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Wheels - Ladue News: Import

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Fantasy Cars

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Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 11:13 pm, Tue Aug 9, 2011.

Sometimes I think it wouldn’t be so bad to be rich. Like this month when I got to drive a Rolls-Royce and an Aston-Martin.

    The Rolls was the all-new Ghost, which is a bit smaller than the Phantom that’s been around for almost a decade now. It’s also a bit sportier. Though it displays many styling cues reminiscent of the larger Phantom (including four doors with rear suicide or coach doors), the Ghost is 16 inches shorter in length, 3.5 inches shorter in height, 18 inches narrower and 400 pounds lighter. Fortunately, the unparalleled engineering and material quality has been retained.

    The Ghost is simply stunning, inside and out. It looks great: modern, but with a nod to the retro styling of the old slab sides, with 19-inch wheels. Inside are all the sumptuous wood trim, leather seats and door trim and plush lamb’s wool carpeting you’d expect in a Rolls. I especially love the beautiful burled walnut on the dash, console and doors. Of course the driver and each passenger has his/her own ventilation controls so they can control both upper and lower temperatures.

    Rear seat room is huge, with enough leg room for NBA players. Rear seat passengers are further coddled with heated and optional cooled seats, video screens, audio controls that control the whole car’s audio system, and even their own set of gauges, if they want to see how fast the chauffeur is driving. A 24-hour concierge/assistance center is available at the touch of a button if you need assistance, or just someone to guide you to the nearest store that sells Grey Poupon. The rear-hinged back doors can be closed at the touch of a button, as can the large boot (trunk).

    The Ghost boasts a 6.6 liter V-12 that pumps out 563 horsepower to the rear wheels through an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission good for a zero to 60 time of 4.7 seconds. Not bad for a car that weighs over 5,200 pounds! The cost of all this power and weight, however, is gas mileage of only 13 city, 20 highway. It’s deceptively fast; at 60 mph it feels like you’re doing 30.

    Instead of a tachometer, a ‘power reserve’ gauge shows how much power is available if you want to pass a lesser car. The suspension was clearly influenced by parent company BMW, as it is stiffer than on the bigger cars, thus offering better handling. Driven sedately, it offers all the smoothness and comfort one expects from a Rolls-Royce. At parking lot speeds the steering is greatly over-boosted and you have to turn the wheel a great deal to change directions, though it does tighten up a bit as speeds increase.

    A great feature that really assists parking is a series of video cameras that show you on the dash screen an almost bird’s-eye view of the car and the space around it. When reversing, a back-up camera shows you what’s behind, and colored lines show where you’re headed as you turn the wheel. If you get too close to a car or pedestrian in front of you, it will apply the brakes automatically. At this price, the car is appropriately concerned with its own preservation.

    Some of the more interesting features include a heads-up speed display on the windshield and a lane departure warning system that can tell if you’re crossing a lane marker without signaling and sends a slight vibration to the steering wheel to let you know you may be wandering off course. It even has a button to raise and lower the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament into the signature vertical grill radiator so some peasant doesn’t try to take it as a souvenir. Controls for the ventilation and sound system are simple to use, and even the more advanced features, which are controlled by a remote rotary controller on a video screen in the dash, are relatively easy to figure out.

    According to Adrian Hill of Rolls-Royce Motorcars of St. Louis, part of St. Louis Motorsports in Chesterfield Valley, “The Ghost is a performance car that looks like a Rolls-Royce, has coach doors, an umbrella in the door and a Spirit of Ecstasy on the bonnet, but it also has a V-12 engine with 575 pound feet of torque and two turbochargers that allow it to reach 60 miles per hour in less than five seconds.”

    To put a Ghost in your garage will take about a quarter of a million dollars, before options. Nobody ever said the best was cheap.

    Recently, St. Louis Motorsports acquired the Aston-Martin franchise in St. Louis and has wasted no time in adding it to its line of extraordinary and exclusive automobiles. The timing was fortuitous because Aston-Martin recently released its new four-door, four-seat sports car, the aptly named Rapide, which looks like a stretched version of its stunning DB9 coupe.

    The heart of the Rapide is its 6.0 liter V-12 front mid-mounted engine that pumps out 470 horsepower to the rear wheels through a 6-speed touchtronic automatic transmission with clutchless shifting of steering wheel-mounted paddles. A real manual transmission would be great in a car like this, but unfortunately is not available. Sixty miles an hour is reached in a mere 5.0 seconds. This neck-snapping acceleration and power is combined with great brakes and a fantastically tight suspension to provide sports car-like performance from the four-door sedan. Handling is just phenomenal, and the steering is responsive. Driving the Rapide on a twisty, windy back road is about as good as it gets. It’s easy to forget there are two doors and two adult-sized seats behind you. Like it matters: gas mileage is 13 city, 19 highway.

    In addition to its drop-dead gorgeous exterior, the Rapide interior is equally beautiful. Rich leather covers almost every interior surface that isn’t covered by real wood, including well bolstered heated (and optionally cooled) sport seats both front and rear. Those sport seats are required to hold you in place, as you’ll be pulling a few g’s if you’re driving it properly. A navigation screen pops out of the top of the dash when needed. The automatic climate control is easy to use. It has a 1,000 watt stereo system, though I doubt it could play anything that sounds as good as the engine’s growling exhaust note.

    Getting in the back seats is a bit tricky due to the sharp slope of the rear hatch, which makes the rear doors somewhat short and small. Once in, room is comparable to the back of a coupe, with not a ton of leg room, but you are ensconced in a heated (and optionally cooled) leather wrapped racing seat and even get video screens and your own ventilation controls. The rear seats also fold to expand the cargo carrying capacity under the hatchback, which is not huge, and not level, but big enough for most purposes.

    Of the Rapide, Hill says, “It’s a genuine Aston-Martin sports car that just happens to have four doors, along with a V-12 engine and rear-wheel-drive.”

    If you’ve got an extra $200,000 or so, the Rapide can put a smile on your face every day. 

Robert Paster is also an attorney in private practice.

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