On a narrow, winding two-lane stretch of a Texas farm to market road, I've spooked myself.
Recently, Rolls-Royce called and asked if I'd like to be one of the first people in the world to drive the new Ghost Series II. You don't need me to tell you that it's one of the nicest cars in the world—it's a Rolls-Royce—but it's also one of the most technically advanced. The Ghost Series II isn't simply a facelift of the previous Ghost. Sure, it's got some revised metal around the front, but the big news is that it has the super-techy satellite aided transmission that first debuted on the Wraith. Not even the all-conquering Phantom my colleagues partied with over the summer has that yet.
I was interested in experiencing the legendary build quality, of course (more on that later) but first I really wanted to test out the ride's fancy transmission. On that back road in Texas, when I slowed down, my heart rate dropped, and I became much more calm. Turns out, I was doing about 90 mph, and it was mostly accidental. Below is how the rest of the day went. I invite you to come along for the ride.
Simply put, the car checks its precise location via satellite, so it knows when there are upcoming twisty bits. It then pre-selects the appropriate gear based on how sharp the curve is and what it thinks you're going to do. It makes sense, because the Ghost Series II is aimed at self-made "entrepreneurs," which in Rolls-Royce-speak, loosely translates to people who want to drive the car themselves, at least some of the time.
Before driving, I had a quick chat with Eric Shepherd, the president of Rolls-Royce North America. He was keen to point out what he called the "effortlessness" of luxury features like the navigation integration. I couldn't help but press him on the tech. How does such an advanced transmission fit into the Rolls-Royce ethos?
As well-polished spokesmen tend to be, he kept it close to the chest, saying, "seamless integration relates the Rolls-Royce experience." I brushed this off as PR-speak. As it turns out, it's not.
With equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism, I hopped in. I shifted into drive. I started to move forward, and that's about it. When you're at 30 mph it feels like 10 because you're so isolated from the world.
At 80 mph, it felt like 60, and even with some wind, it was almost total silence. I heard nothing.
Well, almost nothing. Mash your right foot down and the 563 hp twin turbo V12 announces its presence not in some violent fashion, but so smoothly you're barely cognizant of your back being pressed into the seat before having a sudden realization that law enforcement officers would have zero qualms about giving a ticket to someone in a Rolls-Royce.
Seriously. Passing large trucks on country roads is effortless—there's that word again—and 50 mph becomes 90 mph in far less time than you'd ever expect from a car this luxurious.
The backroads weren't all as straight as this picture above, and I eventually put the car through its paces. Somehow it manages to get through corners at sports car-like speeds with little more than a subtle acknowledgment that making such a large vehicle corner like that involves bending the laws of physics. And witchcraft.
I was concentrating so hard on how it felt—and on not crashing this $350,000 vehicle that I was somehow entrusted with—that I actually went through several corners before I realized the car was relaxed on the straights and tense in the curves.
With my heart racing, it dawned on me that this is what Eric was talking about. It's not a sports car by any stretch, but should you decide to have some fun at the limits of legality, it's ready to help you do that as effortlessly as possible.
Once you relax and settle into the car, the overall package really starts to make sense. The insanely plush wool carpeting would be more than welcome as a comforter on my bed, or lining a jacket.
You start to appreciate the wood, which isn't merely filed by hand by expert craftsmen; it's made out of any specific tree you want. You know, in case you happen to have a spare tree from your estate you'd like them to use.
Only when you're not driving do you really get to notice the leather. Rolls-Royce is so demanding that it doesn't use cows, since when they're pregnant they'll develop stretch marks. It also keeps the herd in the Alpines on a ranch that's above 2,000 feet of elevation—to avoid mosquito bites—and completely devoid of barbed wire, lest any of the bulls get a scratch. (I also, for some reason, feel it necessary to include that the R-R team flew in a private chauffeur from London for this day. What a world.)
I once had a conversation with an automotive designer (for another luxury brand) who taught me about different levels of detail, ranging from general lines to the kind of subtleties you only notice after you're intimately familiar with the car.
He only went to three levels. I don't know what level to call embedding the word "Ghost" into the back of the crystal, so it legitimately has its own shadow.
The attention to detail even runs as deep as the navigation system programmers. It's nearly 5 p.m. Time for tea. Obviously. I hopped in to test a transmission and to see what Rolls-Royce was all about.