2022 Rolls-Royce Ghost
Need to check you’ve not taken leave of your senses in these strange times? A trip to the rural north of England is just the ticket. The perfect conveyance? Rolls-Royce’s new Ghost, (super)naturally… Words Greg Fountain Photography John Wycherley.
Most vaunted A long, relaxed and moderately spooky journey in the new Rolls-Royce Ghost
A thousand miles in the car Rolls has spend a century perfecting
You cannot see her expression from the driving seat so we can only surmise what the Spirit of Ecstasy may be thinking as she peers over the edge. She’s been through a lot in more than a century aperch the prow of the world’s most luxurious car, but this may be her least ostentatious moment yet.
The new Rolls-Royce Ghost is so understated the lady could be forgiven for feeling a wee bit silly up there, tub-thumping for opulence in a post-opulence world, and wondering perhaps why, from thousands of components, she was the solitary item carried over from Ghost #1. And worse, we’re trickling through, of all things, the back gate to the castle – in semi-darkness and lurid rain. No line of servants on the driveway, no fanfare; the place is eerily deserted. This is not what one is used to.
Luckily we don’t need a fawning butler to open the Ghost’s doors – they open all by themselves once you’ve mastered the procedure – but we’ve driven 350 miles to get to Chillingham, infamously Britain’s most haunted castle. Half a dozen restless spirits (and Dominic Cummings’ in-laws) are known to roam the halls and shadows of this forbidding 13th-century fortification but, to add to the collection and perhaps avoid disappointment, we’ve brought along a Ghost of our own.
The new Ghost is the successor to the top-selling Rolls-Royce of all time, and thus has the biggest shoes to fill since Charlie Cairoli Junior. But neither Goodwood’s Ghost nor the apparitions of Chillingham fully account for the spectral fog swirling around this trip. Other, more portentous forces are at work.
This journey started yesterday in bustling Islington, where you need a steady nerve to pilot a sumptuous two-metre-wide land yacht without collecting jaywalking intelligentsia or swatting the odd Japanese-air-force- trained cycle courier. Still, these are the streets the Ghost was born to haunt, its air of muted class simultaneously intriguing and enraging the liberal elite in the queues for sustainable coffee. The times are the times, but round here they respect true cool when they see it.
New Ghost can lay claim to being history’s first truly non-flashy Rolls- Royce, a fact which both elevates its charm and diminishes its brashness. Carefully designed to blend and waft, shorn of shutlines and frippery, it casts a fleeting shadow, leaving only a trace of its breeding lingering in the air like Chanel No.5. Sadly, of course, it isn’t actually perfume. With 2.5 tonnes to shift, the dozen cylinders under the bonnet cannot help but burn fuel, and the 347g/km of CO2 that results has Mother Earth tapping impatiently on her watch glass. And although we achieved 21mpg over nearly a thousand miles, beating the 18.6mpg quoted, Greta probably won’t be writing home on the subject.
However, if the new Ghost is to be the last in Goodwood’s bloodline of hefty great lumps of petrol-powered entitlement, we can be sure it will hand over the internal-combustion baton with dress-uniform dignity when the time comes. Not a hair out of place.
Rolls-Royce has always been about refinement and performance – about the prompt whisking of crowned heads to their balls without unseating regal headwear. New Ghost takes refinement to new heights. Islington’s streets, which were rejected for Mars rover testing only on the basis of being too bumpy, reveal the genius of the car’s ‘Planar’ suspension system (as in ‘geometric plane’, as in ‘completely flat’). It’s meant to feel like gliding above the road rather than rolling on it, an alchemical fusion of double-wishbone engineering (complete with patented upper wishbone damper) with a remapped version of the ‘Flagbearer’ road-scanning tech designed for crater avoidance on the Cullinan SUV.
Talk of ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ is entirely justified. This thing is magic.
Your eyes can see Essex Road’s looming bomb holes, perhaps caused by grenades carelessly lobbed from Dominic Cummings’ back garden, but windscreen-mounted cameras see them before you do, and the Ghost simply refuses to pass the impact on. It’s a strangely pleasant feeling way beyond mere compliance, almost a trick on the senses. Use ‘ghost’ as a verb and it means ‘glide smoothly or effortlessly’. That’s what this car does. As a driver, the deeper you go into London, the tighter the squeeze you feel – from congestion charging, cycle and bus lanes, concrete barriers and width restrictors so stingy I’d struggle to get through them on foot. Unfazed among it all, the Ghost plays its masterstroke.
When the car arrived in my street (on which, at £298,625 in this trim, it was the most expensive item including all the houses) it looked big, if not as off-scale as I’d feared. Once behind the wheel, however, it suddenly seemed vast on the outside, kind of like a Tardis in reverse. I needed my other glasses to see Ms Ecstasy in the distance on the other side of the bonnet. Maybe I need an eye test.
In London, though, the Ghost shrinks again, and keeps shrinking (paging Mr Moranis!). In the twists and turns of the city, dwarfed by Gherkins and Shards, it drifts virtually silent, unmolested, almost unseen – an apparition in Midnight Sapphire. Nobody stops and stares, no taxis honk, no cops hassle, no tourists hover in hope of celebrity, no jobs worths move us on as we park illegally to take unauthorised photographs. Invisible.
Rolls-Royce will be unsurprised to hear it – this car was conceived as ‘post opulent’ – a curated response to forensic customer feedback. Today’s Ghost hunters are business leaders and entrepreneurs seeking minimalism, technology and, interestingly, an engaging driving experience, and Goodwood’s engineers were in a good position to take the latter very seriously indeed. Utilising the flexibility of Rolls-Royce’s own scalable spaceframe chassis, they’ve enhanced agility by bringing the front axle forward ahead of the engine to create a 50/50 weight distribution, repositioned the aluminium bulkhead, floor, cross-members and sill panels, and introduced four-wheel drive and four-wheel steer for the first time.
London isn’t the place to assess the results, so we head for the bends and cambers of ghost country. There’s nothing great about the Great North Road, but the Ghost seems to like it, gently ushering you to relax while it devours drudgy miles like travel sweets. More like sailing than driving, it makes sense of the yachting cues so lovingly gifted to the car’s literally seamless aluminium panels by designer Henry Cloke, including the prominent vertical prow and the elegant waft line along the side. The leather steering wheel with its walnut veneer inserts looks helm-heavy but needs barely a finger of correction as the car carves its course, urged on by all those cylinders in such a way that you don’t think about power outputs or acceleration figures. It’s poor taste to even ask (although, should you have poor taste, try 563bhp at 5000rpm, 627lb ft and 0-62mph in 4.8sec).
Riz, the man at Yet Another Filling Station, has the aforementioned poor taste. He clocks the new Ghost, lauds it, and enquires about its EV status. When I tell him it doesn’t have one he is visibly thrilled and asks for everything from in-gear figures to top speed. ‘V12? That’s sick, man!’ Never saw a grin quite like it.
After Riz, another 100 or so drudgy miles, during which I become aware of something about the noise inside the Ghost’s cabin: it’s missing. Did I leave it in the petrol station? Or is this the ‘Formula for Serenity’ Rolls claims to have inculcated, using complex aluminium forms, 100kg of extra damping materials and myriad component redesigns to dial out so-called ‘hidden input’ noises? It’s not actual silence in the Paul Simon sense, but it does feel serene, let down only by a ghostly woofling as the easterly tries to get past a door mirror the size of Luxembourg.
Finally the A68, a reason to apply the other nine digits to the steering wheel. Kielder Forest and the Northumberland National Park stand before us, huddled together under the dark satanic skies of summer. This is the start of the proper Likely Lads north east, the land rising and falling, offering up tempting sight lines laced with the threat of deceptive hidden dips. Suddenly we’re on a rollercoaster, which may be fun at Alton Towers, but then the shuttles on Oblivion don’t weigh 2.5 tonnes – and you don’t have to keep your eyes open.
The Ghost is pure momentum on these roads, leaving no alternative to steering on the brakes at certain points, and then quite suddenly on the throttle. It takes practice, and luckily the transmission has been practising. It uses GPS data to help it decide which of the eight cogs you’re going to be needing, and sets up the powertrain accordingly. Cards on the table, I have no idea how well this works, but progress is certainly relentless, and probably a little too fast. It’s hard to rein the Ghost in.
You have to work with the car – there are no powertrain options, no Sport mode, no damper tweaks. It’s just you and the machine, set up by folk who know what they’re doing. It’s a simple narrative: you’re a Ghost customer, you told them how you wanted it, they delivered. The end.
Up north I really need the nav for the first time, and it makes a disappointing first impression with a map interface that could be previous-gen BMW, but then redeems itself with instinctive functionality. Basically, it’s clean, simple and it works, which actually defines the cockpit as a whole. It is a study in fine materials and modern contrasts, the 338 panels of plump leatherwork minimally stitched, the wood veneers applied in their open-pore natural state and the vaguely retro metalwork air vents boldly mixing it with the digital instrument cluster. There are almost no knobs or switches on the facia. Makes you wonder what they all used to be for. I remember Kielder Forest for RAC Rally reasons, for Colin McRae’s Prodrive Subaru Legacy being pipped by Carlos Sainz (Snr) in November ’92, for so many gravelly dramas. Who’d have thought we’d be back here three decades later in another four-wheel-drive contender? No doubt Colin’s ghost doesn’t haunt these roads, but ‘my’ Ghost is starting to believe it. The hidden dips and good sightlines make way for tight lanes and heart-in-mouth corners. The Rolls opens another door in its armoury. Steering that has until now seemed benign firms up considerably, and if you can’t actually decode every line of feedback, you can certainly sense how confident – or not – the 21-inch front wheels are of holding on.
The aluminium structure – both architecture and body panels – aids stiffness as well as reducing weight, helping to achieve surprisingly taut body control, gifting a rising sense of confidence. A low centre of gravity helps too. Can’t help but giggle when a slight overcook of a tightening off-camber sequence tells me I’m actually hustling a Rolls limo. That’s one customer mission they’ve certainly accomplished. Take that, physics! The satellites suddenly abandon us exactly at the back gate of Chillingham Castle. Not encouraging, although we’re probably less nervy than Edward I was when he stopped off here on the way north to tackle Mel Gibson in 1298. The Ghost’s head-up display floats ethereally against the black trees ahead of us, their skeletal frames picked out by laser lights.
Vision assist would tell us if it spots any wildlife, although its spectral detection properties are unspecified. Nothing stirs.
The Ghost pulls up to the front door, its scale now reduced to something like Matchbox beneath the ancient castle’s crenellations. The silence is staggering – the full Paul Simon. In the absence of a butler I trigger the ‘effortless’ doors, Rolls-Royce’s first iteration of power assistance to open as well as close. In truth it’s not that effortless. You have to pull the handle, wait for them to open a smidge, then pull it again once you’ve completed a full risk assessment to confirm the absence of small children, pets, unhelpfully placed masonry etc. Bit of a faff, no matter how important/ lazy you may be.
Chillingham is both magnificent and magnificently creepy in the half light. When we visit, pandemic restrictions have emptied it of all occupation except for Ian, the world’s bravest caretaker, and perhaps the handful of unquiet souls who attract so many ghost hunters in normal times. To their ranks we have added a Ghost with a capital ‘G’. Magnificent it undoubtedly is, the zenith of technological achievement from a house of luxury steeped in history, as sumptuous yet as capable as it could possibly be, a thrill and a pleasure and a privilege to drive. Yet, like the ghosts of Chillingham, it is the walking dead, a white elephant, an unquiet soul caught between a storied past and a brilliant future it has no part in – at least, not in this form. The monster under its bonnet is beautiful, but will be as acceptable in 2030 as lighting a cigar in a 737 or pouring boiling oil over the castle battlements onto Amazon couriers below.
Rolls knows this of course, and as last hurrahs go the new Ghost is perfection. You can only salute it, hungrily await its successor, and hope we don’t all end up in some way haunted by the ghost of internal combustion.
We have been told to summon Ian via a strange old bell pull at the side of the front door. He’s calm and easygoing. Yes, he’s experienced a few things at Chillingham – the sense that someone was standing behind him in an empty room, unexplained lights reflected in a mirror frame in the pitch dark – but ‘nothing too scary’. Seriously!?
It’s only now that I realise what I’ve let myself and photographer John in for. Staying overnight here will always be spooky, but the place is empty. I can tell by his face John is way ahead of me – probably by several days. Maybe we’ll be okay – maybe the frail lady in white, the voices in the chapel, the floating blue lights, the shapes in the courtyard, and the ghost of the chamber will all fail to put in an appearance tonight. And I fervently hope there’s no ‘Ghost of the Dairy’ – that’s where we’re due to kip… Our thanks to Chillingham Castle – chillingham-castle.com
TECHNICAL DATA 2022 Rolls-Royce Ghost
- PRICE £265,300 (£298,625 as tested)
- POWERTRAIN 6749cc 48v twin-turbo V12, eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
- PERFORMANCE 4/5
- MAX POWER 563bhp @ 5000rpm,
- MAX TORQUE 627lb ft @ 1600rpm
- ACCELERATION 0-62mph 4.8sec
- MAX SPEED 155mph
- WEIGHT 2490kg
- EFFICIENCY 347g/km CO2
- ECONOMY 18.6mpg (official), 21.0mpg (tested),
- ON SALE Now
- RATING ★★★★★
Tesla screen envy hasn’t permeated Goodwood. We’re here for a good time, not a long time. A full day’s drive from the chaotical capital, Fountain’s stress levels return to normal. This, or a petrol station Mountain Dew? Remember when climbing hills slowed cars?
Like the ghosts of Chillingham the Ghost is the walking dead, a white elephant, an unquiet soul caught between past and future.
The satellites abandon us at Chillingham, where Edward I stopped off on his way north to tackle Mel Gibson back in 1298.
Ghost to ghost: a thousand eerily easy miles
- 1. The City £300k doesn’t buy a cardboard box here. Ghost is invisible. Bankers assume Fountain’s a chauffeur
- 2. Islington Achingly trendy, but current fashion favours road surfaces modelle d on the airs t rip at Port Stanley c.1982
- 3. The A1 Ghost reveals itself as a force of nature – power, ride, silence, incredible comfort, mile after mile
- 4. The A68 Shock! Steering wheel require d. Hidden dips and steep climbs reveal Ghost’s true heft. Pedals need a heavy press
- 5. Kielder Iconic rally country should be Ghost ’s dynamic downfall. No t so. Fantastic body control, little understeer
- 6. ChillinghamWho brings a Ghost to a haunted castle? Home of Dominic Cummings’ in-laws. Spirit of Ecstasy is bemused
- 7. Bamburgh Other cast les are available! Ghost-free Bamburgh Castle serves as a bleak, sweeping, post-script to our trip
A study in magnificent metalwork (and red lights). Aesthetically, Ghost fits in London. Physically, it’s harder work.
Its muted class both intrigues and enrages the liberal elite queuing for sustainable coffee