NEW Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II. FIRST DRIVE puts the face-lifted (sorry, ‘re-designed’) Ghost Series II to the test around the streets of ol’ London town.

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The London launch of the new Rolls Royce Ghost is the first time I have laid eyes on the second generation of Goodwood’s best-selling car, and on initial impressions it looks… errr, just like the old one. According to Rolls Royce this wasn’t down to a lack of imagination, but instead due to the fact that a whole-sale change would have alienated existing customers who appreciate the classic styling. Besides, as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Despite the subtle nature of the redesign (Rolls Royce insists it isn’t a face-lift) there is a lot that has actually been changed. Actually pretty much the whole front end of the Ghost is new, as every panel from the bumper to the bonnet has been replaced. A seven-degree tilt on the Spirit Of Ecstasy and headlights that sit slightly wider give the car a slightly more imposing look than the first Ghost, while lines trailing back from the iconic hood ornament give the car a more sculpted look, and are supposedly meant to echo the stream of a jet or a boat through water. Meanwhile new, adaptive LED-rimmed headlights have taken on a less blocky shape and are the most obvious aspect of the Ghost’s redesign. If the barrage of camera phones everywhere we went is anything to go by, then the visuals of the Ghost have definitely hit the mark.

Beneath the new bodywork you’ll continue to find the same BMW 7-series sourced chassis mated to a twin-turbo 6.6 litre V12 that retains its 563bhp output, and an eight-speed auto gearbox. This time though the shift patterns are slightly altered and more significantly, the transmission is Satellite Aided, but more on that later. Other enhancements under the skin include re-engineered front and rear struts and a new steering gear. While the old Ghost didn’t exactly suffer from a choppy ride there are new hydraulic rear axle bearings that enhance ride quality and rear stability whilst simultaneously reducing vibrations and cabin intrusions. Interestingly there is also a Dynamic Driving package option now available with the sporting driver in mind. If you tick that box in the long options list you get adjusted dampers that improve the car’s cornering ability. Sadly our test car wasn’t equipped with it but I have it on good word that the change is subtle. Besides I find it hard to imagine that Rolls Royce would fit a system that would offer anything more than an incremental increase in stiffness, as that would compromise it’s trademark magic-carpet ride.

Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II, London Photograph: James Lipman +44 7803 885275

Swing open those massive (and massively heavy) front doors and unsurprisingly you are greeted with more leather than an S&M party, and enough wood to build a small log cabin. As you would expect from a Rolls Royce, the materials chosen are exquisite and the atmosphere in the cabin is hand-crafted and pretty spectacular. Importantly the Ghost still has that candyfloss fluffy carpet on the floors that is so soft it makes you want to drive barefoot, but I resist that temptation to avoid appearing uncouth. The interiors of Rolls’s nearest rival Bentley is a great place to be, but there are lots of components that are obviously Audi and as a result don’t feel as special. In the Ghost (or any other Rolls Royce for that matter) you would never guess that a BMW lurked beneath. Everything feels utterly bespoke and unmistakeably Rolls Royce.

While the interior retains its classic elegance there is plenty of modern tech to play with, including a new Rolls-branded iDrive controller that adorns the centre console in both the front and rear. The crystal encrusted controller is now touch sensitive, meaning you can spell out letters with your fingertips, rather than having to scroll through the alphabet like the commoners in regular cars. You can also pinch and pull to zoom in and out like you would on a smart phone. Rolls Royce are keen to point out that the controller uses a touch pad rather than a touch screen that would leave unsightly fingerprints (which is clearly unacceptable). While it is gimmicky you can’t deny that it’s innovative. Other toys inside include Wi-Fi connected tablets for the back seats and an 18-speaker sound system that would rival that of an Ibiza nightclub. Those new LED lights also come with a great new feature that automatically dips the lights when it detects oncoming traffic, meaning you don’t have to keep switching your high beams on and off every time a car appears on a dark road. Pretty nifty.

Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II, London Photograph: James Lipman +44 7803 885275

I have to give the throttle a blip to make sure the engine is actually on, so hushed is the engine at idle. Pull the steering-column mounted gear lever stalk into D and the new Ghost rolls into traffic as effortlessly as you would expect. The first impression you get from the driver’s seat is just how large the Ghost is, which isn’t a problem on the wide lanes of our GCC road system, but when your test route takes in sinewy British country lanes you find yourself breathing in every time a car comes the other way, partly because of the $350,000-plus price tag that the ‘entry level’ Roller carries, but mainly because there is mere inches to spare on either side. While the first Ghost genuinely surprised me with how agile it was the first time I drove it on Dubai’s sweeping roads, the second gen feels ill suited to my attempts at hustling it along these winding roads. Excessive body roll combined with its gargantuan size isn’t a great combination for spirited driving so best to ease back and pilot the Ghost in a manner more becoming of a Roller. That means wafting along a wave of effortless torque, at a more relaxed pace enjoying the majestic ride, the suspension filtering out all but the harshest imperfections from the road below.

My first experience of the Satellite Aided transmission was in the Wraith, the Ghosts markedly sportier coupe cousin. I recall wondering what all the fuss was about as I hardly noticed the system at work. The idea behind this technology is that it utilizes GPS and mapping data to ensure the car is always in the correct gear when negotiating turns, highway exists and roundabouts. In a performance oriented car you don’t notice it working since it doesn’t add any visceral thrills, but in a luxury sedan where the onus is on comfort the system suddenly comes into its own. The fact that you don’t notice it is exactly the point. You never experience a kick down when accelerating out of a corner nor do you have abrupt engine braking on the way into corners as the car is already in the right gear, making your progress smoother and more effortless as a result.

Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II -01

There is no doubt that the Ghost is a special car. If you want the pinnacle of a modern luxury car that you can drive or be driven in, then this is it. I haven’t mentioned the flagship Phantom in this conversation on purpose as I feel it is too over-the-top and is predominantly a car to be chauffeured in. It is hard to justify the Ghost costing double what Mercedes would ask for a top of the line Mercedes S-Class, as it certainly isn’t twice as good, yet somehow the Rolls Royce truly feels a class apart from its cheaper rivals, Bentley included.

Technical specifications available on page 2

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