Growing up, I imagined being a motoring journalist was all fast cars, fancy food and fine wine.
My intel mostly came from CAR magazine – notably ex-editor George Bishop, whose Carte Blanche column ran every month throughout the late 1980s. George chronicled the lavish car launches of the era with acerbic wit, devoting as many words to his third glass of Malbec as the latest Lamborghini. To 10-year-old Tim, it all seemed impossibly exotic.
George neglected to mention the modest pay, tight copy deadlines and countless hours wasted in airports, of course. Nor indeed the worthy-but-dull hatchbacks that make up the majority of car reviews. Once in a while, though, an invite comes along that I suspect he would have jumped at.
How does an early lunch sound, followed by a cross-country jaunt in the new Rolls-Royce Ghost, then a Michelin-starred meal in a country house? Oh, and I’d be chauffeured home afterwards. Did somebody mention Malbec?
I’ll start with lunch, as George surely would. We dine at Rolls-Royce’s elegant factory, with the roar of classic cars testing across the road at Goodwood circuit an ever-present backdrop. A tangy starter of crispy duck with green mango, peanut and lime dressing leads into a main of seared cod with crushed potatoes, asparagus and lemon butter sauce.
I wash it down with sparkling water (needs must) while chatting to Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. “The previous Ghost is our best-selling car of all time,” he explains. “This time, it will be a close call with Cullinan [Rolls-Royce’s first SUV, launched in 2018]. We have listened to exactly what customers want.”
What they want, apparently, is the same but better. The £249,600 Ghost is still a handsome four-door saloon: smaller and less ostentatious than the flagship Phantom.
It still packs a 6.75-litre petrol V12 without a hint of electric assistance. And it still cossets its occupants in indulgent wood-and-leather luxury. Behind the familiar ‘Pantheon’ grille, however – now mood-lit by 20 LEDs – much has changed. There’s a new aluminium spaceframe chassis, unique ‘double damper’ front suspension, rear-wheel steering and four-wheel drive.
Before setting out, I jump briefly into the back for the view many Ghost owners will enjoy. The two heated, cooled, massaging and reclining armchairs are like those aboard a private jet, while Rolls’ signature Starlight headliner swathes the roof in twinkling lights.
There’s enough legroom to fully stretch out, but basketball players may prefer the ‘Extended’ version, with an extra 170mm between the wheels. I resist the urge to kick off my shoes and bury my toes in deep-pile lambswool. I also resist the urge to consume the contents of the champagne fridge.
Sliding behind the thin-rimmed wheel and column-shift gear selector feels just as relaxing. There’s no whizz-bang multi-screen infotainment, just a reskinned version of BMW’s intuitive iDrive media system, plus some satisfyingly big buttons. Even the digital dials mimic a traditional analogue setup. Rolls-Royce calls this ‘post-opulence’ – the idea that luxury should whisper, rather than shout. In a post-Covid world, perhaps it has a point.
Frankly, I can hardly hear the engine whisper. Around town or cruising at 70mph, the Ghost is quieter than any electric car, aided by four different types of sound deadening in the doors alone. Tickle the throttle and a swelling surge of torque – 627lb ft from 1,600rpm – propels you forward with effortless nonchalance. Only when you push the right pedal harder does the V12 awaken with a muted snarl. Feeling 2.5 tonnes of Rolls-Royce blast to 62mph in 4.8 seconds is incongruous but oddly exciting.
Unlike the Phantom, the Ghost is aimed at those who enjoy driving, not simply being driven. Its feathery steering offers tangible feedback, while the rear-wheel steering bolsters stability in faster corners. Meanwhile, sat-nav data is used to ensure you’re always in the right gear, and a ‘Flagbearer’ camera primes the suspension for upcoming bumps. Ride quality is so serene, your passengers can quaff champagne with confidence.
Speaking of quaffing, I arrive at the country home as afternoon fades. Grime star Skepta is posing with a Ghost on the driveway – a reminder of how new and old worlds collide for Rolls-Royce. Inside a double-height dining room, I’m introduced to Josh Angus, head chef at Mayfair restaurant Hide.
His tasting menu is too intricate to list here, but highlights include a tart of beef tartare with blackberry ketchup, barbecued octopus with taramasalata and potted brown shrimp crumpets. I also sample the unique Ghost Cocktail: cider brandy, rum, milk, fig leaves and lime.
Suitably refreshed, I’m ushered into the back of a Cullinan for the journey home. This must be how it feels to be rich, I reflect, or to be George Bishop. Tomorrow, there’ll be an early start and a dull-but-worthy hatchback to write about, but right now I’m simply enjoying the ride. Cheers.
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 347-358
MPG COMBINED: 17.9-18.6
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research