Ghost story - Rolls Royce Ghost drive



The streets are completely deserted at this ungodly hour. This is downtown Mumbai and it was intensely throbbing with life not a few hours ago. Now, there is complete silence except for the steady patter of the rain. Bar a few listless security guards, it is, well, like a ghost town. The perfect setting, then, for a supernatural automobile, that too in haunting white, to waft around. The new Rolls-Royce Ghost whooshes past gorgeous, century-old buildings and is completely at home here; after all, you could mistake this part of urbs prima in Indis for London. This car’s illustrious predecessors would have been regulars in this business district several decades back. It looks like the Ghost has come back to one of its old haunts.

If there’s one venerable automotive marque that can call India its second home, it’s Rolls-Royce. Between the two great wars, the country accounted for over one-third of Rolls-Royce sales, mainly because of Indian royalty. India was, and is, an important market for the hallowed brand that’s now helmed by BMW. When almost 40 units of the Ghost are spoken for in India in barely nine months since its introduction in the country, it had better be, especially when each Ghost costs upwards of Rs 3 crore.

I don’t know how many of those owners are going to be behind the wheel of this behemoth, as wealthy bottoms would bask in the flawlessly crafted and perfectly adjustable rear thrones, while the seating position aft the C-pillar will grant them privacy (not anonymity, of course). But I certainly appreciate this high perch, the effortless steering, the beautifully tactile controls and the “violin key”switches, the highly retro design of the dials and of course, the humongous reserves of power. You see, though this automobile is almost as huge as one of those ships from the nearby docks, it is a “baby” Roller. The Ghost is the smaller, younger brother of the monstrous Phantom. And you know what? It’s billed by the manufacturer as an everyday car, unlike the more ceremonial, formal Phantom (Rolls-Royce means that in all seriousness). Because it’s a more sporty, potentially owner-driven car, the classic Parthenon grille is smaller and rounded, while Ms Eleanor Thornton gets to lean a bit forward. That’s also why the smaller Ghost is more powerful than the bigger Phantom; the driver is equally important in this car. It pays to be a Ghost Driver, all right.

Many of those owners have opted for the distinctive Silver Satin finish on the bonnet. The matte-finish effect comes through because of a layer of lacquer over the silver metallic paint and offers a lovely sensation to the touch. But it’s what hides beneath the bonnet that allows the Ghost to impart that haunting feel. Once upon a time, the impertinent question as to how much power a Rolls-Royce generates would be answered by a single word: Adequate. Times have changed, though.

The 6600cc twin-turbo V12 develops 563 bhp at 5250 rpm and a staggering 78 kgm of torque at just 1500 revs. Developed along with BMW, the V12 is all about an effortless, refined delivery of power. And it’s delivered to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic gearbox. Let’s put the mundane performance figures, as claimed by the manufacturer, aside: it attains 100 kph from standstill in 4.9 seconds (identical to what a purpose-built V10-engined BMW M5, devoted to speed, does). That is indeed rapid for a 2,470 kg, uber-luxury pampermobile. Top speed, is of course, limited to 250 kph. Ah, while it’s creating huge turbulence outside, inside, you wouldn’t know a thing. Whooshing past Mumbai’s beautiful sea front, on roads that would be crammed with lesser cars at any other time, I am stunned at the speeds it’s doing. It was an accidental glance at the speedometer that made me activate those huge XXL-sized dinner-plates that masquerade as brake discs. This automobile is exceedingly fast, and you simply don’t realise it.

Like in the Phantom, the Ghost too comes with a British sense of understatement. That famous power reserve gauge with percentage figures barely moves from the “100%” available sign while the needle is nudging three-digit speeds. Inside, there is no indication of the extremely quick and rapid external movement. The cabin is lit up with strategically placed lights, it’s all hush-hush, there’s some kind of up-down suspension movement that indicates that the road surface is pretty pathetic, and the iconic art deco buildings seem to be quickly heading back to the 1950s. The other few road users barely realise a 2.4-tonne Goliath is behind them. The powerplant is not that quiet on the outside, but still they are clueless. Then something white rushes past them in a blur. Boo.

Another concession is the thickness of the steering wheel as compared to the Phantom. It’s still spindly compared to most other luxury cars and it provides a detached sensation, except when you’re cornering or at high speeds. A low setting allows for even quicker gearshifts and near-redlining, if you want to indulge yourself a bit. The heft of the car is not that apparent, mainly because of the “adequateness” of the engine output. It is engineered to give that sensation of “waftability” that Rolls-Royce prides itself in giving to its cars. The magic is thanks to an intelligent four-corner air suspension system that not only keeps Mumbai’s craters away, but can even detect movement of a passenger inside the car and compensate accordingly. Oh, and that silly speedbreaker that suddenly sprouted near your bungalow can be handled by increasing its ride height.

As befitting a Rolls-Royce, it has a lot of thoughtful features that are too numerous to explain. And as befitting a car that’s 20 per cent BMW, it features a lot of high-tech stuff that governs virtually all the functions in the car — again, too numerous to explain. Yes, about 20 per cent of the car is BMW — this is so (“synergy parts” in R-R speak) because it wouldn’t make sense for Rolls-Royce to reinvent the wheel, as it were. Precisely why some of the sensations of this car feel familiar to those who know their Beemers. The tick-tock sound of the indicators. The column-mounted gear lever. The other warning chimes. The 7 Series-like L-shaped swoop (irreverently called the cow’s belly in another BMW model) at the bottom of the car... it’s not a bad thing, of course, because the Ghost impresses in many other ways. And I say this without exploiting even a quarter of its potential. Maybe I’ll take it out again one quiet night and visit many, many more of the Ghost’s old haunts.

(The Ghost was provided by Navnit Motors, the authorised Rolls-Royce Motor Cars dealer in Mumbai)