It's unlike any other car on the planet.
While other automakers offer cup and bottle holders within the cabin, Rolls-Royce offers umbrella holders — with umbrellas — in each front door.
While others use ordinary cowhides to create leather seats, Rolls relies on thick-skinned Grade A bulls from a farm in northern Europe where cool temperatures ward off mosquitoes that might chomp the animal's skin, and barbed wire is avoided to minimize the risk of scars from rubbing against the fence.
And while others force you to balance a quarter-pounder on one thigh, an order of fries on the other after visiting Mickey D's drive-thru window, Rolls offers tray tables that fold down out of the front-seat headrests so those in back can eat in style.
To ward off vandals, Rolls has adopted a retractable Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament that drops into the hood once you stop the car and pops up once you restart it.
If the weather is nice and you prefer eating outdoors, the bottom half of the Phantom Drophead Coupe trunk lid folds down and out over the rear bumper to create a picnic table to eat off of or sit on (up to 340 pounds total weight).
One of the most novel features are the rear-hinged "suicide doors," which are in front on the Drophead and in back on the Ghost. The doors swing open, front to rear, offering lots of entry/exit space. They are hard to reach when fully open, but the push of a button in the pillar powers them closed. If doors should be ajar while the vehicle is moving at 8 mph or faster, the car automatically slows to a stop.
Given the opportunity to test drive the all-new 2011 Ghost sedan and the 2011 Phantom Drophead Coupe, we were able to experience how the other half lives, those who don't care about the price of gas and want a place to hold umbrella and burger whenever out motoring.
Rolls is known for handmade, limited-edition cars that set the benchmark for luxury. It sold 2,711 cars worldwide last year, up from little more than 1,000 in 2009. And thanks to the new Ghost, sales in 2011 are running 159 percent ahead of 2010.
We spent time with the Drophead, which is Rolls-speak for convertible, and the Ghost sedan.
Both are big and bold and need lots of muscle to move their nearly 3 tons. The Drophead comes with a 6.75-liter, 453-horsepower V-12 engine teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission that can move from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, despite tipping the scales at 5,886 pounds. But it's rated at 11 mpg city and 18 mpg highway and earns a $3,000 federal gas guzzler tax.
The Ghost is the performance model, with its 6.6-liter, 563-horsepower V-12 teamed with an eight-speed automatic that's capable of moving from 0 to 60 mph in a Corvette-like 4.8 seconds, because of twin turbo boost. Turbo lag at takeoff? Some, but you forget about any hesitation in less than 4.8 seconds. The sedan is rated at 13 mpg city/20 mpg highway, which warrants a $1,700 guzzler tax.
Rolls is testing an electric Phantom sedan with a lithium-ion battery pack and two electric motors designed to travel more than 100 miles before recharging.
Power bursts are secondary to sitting back and enjoying the amenities and the scenery when the soft top is powered down into its hiding place behind the rear seat of the Drophead while still giving you ample space to hold three sets of golf clubs — or two sets and your playing partner.
The ride is smooth and bump-free. Self-leveling air springs will adjust suspension cushioning so that if a rear-seat passenger moves from one side to the other, springs and shocks instantly adjust to keep the burger from toppling off the table.
The cabin has ample stretch room, though the Drophead rear seat could use a little more knee room, perhaps the reason an extended-length version is coming for 2013. For $4,350 you can add power rear seats to the Ghost that move fore and aft, up and down and even recline.
With almost 6,000 pounds to maneuver, the laws of physics dictate the cars might sprint from the light like a 'Vette, but in sharp corners, they aren't going to act like a sports car. The enjoyment with a Rolls isn't in how fast you can travel, but rather the nuances you don't find in other machines, such as those umbrellas, picnic tables and power doors.
The Ghost starts at $246,500; the Drophead at $447,000.
Neither car is meant for snow.
"When it starts to snow, owners bring out their snow tires, the ones on their Range Rover, Cadillac or Mercedes 4WD SUV," said Terry Rice, general sales manager of Steve Foley Rolls-Royce in Northbrook, Ill.
Owners typically are entrepreneurs who own their own company. Though they have money, they have a strong sense of just when and where to drive their machine.
"If the owner of the company hasn't been giving out raises or has been laying off employees, you typically won't find him driving his Rolls to work," Rice said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun