Very few automobiles convey a sense of occasion and grandeur as effectively as a Rolls-Royce. That much is clear as we waft across a wintery wonderland in Quebec’s Laurentian mountain range in Rolls’ new Ghost sedan.
If you came upon the stately Ghost here, a regal machine in such a rugged, frozen, remote location, you might think it out of place, or, at the very least, that its driver was lost. But no, these days there are very few places a modern Rolls-Royce can’t go, as we discovered.
In days gone by, when the brand’s mighty V12s with “adequate horsepower” and driven only the rear wheels, a Rolls-Royce would either be parked for the winter or shipped to a southern address to follow its owner who seasoned elsewhere. The cultural phenomenon known as the “winter beater” was born from this reluctance to bring a prized vehicle out of a garage once we had shared a Thanksgiving feast.
Some Rolls-Royce owners likely had their own version of a “beater” stashed away to tackle Canadian winters, perhaps a Range Rover or a G-Wagon or two. However, since the introduction of the all-wheel-drive Rolls Royce Cullinan SUV, many of the British marque’s clientele have eschewed the winter downgrade and begun to maintain their pampered status through all four seasons, according to the company’s own research.
A Black Badge for All Seasons
In an effort to demonstrate the winter driving capabilities of a Rolls, a small group found ourselves in the Laurentians, north of Montreal, to drive the snowy roads of this winter playground. Surprisingly, the vehicle Rolls was here to show off was not a Cullinan, but instead the supposedly entry-level Ghost sedan. It now comes equipped with the same all-wheel drive system found on the Cullinan, but still we wondered if perhaps Rolls-Royce had bitten off more than it could chew.
Of the four Ghost sedans on display, the Black Badge Ghost stood out with its distinctive blacked-out trim, sitting at the ready. This was clearly the one to have. Its extra horsepower and torque – while not necessary in the snow, perhaps even a hinderance — promised to create a little extra chaos.
We can talk with cultured tones and expressive adjectives about the feeling of stepping into a Rolls-Royce. The chatter will undoubtedly sound somewhat pretentious. At the end of the day, you’re slipping behind the wheel of something that most people would equate with “house money.” If that doesn’t make you pause and appreciate the moment, then we can’t help you.
The 2023 Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost costs just shy of $500,000 in Canada, and that’s before customers dip into the myriad of options available on a bespoke requested basis.
A Winter Refuge
The interior of the Black Badge Ghost pays homage to the uncompromising tradition of the brand. Despite being loaded with just about every modern technological advancement on a road going vehicle, the cabin is surprisingly uncluttered. The dashboard projects large round virtual analog type gauges onto its LCD panel, one for speed and the other showing available power, moving counter-clockwise as the accelerator is depressed.
The climate controls are large metal trimmed discs that protrude from the highly polished dashboard; the knurling made them easy to adjust with gloves, even as the temperature outside hovers around minus 16 Celsius.
Toasty warm air wafts from the car’s round metal dashboard vents. Small chromed joysticks manipulated the vanes within the vents. The small round non-digital clock reinforces the analog theme, which harkens back to the handcrafted heritage of the brand.
As we depart the parking lot of our hotel, it becomes clear that, although snow plows had worked overnight to clear the 10 centimetres of snow, they left behind a compacted layer of snow with sporadic icy sections. These rural mountain road look unforgiving, but something about the Ghost’s air of supreme competence helps put a driver at ease.
Gingerly nudging the Black Badge forward, we sweep out of the Mont-Tremblant region and it becomes clear that the large Pirelli Sottozero winter tires are a good match for the all-wheel drive system of the gargantuan Rolls Royce. It is so good, in fact, there’s never any sign of slipping or sliding. The traction control is surely on high alert, and intervening in the background to prevent any undignified loss of control. Given the circumstances, it’s surprisingly stress free.
The steering wheel on the Ghost rotates with appropriately over-boosted assistance. The gear selector on the steering column moves with minimal finger pressure. It is all as if Rolls-Royce were apologizing for making the driver do these menial tasks — steering, gear selecting — and so it made them as effortless as possible.
In a briefing prior to the journey, we had been warned that, at some point, we would likely start to not trust our eyes. We would expect to feel things that would not materialize. The constant plowing and salting combined with the inevitable freeze/thaw cycle left the tarmac along much of the route from the Laurentian region towards the Ottawa Valley lined with potholes and ruts. But, as promised, the Black Badge Ghost simply glides along, as if floating above the deteriorating road surface. How? The car’s GPS-connected transmission and forward-looking camera technology sets up the Rolls-Royces’ air suspension to absorb the hits before they’re even felt.
Despite vengeful winter winds that sent temperatures down below minus 20, as well as the fact the Rolls rode on (typically noisier) winter tires, the Black Badge Ghost was almost as quiet as an isolation chamber — and it offered much better views.
The sedan forged a most serene, luxurious path through the worst wintery weather the Laurentians could throw at it, and in doing so changed the way we looks at Rolls-Royce. Its new automobiles are certainly made to be driven year-round, and we’d happily oblige.
When we did finally return to our base at the Hotel Quintessence on the shore of Lac Tremblant, our once gleaming Black Badge Ghost was now covered in a layer of road grime, snow and dried salt spray. I apologized as I sheepishly gave the keys back to Mr. Spahn. Taking two fingers to wipe the salt from the iconic RR logo on the radiator grille, Gerry simply said, “Isn’t it great?”