnoticeably, as is a Ghost. Concentration, or the use of the cruise control, is crucial to avoid a speeding fine, at least until you’ve readjusted those senses of yours.

The active cruise control, while we’re on that subject, features a Stop & Go option that monitors other traffic and slows you down and speeds you up accordingly; in stop-start traffic it brings you to a gentle rolling halt and then picks up again as required.

And in the same vein, bowl too fast into a corner under cruise control and the car gently hauls in the speed then puts on power out of the curve as appropriate. Try and unsettle it, with a swerve to the left, a swerve to the right, and two and a half tons of Ghost sweeps through unscathed, its occupants stirred but not shaken. The air suspension, claimed to be so sensitive that it can detect – and compensate for – a single passenger shifting his or her weight from one buttock to the other, is accompanied by active anti-rolls bars that allow some roll before hydraulically ‘stiffening’ to avoid Silver Shadow style lurching.

And so back to ‘readjusting your senses’… Though fast, though agile, the Ghost isn’t exciting in the traditional thrust-back-in-yer-seat-to-the-sound-of-a-loud-exhaust sense. It’s more about escaping from the more tiresome aspects of modern life and surrounding yourself in a bubble of serenity. It’s a feeling to be savoured, enhanced by the luxury of the cabin. Deep carpets, perfect veneers, a smooth, heavy almost hydraulic feel to the switchgear, an almost playful jazz-age style in the fittings, particularly the central vents and the glass piano key function buttons.

Somewhere, deep below all this Rolls-Royce-ness are bits and pieces from the latest BMW 7-series, but most are re-engineered or enhanced, so that all you’ll spot that’s undoubtedly the same is the rear-view mirror. The iDrive style interface, the twin wishbone front, multi-link rear suspension, they’re all to the same concept as those in the 7-series, but don’t all use the same parts.

In the Ghost experience, then, there’s nothing remotely 7-series, and there’s certainly no resemblance in looks. Looking back at the pictures, maybe it could have swapped ‘imposing’ but ‘beautiful’ or ‘stylish’ but in the metal this isn’t an ugly machine, however it looks on the page. Maybe it could look less like a Phantom. But a Rolls-Royce it undoubtedly is, taking all the right cues from the best of the classic models, and looking at this stage to be a convincing choice for somebody who wants to feel special everyday.

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