By Wayne Gorrett
➤ Classic ‘fastback’ styling.
➤ Opulent interior, very clever technology.
➤ Hugely powerful engine.
It’s the sort of car you could drive to the ends of the Earth – and back, should the mood so take you. The kind of car that, once in its sumptuous clutches you would never want to get out of – for each, and all – of your remaining days. Could the Rolls-Royce Wraith be the pinnacle of automotive fashion? You know, I very much think it could…
➤ What is it?
It’s the Rolls-Royce Wraith, a four-seat, two-door coupé first revealed simultaneously at the Geneva Motor Show and – as I was there – at the marque’s home in Goodwood near Chichester on March 4th, 2013.
‘Wraith’ is a name first used by the company for their 1938 model and is an old Scottish word meaning ghost or spirit.
Rolls-Royce describes the £230,000 Wraith as a debonair gentleman’s sporty GT – highly refined, luxurious and exclusive like its stablemates, but more dramatic and exciting than any of them.
The latter-day Wraith is based on a shortened platform of the current Ghost (itself a stretched version of BMW’s 7-Series) and is the most powerful car in the company’s history. It is the closest thing to a sports car that Rolls-Royce has ever attempted to produce.
Quick it most certainly is, but sporty? More on that later…
➤ The Style Factory
With a frontal glance, the Wraith resembles any other latter-day Rolls-Royce. Its tall, upright nose carries a large rectangular grille, flanked by rectangular headlights and a relatively simple facade otherwise.
Its profile is much more interesting with a long, gently sloped fastback design, smooth slab sides and a bluff, neatly sculpted tail. Being the ‘smallest’ current Rolls-Royce, the Wraith may allude to being compact and sporty – until you begin to comprehend its scale: this woollen-clad wolf is 5.27 metres long (17ft, 3in), a little over 1.5m in height (4ft, 11in) and weighs 2,360kg (5,203lbs).
Bold lines, the raked rear screen and a bonnet that just doesn’t stop evoke memories of slinky fastbacks of old – the Bentley R-Type from the early 1950’s, the 1935 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahnkurier and Bugatti’s 1934 Type 57.
In the crudest terms, the engineering chaps at Goodwood have taken a Ghost saloon, removed the two rear doors, cut and shut 183mm from the wheelbase, shimmed the rear axle track by an extra 24mm and thumped the roofline closer to the road by 50mm.
It looks gorgeous!
➤ The Inside Story
Access to the cabin is via a pair of extra-long, rear-hinged coach doors (more commonly referred to as ‘suicide’ doors. But then, who’s common?). Once ensconced, each door can be closed at the press of a button.
Once aboard, you soak in a cabin of breath-taking sumptuousness, peerless material richness and excellent quality. The perfectly-matched Canadel Macassar ebony wood panelling running throughout the fascia and doors would grace a multi-million-pound superyacht. Indeed, the Wraith’s classic instruments, with arrow-straight orange-tipped needles, have a distinct naval look about them.
Pride of place atop the centre console is the 10.3in high-definition multimedia display, revealed from behind a retracting wood panel. The fingertip-sensitive iDrive-style rotary controller located between the front seats that masters the display is made from crystal cut glass and decorated with a tribute to the Spirit of Ecstasy figurine on the prow of the car.
However, there are a number of peculiarities. The eight-speed automatic transmission is just that – fully automatic – with no manual override and there’s no tachometer for the engine revs.
In a true driver’s car – which, with its 624bhp twin-turbo V12 power plant, Rolls-Royce pitches the Wraith to be – one would expect a rev counter, flappy paddles and perhaps launch control to be de rigueur inclusions. Rather than its present somewhat ‘remote’ feel, it would certainly make the Wraith’s drive more engaging.
As expected of a two-door coupé, cabin space up front is generous but adequate in the rear for all but the largest of adults. One’s shoes partly disappear into the inch-deep lamb’s wool foot mats as your hands glide across the ‘softest leather in the business’. The perforated roof lining, with 1,390 optional hand-woven fibre optic ‘stars’ – adjustable for intensity, adds tangible drama to an already princely interior.
➤ Engines and Transmissions
Facilitating the Wraith’s progress is a 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 petrol engine, rated at 624bhp. It launches the car to 60mph in a blistering 4.4 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
Further enhancing the Wraith’s on-road capabilities is an innovative ZF-sourced eight-speed satellite aided transmission, which uses GPS terrain data to pre-select the ideal gear as you drive.
It makes climbs, descents and turns that much smoother – not that you would necessarily detect any of those goings on. Although the engine has an ample 800Nm (590lb/ft) torque anyway, it saves the jolt of kicking down and retains a pleasing, linear response to the throttle.
Fuel consumption is a little over 20mpg (combined), which is slightly better than the larger and heavier Phantom at 17mpg (c). Emissions are a forest-depleting 327g/km but, even with the clever transmission, there’s no escaping the fact it’s a heavy car powered by a massively potent engine.
➤ On the Road
The Wraith might be the fastest and most powerful Roll-Royce ever made, but it is not a sporty coupé. It is less ‘Jane Doe’ than the Ghost, less cumbrous than the Phantom and better to drive than both, but ‘handling’ in a sporting sense has not been particularly high on the list of the company’s priorities. Until now?
Not quite. Undoubtedly, the Wraith is the most dynamic Roller yet, but it carries considerable DNA from the Ghost, which means that it rides and glides very well indeed and still feels like a Rolls-Royce. It steers with fingertip lightness and a sense of detached invincibility pervades.
Underway, the steering is too light for a truly engaging drive offering little if anything by way of feel.
The Wraith is a car that is extremely easy to drive quickly. On motorways, it is very stable and responds effortlessly. However, on sinuous single lane roads, body movement is noticeable and the car requires more settling time when pushing on than most drivers would like, but aided by air-suspension, progress is very satisfying and feels altogether quite natural.
Driven with a dollop of enthusiasm, there’s considerable dive under braking or hard cornering and rapid lane changes require some deliberation prior to implementation. Initially, the car’s dynamic may not exactly inspire confidence when underway, but you just have to adopt larger testicular twins, have faith and learn to trust what the car is doing.
Times change and technology – as we all know – changes quicker.
Rolls-Royce buyers, the company says, prefer discreet, unobtrusive technology. Far from shying away from the latest in-car tech, Rolls-Royce has happily fitted voice-activated satellite navigation, an optional head-up display and a Rolls-Royce Connect iPhone app to the Wraith.
The voice control system works very well and can be used to control the navigation, telephone and audio systems, rarely requiring a repeat command. Requests like ‘navigate to Harrods’ or ‘play BBC Radio 3’ work particularly well, apparently.
The systems Bluetooth is easy to pair and the navigation is also easy to program. It uses RTTI (real time traffic information) to recognise and avoid on-route jams. What’s more, you can send a destination for that system to the car from your iPhone in advance, using the Rolls-Royce Connect app, to save yourself time on departure. Clever.
“Today, we launch the ultimate gentlemen’s gran turismo…”, said Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars back at the 2013 Geneva reveal.
Of course, unless you’re truly rich – or its more discreet cousin, wealthy – the Wraith or any Rolls-Royce for that matter, remains a car than most of us could dream of merely sitting in, let alone driving, or actually owning.
But two years on and in the continuing absence of anything that comes remotely close to it, the Rolls-Royce Wraith remains the world’s ‘ultimate gentleman’s gran turismo’ and a truly remarkable achievement.
➤ Fast facts : The Rolls-Royce Wraith
* Price: £235,000 (£269,235 as driven).
* Engine: 6.6-litre, twin-turbo V12.
* Power: 624bhp.
* Torque: 800Nm (590lb/ft).
* Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive.
* 0-62mph: 4.4 seconds.
* Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited).
* Fuel economy: 20.2mpg.
* CO2: 327g/km.