Rolls-Royce Ghost II: New and exclusively for you
A Rolls-Royce on Valentine's Day? The connotations are clear: old things, borrowed things, blue things.
But that's the old Rolls-Royce. Sure, it still exists: the company makes the massive Phantom limousine, and classic models from the marque's past are still the automatic choice for that special chauffeur-driven trip to the church.
But there's also a new generation of Rolls-Royces that started with the car you see here, the Ghost.
It doesn't seem right to talk about an entry-level Rolls-Royce, but Ghost was the first of a range of smaller models that are aimed at people who prefer to drive themselves. Following Ghost, there was the Wraith coupe in 2013.
These are cars that have allowed Rolls-Royce to expand its global dealership network and draw in new customers - the kind who might otherwise have bought a Bentley, or perhaps a very-top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz. Rolls-Royce sales have quadrupled since 2009, to a record 4063 last year.
This has all happened courtesy of parent company BMW, of course. It's well-known that the Ghost and Wraith are based on the platform of the BMW 7 Series.
It's also well-known that small for Rolls-Royce is not small per se: the Ghost is still 5.4 metres long and powered by a 6.6-litre V12 engine producing 420kW and 780Nm. Under maximum thrust, it will reach 100km/h in 4.9 seconds. Ghost goes!
Or to be absolutely correct, Ghost II. Because this is the updated version and represents the first major change for the car in seven years. Ghost is not exactly a model you see in the supermarket carpark every day, so we can all be forgiven for being a bit hazy on what the previous generation looked like. The design changes are most obvious at the front: new LED headlights, different bonnet (with a more prominent taper down the middle), new bumpers and reshaped front guards with a more aggressive waft-line: that's Rolls-speak for the crease that descends from behind the front wheel arch and runs along the sill.
If you have to ask how much, you're not in the Rolls mindset. Ghost might be based on a BMW platform and borrow much of its electronic architecture, including a version of the iDrive controller and screen, but it's still built by hand and built to order. Every aspect of colour, trim and equipment is specified by the customer.
Most buyers also commission Rolls-Royce's Bespoke division, to add anything from the smallest detail (a piece of personalised embroidery on the headrests, for example) to a unique exterior colour. It's all down to customer taste and, as long as something can physically be achieved, there's no restriction. Want a yellow Ghost II with orange leather? You can have it.
But still, how much? An indicative figure for our test car, with Silver Sand exterior (pinstripes painted by hand), Hotspur red/black leather and Walnut Burr Crossband dashboard, is $628,000.
So there's no question that the Ghost fulfils the Rolls-Royce ethos of artisanship and exclusivity. The dichotomy facing the car is whether that sense of ultimate luxury can be combined with a satisfying driving experience.
The Ghost was never intended to be a sporting vehicle, despite the astonishingly rapid acceleration and tenacious handling. It's supremely quiet, which is exactly what you expect: the loudest thing in a Rolls circa-2015 is the clicking of the indicators. Unless you're running the Bespoke Audio System, with 18 speakers and extra amplification through the headlining.
There's high technology underpinning the Ghost, but simplicity is still key to the driving experience. The V12 engine drives through an eight-speed automatic transmission that works in conjunction with the satellite navigation to predict shift patterns for the road ahead, but you cannot choose modes or even take manual control: you just select Drive and go.
The chassis features a sophisticated air suspension system and a new hydraulic rear axle that further improves refinement. But you cannot choose comfort or sport modes: the adaptive software makes those decisions for you and the result is a car that truly wafts along, even on the enormous 21-inch wheels of our test example.
In the words of the company, the Ghost II is all about "effortless dynamism". But if you insist, you can dispense with the incredibly light steering and sumptuously soft suspension by specifying the Dynamic Driving Package, which makes the Ghost more responsive but arguably a tad less dignified. Rolls-Royce is all about choice. You can also go the other way and specify an Extended Wheelbase model, adding 170mm rear legroom.
Up front, the Ghost II has redesigned seats with a greater range of adjustment, including a powered section for thigh support. The cabin has its share of heritage cues, including a meter that shows you the percentage of power still available from the engine and a powered cover that hides the high-definition screen behind a more elegant walnut fascia when the car is not running.
There's a touch of Thunderbirds not just in the styling but also in the protection systems for the Spirit of Ecstasy on the bonnet. She automatically powers out of sight when the car is locked and reappears when you unlock the vehicle.
The information and entertainment screen is familiar BMW technology, controlled by a rotary dial that is known not as iDrive but as the Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller. The Flying Lady was embedded in crystal in the top of the dial on our car.
Other BMW-sourced features include adaptive cruise control, night vision and a Wi-Fi hotspot inside the car. It all makes life with a Ghost II much easier without detracting from the "super-premium environment" its maker aims to create.
The definition of value: "The regard that something is held to deserve, the importance or worth of something."
You could argue the $628,000 Rolls-Royce Ghost II is quite good value.
Thank you to Villa Maria Estate for the use of their Auckland grounds for the photo shoot.