First Drive

First drive review: Next-gen Rolls-Royce Ghost offers restrained indulgence, sublime ride

The next-generation Rolls-Royce Ghost was unveiled earlier this month and AutomotiveMap has already been behind the wheel.

Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Walking into a zero entry pool, you start your journey with one step, slowly and serenely you're emerge in the experience. It's equal parts engaging and relaxing. That same experience is replicated with the new, next-generation Rolls-Royce Ghost.

With restrained proportions and purposeful lines, the aluminum-bodied ultra-luxury sedan takes the best parts of its predecessors from the Goodwood stable and combines them with fresh innovations that make a Ghost riding and driving experience that exceeds the notion of what a Rolls-Royce should be.

Rolls-Royce Ghost The stately Ghost is a perfect match for the British car company's stablemates.Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

It was 10 years ago, with the new, modern Ghost, that BMW-owned Rolls-Royce recreated the modern driver's car. Unlike the Phantom, a large car with limousine aspirations, the Ghost is a more personal experience that benefits from its reduced footprint and less regal, though nonetheless austere, appearance.

Ghost buyers are young and fresh, bringing a new idea of luxury to the brand. Most of them drive their cars and while they're not necessarily as eco-conscious about their drive choice as many in their age demographic group, they're conscious of their lifestyle choice, seeing their Rolls-Royce as a respite from the world around them.

The outside and inside design of the Ghost are expected and there's nothing wrong with that. Rolls-Royce has improved the formula offering an upgraded list of features.

Rolls-Royce Ghost The interior of the Ghost is very expected.Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

At the front of Ghost there's subtle Pantheon grille lighting between sneering headlamps. A strip of metal between the roof and doors channels raindrops away from entering and exiting occupants eliminating the water curtain that erupts when opening a more pedestrian models's doors.

Inside, the supple luxury of plush upholstery abounds. With leather as soft as silk and comfort in focus, the Ghost carries over the high levels of craftsmanship and artistry expected while employing new techniques. It's part of the Rolls-Royce "Post-Opulent" design philosophy.

The real wood accents and garnishes throughout the cabin provide an authentic environment, turning the page from the lacquer and shine of the Phantom. Here, Ghost projects its personality in an gently commanding manner. Still, the exactness of the craftsmanship shows through.

Rolls-Royce Ghost The Illuminated Fascia is made up of 850 LED lights. Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Ghost's Starlight Headliner, consisting of a thousand LED lights that are each cut at a different angle to help vary the intensity of the light, much in the same way the heavens appear at night, contains new shooting star functionality while the Illuminated Fascia includes 850 additional LED stars. The effect is stunning but not too much - restrained but extravagant, much like the vehicle itself.

Riding in style and comfort is only half the equation. Ghost offers a connected and effortless drive experience that does not allow the rigors of the real world to interrupt your time behind the wheel.

Power is plentiful thanks to the company's twin-turbocharged 6.75-liter V12 engine. It delivers 563 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. Larger intake porting has allowed the engine to breathe better and pass along less noise to the cabin, aiding the overall luxury experience. Though low-end torque isn't as readily available as an eager driver might want, there's no doubt that the heavy Ghost is powered properly.

Rolls-Royce Ghost The car's electronics make the Ghost easy to maneuver at high and low speed. Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Like the Cullinan, Rolls-Royce's SUV, the piloting process is early effortless. It's made even easier by the all-wheel steering that deploys at higher speed to make lane changes more stable and rounding corners a breeze. At speeds under 40 km/h, the Ghost's steering is led by the front wheels, which makes maneuvering in city traffic nearly as easy as it is in a hot hatch.

The car benefits from parent company BMW's infotainment technology. The system is easy to navigate and the car's head-up display offers turn-by-turn navigation complete with lane choice indication that kept me from getting lost while driving in and around Austin, Texas and its suburbs during a 100-ish mile test drive this week.

Ghost features the first fully-digital instrument cluster offered by the company. Like the infotainment system, it features clean design, easy-to-read displays, and works as advertised.

Rolls-Royce Ghost The car features an all-digital instrument cluster.Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

Traditionally, Rolls-Royce's motor cars ride smoothly over most terrain. The way this engineering has evolved to accommodate the fresh company lineup was especially apparent when the Cullinan evolved and immediately proved more than capable of delivering a comfortable ride experience over rugged roads.

Ghost takes that a step further, with its variety of underpinnings soaking up everything but the roughest jolt from the deepest pothole. And, it does it all while keeping the riders in the type of silence that is almost eerie... until you realize that you can't hear the landscapers as you pass by and you breathe a sigh of relief realizing that this is a true luxury experience.

And that's what Ghost is all about: a true luxury experience. It's extraordinary. It's easy to drive and indulgent. It's supposed to be.

Rolls-Royce Ghost

Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Cadillac Escalade is one of the most luxurious SUVs you can buy.

Photo courtesy of Cadillac

Cadillac has given the 2021 Escalade the tagline "Never stop arriving" which seems apropos for a full-size SUV that shows up in nearly every way. Having undergone a complete redesign, the 2021 Cadillac Escalade finds itself securely at the top of the company's lineup showcasing the high-tech features and plush accommodations buyers are looking for.

The three-row SUV is built on the same platform as the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, and the GMC Yukon at the General Motors Arlington Assembly plant outside of Dallas. The platform is ridged and good, allowing the Escalade and its brethren to take on corners at speed without fear of coffee spilling.

2021 Cadillac Escalade Premium Luxury The Escalade continues to have a commanding presence on the street.Photo courtesy of Cadillac

That also means that it's big. Huge, in fact. But, the Escalade isn't so big it's unmanageable. Sure, you'll need a stepladder to see below the hood. But, how many Escalade owners are doing their own maintenance these days? Camera views help tremendously, as does safety technology.

As tested in the Premium Luxury trim, the two-wheel drive Escalade was powered by Cadillac's standard 6.2-liter V8 that's paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, a fresh addition to GM's offering list. The power plant delivers 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, just as it is in the SUV's full-size GM stablemates, and has the same SAE-certified horsepower and torque top-out points. It's a competent power plant but it works better in the Yukon Denali.

Why?

That's the big question. The two SUVs are nearly the same weight – pushing 5,800 pounds – and were similarly equipped underneath, as tested. Yet, the Escalade drove like it had a 1,000 pound-boulder strapped into the second row. It didn't feel as agile or swift as the Yukon, but also didn't give the feeling like you're towing when you're not.

2021 Cadillac Escalade Premium Luxury The Escalade's imposing body style is not so large that it proves unmanageable. Photo courtesy of Cadillac

The Escalade was test driven back-to-back-to-back with other vehicles in its segment, the Yukon and the Ford Expedition, and it proved to be, hands down, the least maneuverable. Those poor limousine service drivers in L.A. are not going to enjoy working their way up, and then back down the snaked driveways of the Hollywood elite in this Cadillac.

However, once they get on the road and are able to sit back and relax a touch with their clientele all buckled up, they're going to enjoy the drive. The tester wasn't equipped with GM's Super Cruise, which is a hands-free driver assist technology, but the addition would be a welcome one as the lane keep assist isn't as proactive as other systems from other automakers, and the massive Caddy requires a driver's full attention to stay in the lane.

The 2021 Escalade's massive standard 38-inch OLED screen display area is the highlight of the interior and likely the biggest talking point of the vehicle. Its layout is sensical, proves to not be distracting while driving, and supplies just the right amount of information without going overkill on moving graphics.

2021 Cadillac Escalade Premium Luxury The OLED display darkens to deep black at night, giving your drivers' eyes a rest.Photo courtesy of Cadillac

The best part of the tech, which is actually made up of three separate screens under the same thin housing, is that it quickly and smoothly goes to near-black, giving drivers the least amount of distraction possible while on the road at night. Its resolution is twice the pixel density of a 4K television.

Though a minor issue, the screen's design does not allow for turn signal indicators to be easily seen as they are positioned directly behind the steering wheel rim. With the indicator's generally soft tone, it's easy to miss when an indicator remains on when exiting a roundabout or merging into traffic.

Surrounding the Escalade's screen are a variety of appointments, some of which feel and look luxurious while others do not. These are, however, typical General Motors product quibbles. The synthetic materials on the dashboard, and thin leather door inserts are not as luxe as what you'll find in SUVs made by Cadillac's rivals. Not that anyone will notice them for long with the OLED elephant in the room.

2021 Cadillac Escalade Premium Luxury The layout of the OLED display is easy to understand and read on-the-fly. Photo courtesy of Cadillac

Seats in the Escalade are comfortable, providing ample room. No matter the row, the upholstery is well-executed and the ride is sublime as the suspension easily soaks up the road's imperfections. It's a vehicle the aforementioned elite won't mind being seen in and will look forward to riding in.

Along with its comfortable seats and enough legroom in all three rows for adults, one of the best parts of the Escalade is its sound system. It's the first vehicle with an AKG system (offered with either 19 (standard) or 36 speakers), and it pairs the system with an already-quiet cabin. The sound is all-encompassing for front row occupants and musical elements are separated, coming at you like you're at a concert, rather than listening to a glossed-over recorded session. Turning it up, the quality of the sound is not lost. D-E-lightful.

Individual technology elements of the Escalade are why buyers should choose it over the Yukon and the Lincoln Navigator. The OLED display, Super Cruise, and AKG sound system make the Cadillac a step up from its competition even though its drive feels like a step down.

2021 Cadillac Escalade Premium Luxury Cadillac has made the seats of the Escalade comfortable and appointed them well. Photo courtesy of Cadillac

The Cadillac Escalade is pricey. As tested it was well over $85,000, and that's just a mid-grade model. The Escalade faces stiff competition from the Yukon Denali, which comes in at least $15,000 cheaper and delivers a better drive experience. The similarly priced Navigator is also an elegant option that's sure to be upgraded with Ford's hands-free driving technology in the not-too-distant future.

There may be a sleeper competitor on the horizon. The Jeep Grand Wagoneer is set to debut soon and will likely rival the Escalade with its sound system and elegant design, and come with a similar price tag.

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The Subaru Crosstrek has been revised for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek is an excellent example of what can happen when a car company stops spending its time, efforts, and marketing dollars on chasing the biggest competitors in the room and chooses instead to focus entirely on building and selling what its customers want.

The Crosstrek received a significant overhaul for the 2018 model year, but it's the updates that Subaru put in place for 2021 that have genuinely made it a complete car. Headlining the changes is a newly available engine, which at 2.5 liters is both larger and more powerful than the 2.0-liter mill that powered the Crosstrek line before. The car also got a nose job and new standard safety gear for 2021.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport The Crosstrek has been given a new face.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

The standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is adequate but lacks power where it counts. With the lesser engine on board, reaching highway speeds is a real chore. There's far more noise and vibration involved than there should be, which accentuates the fact that, no matter how hard you stomp the accelerator pedal, it's not going anywhere fast.

The available 2.5-liter four-cylinder spices things up considerably, with 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. It's still paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), but the extra power mitigates many of the transmission's annoying quirks and makes the vehicle much more engaging overall. It's more refined, has great low-end grunt, and is much quieter in everyday use.

As you'd expect, a tall ride height makes the car more useful when the pavement ends, but what you might not expect is how well Subaru has tuned the suspension and chassis to gracefully deal with the lifted body. For the most part, the ride is sublime, as the beefy suspension and tires soak up all but the worst potholes and broken pavement. Despite that, the Crosstrek, which comes standard with all-wheel drive, remains surefooted when pushed, and like many crossovers, doesn't feel floppy or soft in the corners.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport The dimensions of the Crosstrek have remained basically the same for the 2021 model year.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

The Crosstrek's surprisingly spacious interior is a pleasant place to spend time, but luxurious is not a word that comes to mind to describe the cabin in any of the car's trim levels. Form here follows function, but that's not a terrible thing. Headroom is generous in both rows, though the driving position can lead shorter drivers to feel like their face is uncomfortably close to the windshield. Even so, there's plenty of hip and shoulder room, both front and back, and the back seat can squeeze a full-size rear-facing car seat without breaking a sweat.

The Sport trim I tested comes with synthetic leather upholstery that Subaru calls "StarTex," which is essentially a high-tech polyurethane material made from recycled plastics. It's far from leather, but it's equally as far from feeling entry-level or cheap. It's a different thing altogether, and while I didn't get to take my dog for a ride or take the car camping, I can see several situations where a water- and dirt-resistant synthetic upholstery material could come in handy.

The optional 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen sits high on the dash, making for excellent visibility and usability from either of the front seats. The upgraded screen in the Crosstrek Sport is a 1.5-inch step up from the standard display and makes good use of the extra real estate with bright, crisp text and images. It comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM radio, Bluetooth, two USB ports, voice controls, and HD Radio. The top-level Limited trim gets the same display with navigation, but most people will be just fine with maps provided by Apple or Google in other trim levels.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport The interior of the Crosstrek is perfectly functional.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

It'd be irresponsible to write this entire review without mentioning Subaru's safety efforts in the new car. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) hasn't crashed the 2021 Crosstrek yet, but the organization awarded the 2020 model, which has the same core body structure, a Top Safety Pick designation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rated it five stars overall.

Those successes come thanks in part to Subaru's standard EyeSight technology, which brings driver assistance features like pre-collision braking, lane departure alerts, and adaptive cruise control. The Sport trim adds high beam assist and is available with blind-spot monitors.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Dark accents and wheels make the Crosstrek Sport stand out in a crowd.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

If there's one thing that Subaru does better than anybody else, it's listening to its customers. The automaker knows that its buyers want a comfortable car but need one that won't fall apart at the first sign of abuse. It also knows that many people who walk onto a dealer's lot looking for a new Crosstrek are doing so because they believe it will be better for their active lifestyle, better at transporting their pets, and better at keeping them safe. The best part about all of that for buyers, besides the fact that their car company listens to them, is that Subaru hit the mark on all accounts.

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