Rolls-Royce moves from grace to pace with its most powerful model yet
The Rolls-Royce Wraith may be a car that is about to alter perceptions slightly. When the topic of conversation turns to high-performance cars, the name Rolls-Royce is rarely mentioned. Correction – the name Rolls-Royce is never mentioned.
This makes sense because the staunchly British brand is known for large automobiles that glide down the road rather than tear up the road.
But a number of Rolls from past eras have been entered in all manner of reliability and speed trials in the company’s early days; they’ve even set three world speed records and proved victorious in Grand Prix racing.
To top it off, the current Rolls-Royce fleet comprises three model lines – the Phantom, the Ghost and, now, the brand new Rolls-Royce Wraith – and all are powered by V12 engines, so there is a tradition of performance here.
While that tradition is not likely to lead the brand to start laying down fastest laps around the Nurburgring Nordschleife or clicking off a flying quarter-mile at the Bonneville Salt Flats, the arrival of the Rolls-Royce Wraith may signal a slightly different direction. Reason being, the Wraith is not only the fastest and most powerful car ever built by Rolls-Royce, it’s also a fast car – full stop.
Under the massive hood of this glorious fastback is a twin-turbocharged, 6.6-litre V12 sourced from corporate parent BMW; in this application, the engine cranks out 459kW and 800Nm of torque. Those are some significant numbers – so, too, is the car’s expected 0-100 km/h mark of 4.6 seconds, an extremely quick time for a vehicle that weighs 2440 kg. Top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h, as per BMW policy for many of its offerings. (If the limiter were removed, between 290-300 km/h should be possible.)
The power builds smoothly and effortlessly; so much so, you need to keep a constant watch on the speedometer to avoid rocketing right past local speed limits, which happened to yours truly while passing through the Arizona desert test route. (Luckily for me, one of our colleagues on the launch had already cleared a path for us, distracting the local law enforcement while driving another Wraith.) The incredible silence of the vehicle makes it even more difficult to determine how fast you’re travelling; the name “wraith” is right on the money.
The V12 is linked to an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission that features the first-ever application of GPS-aided automatic shifting. So, while the Wraith doesn’t offer the capability to manually control gear changes (there’s just a “low” button on the stalk; no sport mode, no gear lever and no paddle shifters), the transmission does alter shift points based on the type of road you’re about to encounter. For example, it will hold a lower gear in anticipation of on approaching sequence of corners or downshift automatically when about to leave the highway.
Speaking of corners, the Wraith tosses up another surprise here.
While the Rolls is not a sports car by any stretch, the combination of the air suspension system, electronic variable damping and stability control system with torque-vectoring braking combine to give the big coupe a very flat ride through the turns.
An even bigger surprise is the variable power-assisted steering; while it’s not particularly crisp or direct, the consistency of the weighting is remarkable.
These driving impressions are, of course, transmitted through the various elements found in the passenger compartment, which is fabulously lush and, as mentioned, ridiculously quiet.
The oversized steering wheel will remind some of the helm of a yacht, but here the wheel is thicker – befitting for a car that is the sportiest in the fleet by far.
Similarly, all the other controls have weight to them, from the buttons to close the coach-style doors to the metal vent pulls to the Spirit of Ecstasy rotary controller used to operate the car’s many climate control, audio system and navigation system functions.
The centre console showcases a 10.25-inch touchscreen with swipe, pull and pinch functionality, as well as the ability to read cursive characters written by fingertip.
To reinforce the notion that the Wraith is a next-generation Rolls-Royce, there is a USB port, 20.5 GB of onboard storage capacity and front seatback pockets specifically designed to hold a pair of iPads.
The cabin configuration consists of four individual seats – covered in the finest natural grain leather, of course. The seats offer a nice balance of plushness and support, like fuzzy slippers with orthopedic inserts. Other traditional Rolls-Royce touches, including the optional lambswool floor mats, embroidered headrests and Teflon-coated umbrellas hidden away in the doors, complete what is a very exclusive picture.
The 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith is one of the most unique new cars on the road today and, in many ways, it defies classification. It offers the effortless performance of a classic GT coupe. But it’s not a GT in the same way as, say, an Aston Martin Vanquish or a Bentley Continental GT. It’s different.
The exterior design of the Wraith also sets it apart from the crowd – the fastback look is a completely unique take on the Art Deco-styled cars of the 1930s.
When accompanied by the optional two-tone paint scheme that visually separates the hood, roof and boot from the rest of the car, this shape is emphasised further.
Being an honest-to-goodness Rolls-Royce, the Wraith also has unparalleled levels of luxury and an options list that can easily add $150,000 to the base price of $645,000. The combination of all these qualities makes the Wraith a very compelling proposition—one that will, no doubt, be a popular choice for those with the means and the desire to drive a car that’s completely unique.