Lexus GS VS Rolls-Royce Ghost
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Unbelievable ride comfort
- Flawless quality
- Understated design
- Numb steering
- Vast turning circle
Ah, yes, the Lexus GS. Toyota's luxury off-shoot had high hopes for the new big boy when I first saw it a few years ago. Not thousands-of-sales high hopes, but the company thought a rear-wheel drive luxury sedan stacked with gear you didn't even know you wanted would be a dead-set winner.
And to be fair, they were right. I ran a GS as a long-termer and it was impeccably-mannered. In hybrid form. It wasn't sparkling, but my goodness, it used barely any fuel; especially impressive given its size.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Rolls-Royce says its out-going Ghost is the most successful model in the company’s 116-year history.
No bad, when you consider the first ‘Goodwood’ Ghost has ‘only’ been around since 2009. And although the factory isn’t quoting specific numbers, that all-time best-seller claim means it’s surpassed the more than 30,000 Silver Shadows produced from 1965 all the way through to 1980.
Unlike the brand’s Phantom flagship, the Ghost is designed for owners who want to drive, as well as be driven. The aim is a less conspicuous, more engaging experience, and according to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, development of this new generation Ghost involved a lot of listening.
He says a team of “Luxury Intelligence Specialists” connected with Ghost owners around the globe to gain a clearer understanding of their likes and dislikes. And the result is this car.
While its predecessor’s engineering DNA included more than a few strands of BMW 7 Series (BMW owns Rolls-Royce), this all-new car stands alone on an all-RR alloy platform also underpinning the Cullinan SUV and Phantom flagship.
The factory claims the only parts carried over from the prior model are the ’Spirit of Ecstasy’ ornament on the nose, and the umbrellas slipped into the doors (the holders for them are heated, by the way).
We were offered the opportunity to slip behind the wheel for a day, and the experience was a revelation.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Weirdly, given all the good things I've had to say about the GS F Sport, it doesn't quite hang together. It's missing that certain something the Europeans have in their chassis, particularly the BMW 5 Series, and with ageing interior tech, it's struggling to keep up.
It's a car built for specific tastes, and they're more California than Straya. And that's perfectly okay, but unfortunately, that doesn't translate to a stampede of buyers. Having said that, none of its German rivals (or its beleaguered Japanese counterpart, Infiniti) could claim wild sales success either.
The GS is a terrific car, underrated but also just not quite there for my taste. The GS F, though, that's another thing altogether.
Does Lexus even register on your big luxury sedan radar? If it does, what stops you from taking the plunge?
You might see it as an obscene indulgence or a piece of engineering excellence, but there’s no denying the new Rolls-Royce Ghost is exceptional. Incredibly refined and capable, it’s arguably the most impressive ‘entry-level’ car in the world.
The GS is ageing well, but it's still a bit heavy-handed around the headlights and a little on the slabby side along the flanks. It doesn't look poised for action, even with the F Sport additions, but nor does it look frumpy, mostly due to the whopping blacked-out spindle grille, a Lexus signature.
The rear end is good looking but a bit bluff, again neither surprising or delighting.
Little has changed inside, but it's still a very nice cabin, and always will be apart from a couple of clangers (the gear shifter looks super-cheap).
What's more, it's welcoming, lots of very nice materials, comfortable, seats - it's exactly what it needs to be. Whatever you might think of the looks, one thing is absolutely certain - if anyone builds cars better than Lexus, it's a very, very short list.
Rolls-Royce adopted what it calls a ‘post-opulent’ philosophy in development of the new Ghost’s design. Specifically, restraint, “rejecting superficial expressions of wealth.”
That’s because, as a rule, Ghost customers aren’t Phantom customers. They don’t want to make that big a statement, and prefer to drive the car as much as they might be chauffeured in it.
This Ghost is longer (+89mm) and wider (+30mm) than the outgoing model, yet it’s a superbly balanced shape, with minimalism the guiding design principle.
That said, the iconic ‘Pantheon Grille’ is bigger, and now downlit by 20 LEDs under the top of the radiator, with its individual slats polished even more carefully to subtly reflect the light.
The car’s broad surfaces are tightly wrapped and deceptively simple. For example, the rear guards, C-pillars and roof are fabricated as one panel, which makes sense of the absence of shutlines around the rear of the car (except for the boot outline, of course).
Rolls-Royce refers to the Ghost’s cabin as an ‘interior suite’ consisting of no less than 338 individual panels. But despite that number, the feeling inside is simple and serene.
In fact, Rolls says its acoustic engineers are experts in serenity. Sounds like Darryl Kerrigan needs a Ghost for the family road trip to Bonnie Doon.
A few details stand out. The open pore wood trim is a welcome, tactile change from highly finished veneers that often do their best to look like plastic.
The proper metal chromed trim elements around the cabin confidently say quality and solidity, and the steering wheel, as well as the buttons around the multimedia controllers are subtle throwbacks.
The wheel has a circular central pad, with ancillary buttons around its lower perimeter, which echoes the style of the 1920s and ‘30s. You half expect an ignition advance/retard lever to sprout from its centre.
And the buttons around the media controllers use a combination of shape, colour and typeface to conjure up thoughts of the same era. They could be made of Bakelite.
For those that way inclined, the signature ‘Starlight Headliner’, using untold LEDS to create a glittering night sky in the roof, now incorporates a shooting star effect. You can even option up the constellation of your choice.
Being a big car, there's plenty of room inside. Four passengers will be very comfortable although rear legroom was a bit on the skinny side given the car's size.
The cabin contains a good-sized console bin, four cupholders and each door pocket into which you could conceivably slot a bottle.
The 520-litre boot is a useful shape, with a sensible load height and a space-saver spare under the floor. The 5 Series and E Class both best the Lexus by 10 litres, so the GS isn't far off the norm.
The new Rolls-Royce Ghost is over 5.5m long, more than 2.1m wide, and close to 1.6m tall. And within that substantial footprint sits a 3295mm wheelbase, so no surprise utility and practicality are exceptional.
First, there’s getting in. The ‘coach’ or ‘clamshell’ doors will be familiar to current Ghost owners, but their “effortless” operation is new, a gentle pull on the door handle bringing welcome electronic assistance.
Once inside the rear of the car, as on the previous model, the press of a C-pillar-mounted button will close the door.
But up front, easing onto the generous driver’s seat is a breeze thanks to the Ghost’s sheer scale and a large door aperture.
There’s plenty of space for people and things in a thoroughly considered layout. A large glove box, big centre storage box (containing every connectivity option known to humankind) a lined slot for your phone and twin cupholders under a sliding timber cover. The door pockets are generous, with a sculpted section for bottles.
Then the rear. Obviously designed for two, the back seat will seat three. The sumptuous full-leather seats are multi-way electronically-adjustable, and NBA players (almost certainly prospective owners) will be happy with the leg, head and shoulder room provided.
Need even more room in the back? Step this way to the ‘Extended’ long-wheelbase version of the Ghost, measuring 5716mm long (+170mm), with a 3465mm wheelbase (+170mm), and stepping up in price to $740,000 (+$112,000). That’s $659 per additional millimetre, but who’s counting?
But back to the rear of the standard wheelbase car. Fold the large centre armrest down and twin cupholders pop out the front. Then, a wood-trimmed lid on the top flips forward to reveal a rotary multimedia controller.
Behind that, a beautifully trimmed storage box offers generous space and 12V power, and behind door number three (a pull-down leather panel in the back of the armrest aperture) is a small fridge. What else?
The rear of the front centre console houses individual climate-control outlets as well as USB and HDMI sockets.
Touch a discreet chrome button and small desks (RR calls them picnic tables) fold down from the front seat backs, faced in the same open pore wood as the dash, console, steering wheel, and door trims, and finished off with flawless chrome.
The entire interior benefits from a ‘Micro-Environment Purification System’ (MEPS), and rather than bore you with the details, let’s just say it’s exceptionally efficient.
Boot volume is a solid 500 litres, with an electrically-assisted lid and plush carpet lining. Of course, the air suspension system can lower the car to make loading heavy or awkward objects that little bit easier.
Price and features
We had the pleasure of the GS 350 F Sport for the week, which is well over $10,000 cheaper than the Luxury and is therefore the 'default. If you're not sure what F Sport means, it's Lexus' answer to an M Sport or AMG pack, without all the high-powered engine shenanigans to go with it. If that's what you're after, the V8-powered Lexus GS F is definitely for you.
Starting at $95,300, the F Sport has a spectacular standard features list - 17-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloys, variable-geared four-wheel steer (!), adaptive suspension, dual-zone climate control (with moisturising function), hectares of leather trim, head-up display, electrically-operated heated and ventilated front seats, rear sunshade, F Sport instrument screen, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors with around-view cameras and a space-saver spare.
The media system is run from Lexus' 12.3-inch screen embedded in the dashboard and controlled from an infuriating console-mounted mouse-clicker with a couple of shortcut buttons. It really is spectacularly irritating and made worse by the rotary dial stationed next to it that acts as the drive mode selector. Why not use that instead?
As ever, the system is mildly baffling to use and hard to look at, but the sound is absolutely lovely from the Mark Levinson-branded speakers. Lexus is persisting with a DVD player but it also has DAB+.
Good value is open to broad interpretation in this rarefied part of the new car market. On the surface, value could relate to standard equipment; the features that make life with a car safer, more comfortable, and efficient.
It might also have you lining up the competitors, to determine how much sheet metal, rubber and glass you’re getting for your money. Maybe a Mercedes-Maybach S-Class, or Bentley Flying Spur?
But peel away those layers and you’re getting closer to the heart of the Rolls-Royce value equation.
A Rolls-Royce is a statement of wealth, confirmation of status, and indicator of success. And that will be enough for some. But it also delivers value to those who appreciate the last few percentage points of creativity and effort that deliver exceptional results.
Sounds like a bit of a gush. But once you dip into the background of this car’s development and experience it first-hand, it’s hard not to.
We could produce a separate story on the Ghost’s standard features, but here’s the highlights reel. Included are: LED and laser headlights, 21-inch twin-spoke (part-polished) alloy wheels, electrically-adjustable, ventilated and massaging seats (front and rear), an 18-speaker audio system, electrically-assisted ‘Effortless Doors’, a head-up display, full leather trim (it’s everywhere), multiple digital screens, active cruise control, adaptive air suspension, and there’s lots more.
But let’s pick a few of those out for closer inspection. The audio system is designed and produced in house, featuring a 1300W amp and 18-channels (one for each RR built speaker).
In fact, there’s a team dedicated to audio performance, and it’s made the entire car an acoustic instrument, calibrating resonance through its structure to optimise clarity. Not the work of five minutes, requiring complex collaboration with the design and engineering teams, not to mention the bean counters.
And yes, there’s leather everywhere, but it’s of the highest quality, analysed to (literally) a granular level to ensure it makes the cut for use in this car. Even the stitching is set to a particular (longer than typical) length to minimise visual noise.
How about RR personnel travelling the globe to measure rain drops to make sure the roof rain channels perform as well as they can (true story). Or the 850 LED ‘stars’ in the dash fascia, backed by a 2.0mm thick ‘light guide’ with 90,000 laser-etched dots to disperse light evenly, yet add a twinkle.
You get the idea. And as much as they say, ‘If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’, the cost-of-entry for a 2021 Ghost, before any options or on-road costs, is $628,000.
Depending on your perspective, a stupendous sum that will by 42.7 entry-level Kia Picantos, a car every bit as capable of transporting you from A to B as the Ghost. Or alternately, brilliant value, in that it buys the ultimate attention to detail applied to this car’s design, development and execution. You be the judge, but for what it’s worth, I’m in the latter camp.
Engine & trans
The new Ghost is powered by an all-alloy, direct-injection, 6.75-litre, twin-turbo V12 (also used in the Cullinan SUV) producing 420kW (563hp) at 5000rpm, and 850Nm at 1600rpm.
The ‘six-and-three-quarter-litre’ V12 has a distant link to BMW’s ‘N74’ engine, but Rolls-Royce is at pains to point out this unit stands on its own two feet, and that every piece of it bears a RR part number.
It runs a Ghost-specific engine map, and permanently drives all four wheels through a GPS-guided eight-speed automatic transmission.
That’s right, the GPS link will pre-select the most appropriate gear for upcoming bends and terrain with the aim of producing “a sense of one endless gear.” More on that later.
A real world 13.7L/100km is a solid miss of the claimed 9.3L/100km, which itself is hardly earth-shattering. It's a big heavy car and that's the penalty. It drinks fuel fast, so the 66-litre fuel tank does drain quickly and it's worth knowing you have to fill it with the 95 RON or better.
Rolls is currently quoting European Regulation (NEDC) fuel consumption numbers for the new Ghost, which for the combined (urban/extra-urban) cycle is 15.0L/100km, the big V12 emitting 343g/km of CO2 in the process.
On the launch drive, covering around 100km of urban pottering, B-road cornering, and freeway cruising, we saw a dash-indicated figure of 18.4L/100km.
Premium 95 RON unleaded fuel is recommended, but if circumstances (presumably in the back-of-beyond) demand it, standard 91 unleaded is usable.
Whichever you choose, you’ll need no less than 82 litres of it to fill the tank, at our average fuel use, enough for a theoretical range of 445km.
There are things you expect in a Lexus. Quietness. Composure. Smoothness. The GS delivers all three of those things effortlessly. But it has a few extra things in its bag that I can't say I was expecting.
For a start, the 3.5-litre V6 moves the car without any carry-on and in doing so, I was constantly amazed at how quickly the speed in the head-up display reached the posted limit. It just doesn't feel or sound like a six second car, but there you are. The transmission is virtually faultless, the engine sound distant and refined, the power impressive.
It's a heavy car, no question, but two things work to make it feel much lighter. First - and it doesn't matter which mode you choose - the adaptive suspension somehow knocks about 200kg out of how heavy the car feels. The brakes, while a little soft on pedal feel when you first step on them, are very effective and again help to make the car feel lighter than it is.
The four driving modes are quite distinct. As usual, Eco makes everything soft and doughy or as I prefer to say, unpleasant. Normal is great for every day, with just the right throttle response and steering weight.
Moving to sport ups the aggro slightly while Sport+, while never harsh, firms everything up to the point where it starts to feel like a different car. Sport+ makes the car feel race-car pointy, the suspension holds the body in check and the power seems readily available without jerky progression
The all-wheel steer is a big part of the change in feel. It's is especially sharp in Sport+ mode. The steering's gearing changes up quite a bit, meaning a lot less steering lock required for your favourite hairpin bend. Of course, at real speed it all calms down because neither you nor Lexus are fond of sneezy lane-changes or Armco-swiping. At first I thought it just made the big car feel a bit too nervous but as I got used to it (and was able to dial it down by switching back into a less racy mode) I found it fun but a little bit out of character with the car itself.
And just because it's the F Sport, that doesn't mean it can't do all the things you'd expect from a Lexus. You can still waft, you can still creep up on people and it's really very comfortable when you're cruising or stuck in traffic.
So, if this Rolls is designed to be driven, what’s it like behind the wheel? Well for a start, it’s plush. As in, the front seats are big and comfortable, but surprisingly supportive and endlessly adjustable.
The digital instrument cluster tips its hat to classic RR dials, and despite thick pillars (especially the bulky B-pillars) vision all around is good.
And if you’re thinking 2553kg is a lot of Ghost to get moving, you’re right. But there’s nothing like applying 420kW/850Nm of twin-turbo V12 muscle to the task.
Peak torque is available from just 1600rpm (600rpm above idle) and Rolls-Royce claims 0-100km/h in 4.8sec. Plant the right foot and this car will calmly have you at throw-away-the-key speeds in the blink of an eye, the eight-speed auto shifting imperceptibly all the way. And even at full throttle, engine noise is relatively subtle.
But aside from that prodigious thrust, the next eye-opener is unbelievable ride quality. Rolls calls it ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, and it’s no exaggeration.
The bumpy road surface disappearing under the front wheels just doesn’t compute with the unruffled, perfectly smooth progress you’re experiencing. It is unbelievable.
I’ve only had that sensation once before, behind the wheel of a Bentley Mulsanne, but this was possibly even more surreal.
Rolls-Royce’s ‘Planar’ suspension system refers to, “a geometric plane which is completely flat and level”, and it works.
The set-up is double wishbones at the front (incorporating a unique to RR upper wishbone damper) and a five-link arrangement at the rear. But it’s the air suspension and active damping that create the magic Rolls calls “flight on land.”
A ‘Flagbearer’ stereo camera system in the windscreen reads the road ahead to proactively adjust the suspension up to 100km/h. It’s name recalls the early days of ‘motoring’ where a person waving a red flag walked in front of cars to warn unwary pedestrians. This slightly more sophisticated approach is just as arresting.
This time around the Ghost is all-wheel drive (rather than RWD) and it puts its power down brilliantly well. We dared to push it fairly aggressively on a twisting B-road section and all four fat Pirelli P Zero tyres (255/40 x 21) kept things on track without so much as a squeal.
A 50/50 weight distribution and the stiffness of the car’s aluminium space-frame architecture help keep it balanced, planted and under control. But on the flip side, steering feel is almost completely MIA. Numb and overly light, it’s the missing link in the Ghost’s otherwise impressive dynamic performance.
Drop into a freeway cruise and you become aware of the impossibly low noise level. But it’s not as quiet as it could be. Rolls says it’s able to achieve near silence, but adds that becomes disorienting, so it introduced an ambient “whisper”... “a single, subtle note.”
To achieve this level of calm the bulkhead and floor have been double-skinned, interior components are tuned to a specific resonance frequency, and there’s 100kg worth of acoustic damping materials within nearly half the architecture of the car, in the doors, roof, double-glazed windows, even inside the tyres.
The four-wheel steering system helps with agility on the highway (where the front and rear axles steer in unison), but comes into its own at parking speeds (where they counter-steer), because even with numerous cameras and sensors, parking this 5.5m long, 2.5-tonne machine is quite an undertaking. Turning circle is still 13.0m, though, so beware. If all else fails, the car will park itself, anyway.
Beefy ventilated disc brakes front and rear wash off speed progressively and without a hint of drama.
Other highlights? The multimedia system is the only thing openly borrowed from BMW, but that’s not a problem because the interface is great. And that 1300W, 18-speaker 18-channel audio system absolutely cranks!
The GS scores 10 airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB, active cruise, auto high beams and lane departure warning with lane keep assist.
The GS doesn't have an ANCAP or Euro NCAP rating while the USA's IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) rating is good for each key crash-worthiness measure. The IIHS suite of tests is quite rigorous but differ from our ANCAP/Euro NCAP standards.
Rolls-Royce doesn’t submit its cars for independent safety assessment, so no ANCAP rating for the new Ghost, unless, of course, the local testing authority chooses to purchase one. Enough said...
The previous Ghost was limited by its ageing 7 Series platform when it came to the latest active safety tech, But this version, sitting on a bespoke RR chassis, brings the entry-point Roller up to speed.
Included are AEB, incorporating ‘Vision Assist’ (day and night wildlife and pedestrian detection), active cruise control (with semi-autonomous driving mode), cross-traffic warning, lane-departure and lane-change warning, as well as an ‘Alertness Assistant.’
There’s also a four-camera system with panoramic and helicopter view, as well as a self-park function, and a hi-res head-up display
If all that’s not enough to avoid an impact, passive safety includes eight airbags (front, front side, full-length curtain, and front knee).
There are also top tethers and ISOFIX anchors on the two outer rear seat positions for safely securing child restraints for kids fortunate enough to be travelling in this kind of style.
There's one area where Lexus smashes the Germans and that's after-sales. While the warranty is hardly ground-breaking at four years/100,000km and service intervals are reasonable at 12 months/15,000km, it's how it all comes together.
For the duration of the warranty, when the car needs a service, Lexus will either come and get it then return it to you, or give you a loan car. Anecdotal evidence suggests this continues long after the warranty runs out. Like, 10 years after the warranty runs out.
This is a small thing, but if there's one thing I hate about car ownership, it's the servicing experience. If I was a betting man, I'd dare you to find someone who genuinely has a problem with Lexus after-sales care.
On top of that, you get a generous roadside assist package for four years.
Rolls-Royce covers its Australian range with a four year/unlimited km warranty, but that's just the tip of the ownership iceberg.
The mysterious ‘Whispers’ owners portal, a “world beyond”, is claimed to offer the opportunity, “to gain access to the inaccessible, to discover rare finds, to connect with like-minds.”
Plug your car’s VIN into the app and you’ll be on the receiving end of curated content, event invitations, news and offers, as well as access to your own ‘Rolls-Royce garage’, plus a 24/7 concierge. All complimentary.
What’s more, service is recommended every 12 months/15,000km, and it’s free-of-charge for the duration of the warranty.