First ‘Drive’: Living the Good Life in a Rolls-Royce Wraith
For a mortal gearhead, there’s nothing more surreal than walking up to a brand new Rolls-Royce Wraith, having a man in formalwear open the big left side suicide door for you, and… sliding into the passenger seat. Since 2013, the Wraith has been Rolls’s two-door fastback for the discriminating buyer who wants something sportier than the more traditional Phantom coupe. Sporty is the key word here; if you look at it on paper, Rolls-Royce — the brand that wouldn’t publish performance specs until the 1990s — has a ringer in the Wraith. You’ll never hear the brand describing its $300K-and-up ultra-luxury car as such, but then again, sending your 624-horsepower, twin-turbo V12-powered car to the Nürburgring sends a message clearer than words ever could.
We were in England covering Rolls’s first ever concept as part of BMW Group’s Vision 100 Next program, and as such, the company went to great lengths to give the greatest of the great unwashed masses, automotive journalists, a taste of the good life. And since the majority of Roller owners wouldn’t deign to actually drive their cars, we spent a couple days doing as they would do: namely being driven around the English countryside by a group of professional drivers. Their other hobbies, like yacht buying and launching hostile takeovers, proved a little too rich for our blood.
You would think never sliding behind the wheel of the Wraith would make this “first drive” review a bit difficult. But even Rolls’s sportiest offering was designed to carry its passengers in absolute comfort, and after spending just over two hours riding shotgun from central London to the Rolls-Royce factory in Goodwood, we experienced virtually everything the car had to offer, coming away with an impression that’s likely to last a lifetime — something that’s as much of a Rolls-Royce hallmark as the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament or polished Parthenon grille.
Like any Rolls, the Wraith is a spectacle in itself, albeit a tasteful one. Official literature refers to the car as an “imperceptible force,” a description that would define cryptic if it didn’t happen to fit the Wraith like a glove. At over 17 feet long and weighing in at 5,380 pounds, the car is massive for a four-seat coupe. But Rolls has chosen to embrace its size rather than try to hide it. The car seems to reflect that big V12 underhood, and never does the company’s long-standing boast of “locomotive-like” power seem clearer than with the Wraith.
The upright, traditional, long front end bears a strong similarity to its platform-mate Ghost sedan, but from the A-pillars back, it’s a breathtaking fastback, the first in the company’s history. That’s only a half-truth of course — the iconic 1952-’55 Bentley Continental R-Type was built under Rolls’s watch, but the company has little interest in borrowing from its former stablemate and current Volkswagen-owned rival. Instead, designer Giles Taylor looked to classic exotics like the 1955 Lancia Aurelia and 1967 Maserati Ghibli to inform the car’s profile. And it all works together beautifully; the modern Continental may be overtly sporty, but the Wraith has an irresistibly sexy presence that makes it stand out anywhere. In London and New York, Continentals seem like a dime-a-dozen. A Wraith still stops traffic.
But who cares what’s going on in the outside world when you’re inside a Wraith? While most of Great Britain was glued to their TV watching England defeat Wales in the Eurocup match on an overcast afternoon, we were ensconced in deep pile wool carpeting, sumptuous leather, hand-stitched Starlight headliner, and acres of open-pore Canadel wood (the Wraith’s door panels are the largest pieces of wood trim offered in a production car), which made it a worthwhile place to spend a few hours — or a lifetime — in. While Rolls-Royce lets customers personalize their cars with whatever strikes their fancy, our Wraith had its trademark Canadel set at a perfect 55-degree angle, which meets in the center of the dashboard, giving the interior an almost architectural attention to detail. Makes sense — most Wraiths will likely last longer than your average suburban McMansion.
Once we were deep into the English countryside, our driver said “Here’s something you boys might enjoy,” and pressed the pedal to the floor, sending the needle of the brand’s unique “Power Reserve” gauge into free fall. In an instant, our bank-vault quiet Wraith roared to life — not with a banshee-like shriek like you’d expect from a Shelby GT350 or a Lamborghini Aventador, but with a thrum like being buzzed by a B-29 Superfortress. With an open throttle, the Wraith doesn’t snap your neck back, it purposefully presses you into your seat. Suddenly, “ordinary” rivals that could match the Rolls’s 4.3-second zero to 60 time seem crass as the English countryside starts to blur, and the tree canopies seem to be stretching out over the roads to shield the Wraith from the first few drops of rain.
We pulled into Rolls-Royce’s Goodwood headquarters just as the skies opened up to give us our first true taste of an English rain storm. As its staff rushed out to greet us with the famous chrome-handled Rolls-Royce umbrellas, our guide apologized for the rain; at first, it seemed like the perfectly ironic British thing to say. But this is Rolls-Royce, after all, and if this company cares about anything, it’s perfection. And having its guests get stuck in a downpour is decidedly not perfection.
The Wraith is the embodiment of the company’s pursuit of that perfect ultra-luxury car, even if it’s one that seems to defy classification. It’s an ultra-opulent coupe that can comfortably fit four adults. It also has that massive engine that was just put through its paces at the Nürburgring. It’s too luxury-minded to be a true grand-tourer, yet its fat, sporty steering wheel and all that power keep it from ever being confused for some opulent luxobarge. It’s simply unlike anything else on the road. The Wraith is the Roller Steve McQueen would drive if he was alive and filming The Thomas Crown Affair today. If we had the money, it’s the one we’d drive, too.
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