The 563bhp V12 engine delivers its outputs with no more than a distant whoosh as the 2.5-tonne Ghost streaks towards the horizon / James Lipman


Price: from £216,684
Engine: 6,592cc, V12 cylinders, 48 valves, twin turbochargers,563bhp
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 155mph, 0-62 in 5.0sec, 20.2mpg, CO2 327g/km

To improve on a Rolls-Royce is tricky. It is already, according to the company's slogan of years past, the best car in the world. But even a new Rolls-Royce ought to be better than an older one. Otherwise the well-heeled would still be driving around in pre-First World War Silver Ghosts.

That name, minus the metallic element, today applies to the entry-level Rolls-Royce, if such an undignified term can be applied to something so grand.The venue for the launch of the newest version was London's Shard, from which I was to be chauffeured, luxuriating in the ample, reclinable back seat of a long-wheelbase Ghost, soaking up the sounds of the 18-loudspeaker sound system, which, uniquely in the motoring world, has been designed and built by the car-maker rather than bought in from a hi-fi firm.

There is, of course, a wi-fi connection, and showing the Ghost's distant BMW roots (it has some under-skin commonality with a 7-series) is a round control knob for a multimedia and information system much like BMW's iDrive. Except that here, the control knob has a Spirit of Ecstasy motif, a side view of the one on the bonnet, encased under glass. And the display screen can recognise instructions traced on it by a finger, even in Arabic or Mandarin.

Yet this much, although impressive, does not justify a Series II tag. Nor does a greatly increased range of bespoke possibilities, although the notion of an urban skyline or ancient script reproduced in flawlessly lacquered marquetry within your wooden dashboard might well appeal.

The Series II part comes, instead, from subtle styling changes. The most obvious is that the headlights are now a curious hockey-stick shape instead of being rectangular. The prow is fractionally higher; the bright-metal strip behind the bonnet mascot sits in a "wake channel" to emphasise the Spirit of Ecstasy's speedy motion; and the front end looks (but is not) slightly wider, with the semblance of a smile from the under-bumper air intake.

The rear of the body is unaltered, but the suspension beneath it has new, fluid-filled mountings to make progress over bumps even more serene. It's not entirely successful, some distant thuds penetrating my reverie as we cruised London's pock-marked streets, but to make the ride still more pillowy would bite into the Ghost's key, and unexpected, attribute.

Which is that it is a rousingly good drive. Its 563bhp V12 engine delivers its outputs with no more than a distant whoosh as the 2.5-tonne Ghost streaks towards the horizon. The eight-speed automatic gearbox uses sat-nav data to predict suitable gears, apparently reducing gearshifts by around 30 per cent, and there is no means by which you can shift gears yourself. Nor are there any Sport, Comfort or similar settings for the suspension, steering and accelerator response. The Ghost knows best, and why should its driver think otherwise?

That a car so hefty should feel so compact, agile and wieldy on the open road is almost a miracle of physics, although it does grow back to its normal size when you try to park. This ability to carry four people in decorous luxury combines with the surprisingly dynamic verve to make it perhaps the best Rolls-Royce of all. That it is also the least expensive is a bonus.

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