Autos

Rolls-Royce's $300,000 Ghost Has Plenty of Spirit


Pulling up to a hot restaurant in West Hollywood in a $302,000 Rolls-Royce feels just as dope as you would imagine. Eyes swivel and the valets get a hungry look.

Pffhhhtt.

That's the sound of my credibility deflating as I accidentally trigger the windshield wipers, and cleaning fluid douses the entire scene in a fine mist.

So goes living with a Ghost. Over four days motoring around Los Angeles, I sip draughts of the good life, so afforded because of the assumption that I can afford this assemblage of sparkling chrome and butter-cream leather. The Ghost gets parked in the prime spot every single time.

I also suffered the downsides. Those same valets expect hundred-dollar bills to rain from your pockets. Onlookers are disappointed when you exit and they realize you're not a Kardashian. Hours are wasted worrying about the cost of rubbing one of those enormous, expensive fenders against a curb.

The Ghost, released last year, has been erroneously dubbed the "baby" Royce. While it is smaller than the barge-like, $380,000 Phantom sedan, there's nothing cherubic about this 17.6-foot-long monolith. It's an object intent on broadcasting one's stature in the world. The long aluminum-color hood, upright grill and barn-sized doors demand attention. I can't think of a car better suited to L.A.

Rolls-Royce is owned by Bayerische Motoren Werke, just one example of the colonization of traditional British automobile brands. The bright upshot is the Ghost is built on the exceptional underpinning of the BMW 7 Series sedan, and rock- solid German engineering lurks throughout.

Dashing Details

The sturdy ride is complemented by the British-style, coachwork interior, with dashing details like umbrellas hidden inside the doors and frosted interior lights. The Ghost is Europe's New World Order, showed off in a single masterful stroke.

The law of cliches demand that I drive around Beverly Hills and Bel Air, and tourists clutching "star maps" actually flash photos as I wait at a stoplight. ("I don't recognize him.") The Royce is perfectly fine for town, but isn't suited to darting around lanes.

It isn't until I take the 5,400-plus-pound sedan to the horse farms near Thousand Oaks that the Ghost feels truly settled, loping along soft rolling hills and long straightaways framed by miles of white split-rail fences.

While I'm well aware that tires must touch asphalt, the Ghost gives the impression of being just slightly above it all, a cushion of rarified air keeping the treads millimeters aloft. How else could one explain the floating ride which turns aside potholes?

Gentle Rolls

You can plow through tight curves, but the traction and stability controls often intercede, suggesting that you're being a bit crass.

Better to point the wheel straight and let the 6.6-liter V- 12 motor take the Ghost to 60 mph in 4.7 very quick seconds. Even then, the surge comes across as a firm but polite hand on your back, a handler guiding you through a crowd. Power is an incredible 563 horses and 575 pound-feet of torque.

You've got to ask, though, what would entice a modern guy to purchase this Old-World throwback with its whiff of Churchill-era elitism? It's hard not to feel class guilt.

The answer is the interior. Stuffed with high-tech items like BMW's iDrive infotainment system, satellite radio, parking sensors and cameras, it rivals any super-sedan in technology. But a 7 Series doesn't have an outrageous Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, which automatically lowers into the bonnet when the car is locked.

Three Moons

Up front, there's as much space as an SUV, with upright seats and the biggest plate-glass windshield I've ever looked through. Dials are three white moons in a sky of black glass. Wood veneers bore me, but I could get lost for days in the whorls of walnut on my test car — sourced from a single tree.

My one abiding complaint was the location of the wipers, just below the shifter lever. My unintentional window-cleaning incident was repeated many times. The rich aren't supposed to make mistakes, you see.

The rear is accessed by coach doors that open front-to-back ("suicide doors" in American-car parlance). A hidden button closes them automatically.

The base price starts at $246,500, but ownership almost demands accessories. To go without the rear "picnic" tables ($2,800) or rear-seat entertainment system ($9,950) would be like going to the Oscars in a beautiful gown without a lick of jewelry on.

Bentley Rival

A friend said she wanted to curl up on the $1,100 lambs- wool floor mats. I couldn't decide whether I should feel guiltier that my feet weren't experiencing the softness, or that I'd even consider driving a Royce barefoot.

Bentley's $180,000-plus, four-door Continental Flying Spur is the Ghost's obvious competitor. Its exterior is more modern and less over-the-top — your call if that's a good thing. Electronics like the navigation system are miles behind the Royce.

I've experienced many cars that handle better, but few that lend such a sense of place and well-being. Even while caught in a long, torturous jam on the freeway, I found myself relaxed, caressing the leather.

So this is what it feels to be like the idling rich.

The 2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost at a Glance

Engine: 6.6-liter V-12 with 563 horsepower and 575 pound-

feet of torque.

Transmission: Eight-speed ZF automatic.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 13 city; 20 highway.

Price as tested: $302,250.

Best features: The ride, the interior, the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament.

Worst feature: That terribly placed windshield wiper lever.

Target buyer: The modern queen or king.

Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.

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