Rolls-Royce is a car company that never does things by halves. When the British brand announced it was going to release the Rolls-Royce Wraith, its fastest road-going car ever, it had the motoring world excited.
In recent years, Rolls-Royce has only offered models built for people that wanted to be driven in the back seat. The Wraith, on the other hand, aims to target those individuals that want the absolute best in automotive luxury, but also want to experience the rush and excitement of a thoroughbred sports car - from the driver's chair.
Each Wraith built at the company’s Goodwood headquarters takes about two months to assemble. That’s partly because most of the process is done by hand, everything from the aluminium welds through to the painted body-length coach lines. The only robot you will find at the Goodwood factory is the lunch room vending machine.
As far as sporting luxury goes, you can consider the Rolls-Royce Wraith the pinnacle and epitome. Fitted with the most powerful engine to ever grace a Rolls-Royce, the Wraith manages to produce 465kW of power and 800Nm of torque from its twin-turbocharged V12.
The two-door, four-seat Wraith enters an all-new design age for Rolls-Royce and harks back to the era of fastback sedans and hot rod racers. The swooping rear end comes back to meet with a neatly consumed boot, while the front end features Rolls-Royce’s signature oversized grille and long bonnet.
In person, the Wraith has an unbelievable aura and presence. While the Wraith is smaller than its Ghost and Phantom siblings, the gaping front grille and lashings of chrome make it stand out in traffic. At just under 5.3 metres in length, it’s occupies more real estate than a Mercedes-Benz S500 L, Holden Caprice and Porsche Panamera.
Step inside the cabin and the level of luxury jumps up a notch further. Perfectly finished surfaces and soft-to-the-touch buttons and materials define the Wraith as a luxury sports car. Buyers can even option a star-spangled head lining that is littered with fibre optic lights to simulate the stars at night.
BMW drivers will find the vehicle entertainment system easy to use and simple to navigate. Aside from varying button placement and a different colour theme, it’s essentially identical to the iDrive system you would find in a BMW 7 Series.
The trademark Rolls-Royce umbrellas are stored within the door sills and release at the push of a button - a very handy feature if you find yourself stuck in stormy weather at your destination. The clever design even uses the heat generated from the engine to dry wet umbrellas when they are returned to their holders.
Another Rolls-Royce trademark are suicide doors that open inversely. They even close at the push of a button, removing all of the effort required to get in and out of the car. The downside to such a configuration is the huge amount of space required to get in and out.
Unlike other vehicles in this segment such as the Ferrari FF and Aston Martin Rapide S, rear seat accommodation is mammoth. Four adults can comfortably fit in the car with leg and head room to spare. Rear seat passengers can even lower their windows thanks to a lack of pillars on the main doors.
The 6.6-litre V12 engine with eight-speed automatic gearbox is quick enough for a 0-100km/h dash of just 4.6-seconds, with the only downfall being a thirsty appetite for premium unleaded fuel, at 14.0 litres per 100 kilometres to be exact. When you take the car’s portly 2.36-tonne mass into account, the fuel consumption could be considered reasonable.
Behind the wheel of the Wraith, the long bonnet and high doorsill make you feel like you are piloting a speedboat. The smart eight-speed automatic gearbox is smooth, but fast to react to requests for dollops of power. That punch is served with ferocity if you bury the throttle, as you would expect from a twin-turbocharged V12 engine.
The torque comes on strong and remains relentless until the Wraith summons the next gear. While it shares a great deal of its technology with its BMW cousins, the GPS transmission technology is unique to Rolls-Royce.
When I first realised that there were no steering wheel mounted paddleshifters or manual gear selection options, I was a bit disappointed. I then quickly realised that these features were entirely pointless with the GPS-linked transmission in action.
Almost like I was making the gear change myself, the Wraith would drop down through gears when approaching corners to optimise torque delivery on exit. When asked what it feels like from the driver’s seat, it’s easier to describe what it doesn’t feel like - and that’s any other regular car. It’s intuitive technology that will eventually find its way to other vehicles in the BMW range.
While it’s relatively quiet for a sports-oriented vehicle, the Wraith still manages to make a burbling snarl as the pace picks up. It’s enough to show emotion, but keep a surreal and quiet atmosphere within the cabin.
Unlike Wraith’s impressive straight-line speed, cornering can be a little off at times. The soft suspension causes the body to lean when the car is pushed, while the steering lacks the level of feel you would find in a Porsche or Ferrari. Given the Wraith’s target audience, it’s a trait that’s easily forgiven.
Despite the lack of appeal through corners, the Wraith makes up for it with the best ride in the business. Regardless of road quality, surface or speed, the ride is simply sublime. It literally feels like you are gliding along on a pocket of air as things just pass you by.
Fortunately the head-up display relays speed very clearly. It’s far too easy to travel in excess of the speed limit with the unflappable ride egging you on for extra pace.
Also fitted to the Wraith is a night vision system, which is able to detect hazards and warm-bodied objects ahead in traffic and alert the driver to avoid collision. Let’s not forget a 360-degree top-view camera, 18-speaker sound system and, to further ensure exclusivity, the Wraith can be customised to a level only limited by the individual’s imagination.
Audiophiles will love the quality and power of the sound system. The stereo produces 1300W of power and is entirely bespoke. Engineered by Rolls-Royce and industry experts, music can either be stored on the in-built hard drive or streamed directly from your music source.
During a recent visit to England, I stopped in at Goodwood to see the Rolls-Royce factory in a hope of better understanding the Wraith production process and philosophy. The pristine, quiet factory is a work of art in itself and it’s easy to see how and why a vehicle like the Wraith comes out looking so unique and perfectly finished.
Priced from $645,000, Rolls-Royce is now beginning deliveries in Australia. If you are fortunate enough to afford a Rolls-Royce Wraith, be prepared to spare around four hours for the configuration process. You will choose everything from the colour of interior stitching through to the number of coach lines.
While a Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Audi may cost less, the Wraith offers unparalleled levels of luxury, performance and style, something that the competition could only dream of matching. When you buy a Rolls-Royce, you buy an experience, not a car.