I once found myself armed with a Silver Seraph, crossing the Channel en route to Agincourt. Sadly, the car was so new that Rolls had duct taped it to death, and insisted the Spirit of Ecstasy should remain under wraps.
Eleanor Thornton was duly sheathed in a bright yellow Marigold, stuffed with tissues in a manner that proved most provocative to the locals.
But why, it struck me mid-Winston, would you own a Rolls and not wish to make an entrance? Roll up in the 19-foot long Phantom and, whether the lady vanishes or not, you are invariably going to turn a head or two.
Yet there are, it seems, a substantial number of Rolls customers who wish to leave their car on a parking meter without attracting undue attention. And even, for that matter, fit the thing in a parking bay in the first place. And that’s where, over 17 inches shorter than a Phantom and a significant chunk of your mortgage less expensive, the £216,684 Ghost Series II comes in.
The Rolls-Royce Ghost 'facelift': the background
Easy enough, then, to tell Ghost from Phantom, but you’ll have sucked the ink from a whole box of biros before fully cataloguing the myriad minuscule modifications that drive the very finest of ocular wedges between the first and second iterations of the former.
And that’s intentional. ‘Sharp pencil at the beginning, sharp pencil at the end’ was Rolls designer Chris Duff’s dictat... ‘If it’s blunt, you’ve gone too far.’ Safe to say, despite every front panel being changed, there’s still plenty of lead left in Mr Duff’s pencil...
Most noticeable are a slightly enlarged grille, new lamp technology in headlights that remain a tad diminutive for such an imposing encounter, subtly re-sculpted bumpers, Miss Thornton pitched further forward into a pose more appropriate to a galleon figurehead, and a tapered, bonnet centre-line ‘wake channel’; the chromium residue of the world’s classiest guff.
On board, the majesty wrought by nine bull hides, peerless veneer finishing and immaculate brightwork takes a further step towards maturity primarily through new front seats that prove infinitely more comfortable than their over-bolstered predecessors. The makeover is completed by gently fettled rear seats, minor instrumentation tweaks and an even larger raft of the bespoke finish options that prove irresistible to 82% of Ghost owners.
I say ‘step towards’ because I don’t believe the Ghost will fully mature until all visible vestiges of BMW are expunged from the cabin. For instance, an instrument binnacle modelled on the best china stacked on a Welsh dresser is very well, but not if the shelf lip comprises a black information bar still boasting the BMW corporate font.
Inside the Ghost's cabin
Speaking of which, both the iDrive system, and its control, have also been upgraded, and even better on-the-move connectivity promised for the thrusting exec. Happily, BMW’s illegible, Miles Davis tribute sat-nav screen has been replaced with one boasting more than one quadrant of the colour spectrum. My phone readily connected, yet not even Rolls’ own chauffeur could cajole the system into thereafter handing control of a sensational new 18-speaker hi-fi to the rear seats.
Drivetrain and undercarriage upgrades are modest, but discernible. The 6.6-litre bi-turbo V12’s eight-speed gearbox is now married to the sat-nav GPS. This allows it to determine whether attaining cruising speed or approaching a bend is the cause of throttle lift, and either change up or hold a lower gear to suit. Rolls claiming a resultant 30% reduction in gear changes, the system works well on the open road, though the ’box is still prone to over-much vacillation at lower speeds.
Downstairs, we find re-designed front and rear struts, adjusted dampers, new rear hydraulic axle bearings and new steering gear. The Ghost is, of course, already hilariously quick. But now, armed with even more enthusiasm for carrying speed, crushing the Axminster proves an even more crushing experience for lesser 2.5-tonne lounges.
But there is, whisper who dares, a downside to suspension fettled to elicit such remarkable agility and poise. The very excellence of the Ghost’s primary ride actually highlights small deficiencies in the secondary department. The impact of minor ridges and ruts is slightly too readily transferred into the cabin, resulting in the occasional unseemly ripple on the surface of the Springbank 18 Year Old.
Unworthy of a Rolls, this niggling characteristic is further exacerbated by excessive tyre roar on most surfaces. Indeed, more often than not, it’s all you hear at anything under 100mph. I’d readily sacrifice half-a-second’s urgency for some serious additional wheel-arch insulation. Quiet please.
We love the beautiful build, luxurious cabin and imperious performance on tap in the new Ghost Series II. It's a shame about the variable secondary ride, excessive tyre roar and a few rogue BMW cabin bits 'n' bobs - but it's not enough to detract from the peerless pomp on offer.