Why drive when you can be driven? With its Ghost EWB, Rolls-Royce is appealing to the chauffeured classes.
The hotel driveway is crammed with cars that catch the eye: Maseratis and Bentleys, lots of Mercedes and BMWs. And one Rolls-Royce. It's outnumbered, but commands the forecourt with an effortless patrician air. Not to mention colossal presence. This could be a hotel anywhere, of course, because luxury cars speak a universal language of affluence.
But in China, where this gathering happens to be, it's a snapshot of a moment before its wealthy buyers became the most influential. When taste was still determined by the West. In a few years, after the elite in the world's largest market have worked their purchasing magic, this forecourt will have changed.
The rich are different from you and me, and China's rich are different again. They like limousine-length vehicles. They prefer to be chauffeured and their self-esteem is measured in legroom and long bonnets. Expansive rear seats bristling with gadgets are more important than an ability to beat all-comers away from the lights.
China's car market may be slowing to a simmer but luxury demand remains on the boil. This year, observers expect growth around 20 per cent - double the overall rate. Rolls-Royce is one brand alert to the opportunities.
In 2011, its centenary year, China overtook the US to become its largest single market and Beijing its top dealership. At the 2011 Shanghai motor show it launched a car in China for the first time: the Ghost Extended Wheelbase, an XXL edition of its junior limo. The Ghost EWB, as it's known, arrives before the upcoming Ghost Coupe makes its pitch to Western buyers. It's a sign of priorities to come. The standard Ghost was the main reason last year's sales soared to a record 3,538.
For Australian buyers the Ghost EWB is a less formal, less expensive option to the million-plus Phantom. It plays country manor to the Phantom's stately home. The latest Rolls-Royce Ghost starts at $645,000.
From behind the wheel, the Ghost EWB loses little to the standard car, with the same 6.6L turbocharged V12 and the same giant strides to reach 100km/h in five seconds.
The EWB reinforces the Ghost's claim to Chinese attention. Its extra 17cm is all in the back and the car's proportions are sweeter as a result. The rear doors open gatewise for dignified entry to a commodious compartment with all the toys you could want. Everything opens and shuts, is heated or cooled. The wraparound lounge poweradjusts.
The doors swing shut at the push of a button and feet sink into lambswool rugs. There are rear screens and a 16-speaker hi-fi, frosted glass and ambient lighting. Everything is weighty and substantial, from the bull's-eye aircon vents to the tiniest piece of trim.
You hear the engine if you put your foot down but nothing disturbs the serenity of the cabin and a sense that the car is looking after things. Forget sports buttons and suspension settings, it doesn't have any. Just put it in D and let Rolls decide. Power delivery is smooth and relentless. It's got adjustable damping, active anti-roll bars and a whole lot more. Its refinement and comfort are first-rate.
Of course the steering is slow and lazy. Of course it needs a football field to turn around. Around town it's an urban sailboat, only a bit more floaty. But if you're on the bridge (or the recreation deck if Chinese), the world is spread out below (some SUVs excepted).
The Ghost defers only to the Phantom in being a paramount statement of luxury motoring. Ghost EWB, the Chinese luxury buyer awaits.
Rolls-Royce Ghost EWB
Price: from $645,000
Warranty: 4 years
Safety rating: not tested
Engine: 6.6-litre 12-cyl petrol; 420kW/780Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto, RWD
Body: 5399mm (L); 1948mm (w); 1550mm (h)
Thirst: 13.6 L/100km, 317g/km CO2