The Rolls-Royce Wraith is a luxury coupe like no other. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Billed as 'the ultimate gentleman's gran turismo', the Rolls-Royce Wraith is a 624bhp coupe with no shortage of presence inside or out. If you have ever been concerned about BMW's stewardship of Rolls-Royce and the direction of future products, rest easy. This one is a knockout.
Wraiths form an indelible part of Rolls-Royce history. The last Wraith, the 1938 25/30, would have cost its then owner a princely £1,700. Then there was the Silver Wraith, built between 1946 and 1959, the last Rolls-Royce model to be delivered in "chassis only" form, dependent upon bespoke coachwork designed and made by a specialist coachbuilders. You might well recall its successor, the 1977 Silver Wraith II, the imposing long-wheelbase version of the Silver Shadow II. These were all very different cars but they shared one thing in common. They were never limelight cars, instead performing a more discreet supporting role to other more extrovert models in the Rolls-Royce range. That's certainly not the case with the latest Wraith. It's the smallest car the company makes but it's also the most powerful. This Wraith is a continent-crushing gentleman's gran turismo, the like of which Rolls Royce has never had on its books before. Were he alive, this is the car Charles Rolls would choose to drive, or at least so the current proprietors claim. In naming the car, Rolls-Royce hint at something of the noire about this model, something a little more menacing than the stately Phantom and Ghost models.
Think of this car as a Ghost coupe and you're not too far from the mark. It uses much the same BMW-sourced turbocharged V12 engine mated to an 8-speed automatic ZF transmission. Deploy the full 624bhp and 62mph is delivered in 4.4 seconds, accompanied by some rather unlikely sound effects of exhaust crackle and some surprising vocality from those 12 cylinders. From 1,500 rpm, 800Nm of torque is available, while a wide rear track, shorter wheelbase and lower roof height further contribute to a more focused drive than any Rolls-Royce to date. The suspension has been tweaked to minimise body roll and boost feedback when cornering. That said, the Wraith has its own gait at which it's comfortable. Hustle it as you would a lighter car and the 2.3-tonne weight will make itself apparent. The debut of Satellite Aided Transmission (SAT) technology uses GPS data to see beyond what the driver sees; it anticipates his next move based on location and current driving style, then selects the most appropriate gear for the terrain ahead. Corners, motorway junctions and roundabouts are all anticipated in advance. Spooky. Wraith-like in fact. Dial back the speed and the Wraith is utterly composed, with just the occasional soft thud from the suspension as the car mops up badly surfaced tarmac.
No doubt Rolls-Royce will wince every time they hear this, but beneath the Wraith's slinky body is a modified version of the BMW 7 Series chassis. Not that you'd ever guess the fact. Open the vault-like rear-hinged doors and drop inside and it'll take a very sharp eye to realise the commonality in some of the control functions. Rolls-Royce has done an excellent job in modifying virtually everything that can be touched and seen, with crystal glass switches and the most beautifully finished book-matched veneers. The dashboard features acres of Canadel Panelling, piano black trims and translucent cream finishes, while the seats are trimmed in buttery smooth Phantom-grade leathers. The interior ambiance is complemented by a 'Starlight Headliner', a feature available beyond Phantom family cars for the first time. No fewer than 1,340 fibre optic lamps are hand-woven into the roof lining to give the impression of a glittering, starry night sky. The pair of rear seats are far from the short straw, with plenty of legroom, although there's clearly less headroom back there than you'd get in a Ghost. The driving position is hard to fault, other than the fact that visibility isn't great. The 470-litre boot is fairly narrow, but it's a good deal bigger than the Bentley Continental GT's. The exterior styling is the work of Serbian designer Pavle Trpinac and the bob-tailed rear, deeply recessed grille and turret-like glasshouse are design flamboyances that a more confident Rolls-Royce is now comfortable to express. It's a challenging and intriguing piece of design. Some angles work better than others but it certainly doesn't want for presence, especially when finished in a two-tone colour scheme.
There's only one model and it will set you back £235,000. That's within about ten per cent of the price of the Phantom Coupe, a car with arguably a bigger sense of occasion, but the Wraith is cut from very different cloth; its power and performance sees to that. Equipment levels are, as you would expect at this price point, opulent in the extreme. Advances in mechanical and electrical technology deliver systems like head-up display, adaptive headlights and the Wraith's keyless opening boot. Rolls-Royce has also set about tailoring the car's connectivity to a new level of sophistication, with a suite of aids that could be likened to an on-board valet. Voice activation commands, for example, come with a one-touch call button located on the steering wheel. A destination no longer requires manual input from a navigation menu and route assistance begins immediately, on-screen and via audio guidance following a voice command such as "navigate to Savile Row in London." Rolls-Royce rather grandiosely dresses up BMW's iDrive system as the 'Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller'. Where this was once an abysmal control interface, years of constant tweaking have made it one of the best in the business now and in the Wraith, it allows navigation through on-screen functions using a touch pad that features pinch and pull functionality to echo smart phone usage. Letters can also be 'drawn' onto the pad by hand rather than by scrolling through a series of available characters on-screen.
Cost of ownership is a tough one to define here. Naturally, the most overriding concern will be residual value. Buying a big, expensive car that doesn't quite hit the mark is a more effective way to burn money than wiring cash to Nigeria in the hope that one of those letters from obscure businessmen looking to get their millions out of the country has to be genuine. I can't see catastrophic depreciation being the fate for the Wraith though. There's something ineffably special about this car. Call it a daringness or a certain extremity of character but the Wraith is never going to be remembered as a makeweight Rolls. On virtually every other financial measure, the car will pound your wallet. Insurance is best obtained through a specialist, while fuel consumption is optimistically claimed to be 20.2mpg, although a figure around 13mpg might be more realistic in day to day driving. Carbon dioxide emissions are 327g/km, predictably landing you in the highest rating for road tax. To be honest, who cares? This is a car that's all about sensation and the way it makes you feel. On those scores, it's an unqualified success.
The Rolls-Royce Wraith is always going to polarise opinion. Any car that needs to make such an extreme style statement wouldn't work if it were merely blandly handsome. It's a model that challenges your opinions, resets a few of your benchmarks and leaves you with a deep-seated admiration of its sheer engineering excellence. I couldn't even tell you whether it's a great car. I'm so far from the typical customer profile of this machine that I find it tough to fully understand their buying motivations, but there's certainly a specialness to it that's deeply ingrained. At this price point, buying an automobile is a deeply personal thing. It's not about facts and figures any more, rather whether you think the values and personality of the model in question properly reflect yours - or are merely aspirational. Dropping the best part of a quarter of a million pounds on a car isn't always the high-involvement decision many of us believe. Rolls-Royce's order books seem to suggest that the Wraith has enough of the right stuff for a long, long queue of customers.
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