The “Baby” Rolls-Royce

2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost.

Sometimes you have to look at things in perspective. The 2011 Rolls-Royce Ghost is very large, very luxurious and very expensive compared to most cars on the road, or even most luxury cars.

But compared to the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Ghost is smaller, not quite as luxurious, and comes in at a bargain price. While the top-of-the-line Phantom starts at a staggering $380,000, the base price for the smaller model is “only” $246,000.

It seems everyone loves a bargain at times, even those in the rarified world of Rolls-Royce ownership. The iconic British luxury brand is now owned by BMW, and large car companies (compared to low-volume boutique ones like Rolls-Royce was before) know that volume counts, even in the ultra-luxury arena.

By offering the Ghost in addition to the Phantom line (which includes not only a very large sedan but the coupe and convertible too), Rolls-Royce can expand the brand to include people who think the Phantom is too large, too expensive or even too ostentatious.

Depending on which angle you see it from, the Ghost can look almost low-key. From the rear or sides, its shape is muted and smooth, with a decided lack of trim and fussiness. Move around to the front, however, and you definitely know you’re looking at a Rolls. The prominent chrome-plated grill screams “exclusive luxury!” like no other piece of automotive styling.

And right above the grill, even the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament is scaled-down for the Ghost’s trimmer dimensions. The modern side of the car is represented by stylish high-tech looking headlamp assemblies that include a battery of LEDs.

Technology merges with tradition pretty well in this car. BMWs engineering expertise provides the twin-turbo V-12 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, plus the navigation and climate control systems. The Ghost shares its basic underpinnings with the BMW 760Li, the top-of-the-line edition of the 7-Series.

But to call this Rolls a gussied-up BMW is to really do it a disservice. A back-to-back drive of each car would show how different they actually are. The Ghost sits taller, and its seats sit taller within. It also rides on air suspension on all four wheels, for a softer, more plush ride.

Speaking of plush, the first thing that catches your eyes when you open the door is the carpet. Thick, rich and suitable for royalty, the floor invites a visit by the back of your hand as well as your feet. Luxurious wool carpets are a Rolls-Royce tradition.

Another interior tradition is leather that is sourced from cattle that are not allowed near barbed wire fences, lest some imperfections find their way to your seats. The hides are also dyed for each car all as one batch to provide uniform color, even after years of exposure and use.

The interior wood is also special. The thickly varnished panels come from one tree per car in order to ensure the grain is more perfectly matched. You know right off the bat that you’re looking at genuine former trees in the Ghost, and not some computer-generated imitation.

“Stately” would best describe the whole interior, right down to the controls. The steering wheel rim is restrained in its thickness for a more delicate look and feel, and there are no paddle shifters or even a tachometer.

This car is for gliding down the road, and glide it does. Acceleration is velvety smooth, with nary a peep coming from under the hood. The ride is supple and controlled, the car’s mass soaking up bumps in a way no other car quite can. The seats are so comfortable that you feel like driving all day long.

Obviously, the Ghost isn’t for everyone, nor even very many. It’s insanely expensive; the car I drove was piled with options to the tune of just over $300,000. Still, that’s about $80,000 (or the base price on the BWM 7-Series) less than the starting price of a Phantom.

Perhaps this is a way for people with lots of disposable income to show the world they’re cutting back, at least a little.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 8 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz

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