Back when Rolls Royce and Bentley sailed under the same flag, it was often said that a Bentley was a car to drive and a Rolls Royce was a car to be driven in. The two companies have now been split up for over a decade, with Bentley owned by Volkswagen and Rolls Royce under BMW. Since their separation both brands have had to branch out a bit, but for Rolls Royce, branching out has come to mean venturing into some unexplored territory.
Rolls Royces have traditionally been focused on the concerns of their rear occupants, aiming to preserve comfort at all costs, even if the chauffeur goes completely mad. The car you see here, Rolls Royce describes as being a “gentleman’s grand tourer”, and the most powerful car they’ve ever made. It is the new Rolls Royce Wraith, and no part of it has anything to do with being chauffeured. The Wraith is a driver’s Rolls Royce, and to many, that may seem a vast ideological conflict.
The Wraith is, of course, not the first two-door Rolls, there have been many. However, its very conception, as a “gentleman’s grand tourer”, is new ground for Rolls Royce. Sure they’ve made fabulous luxury cars since the dawn of the automobile, but the connotation of a “grand tourer” implies a special emphasis on the experience of the driver, not the passengers.
I drove the Phantom Drophead Coupe a few years ago, and plainly, I found it a bit confused. Being a two-door convertible, it is far from ideal for chauffeuring duties, but it’s dynamics still felt neutered in the name of comfort. The Phantom Drophead seemed driver focused in form but passenger focused in function, and that was not a good match.
I enjoyed the Rolls Royce Ghost far more than the Phantom Drophead (I drove them both back to back). Thankfully, the Wraith is based on the Ghost, so things look good on a foundational level. That said, the duties of a Grand Tourer require even more refinement, and driver focus than is present in the Ghost, so there was much work to be done by Rolls Royce if they were to pull the Wraith off properly.
I know Rolls Royce likes to present a brand image centered around their own “flawlessness”, but it has always been a bit of a facade — like “If we keep saying that we’re perfect, everyone will believe us.” In my mind, absolute perfection cannot exist, and the perception of perfection is entirely relative to a given context. That means that, for me, Rolls Royce really has entered uncharted waters with the Wraith. I would argue that the notion of a driver-focused Rolls is basically unprecedented (at least in the last few decades), so my good graces would have to be earned through merit, not through name. Also, the Wraith can not merely meet the standards of a grand tourer, in order for it to be a true Rolls Royce, it must represent the epitome of the segment.
Rolls Royce claims to have the highest standards in the industry, so it is only fair that I hold them to my highest standards when judging their cars. All of this weighed heavily on my mind as I set off in the Wraith. Will this be a driver’s car worthy of grand tourer distinction? But more importantly, will it remain a proper Rolls.
Rolls Royces have always had a distinctive presence in traffic. This is especially so today, in a world full of cookie-cutter cars that all look the same. The square appearance of the front of a Rolls Royce is unmistakable, and its sheer size dwarfs the hoards of Priuses and Accords. While at the helm of the Wriath, you are captain of the good ship Affluence, sailing on a sea of mundane, proletariat concerns — fuel efficiency, bah!, and what is all this talk about 0% APR financing? Why don’t they just buy their cars with cash… I mean we do live in the “civilized” world, don’t we?
Look closer at the Wraith, and you will find its design is actually made up of subtle curves. The front may seem rectangular at a distance, but the only straight lines present lie within the car’s massive front grille. These subtle curves soften the Wraiths appearance, adding a touch of class to an otherwise extremely imposing car. Compared to the Phantom, I think the Wraith looks a little less obnoxious, and a good bit more elegant.
From the side, the Wraith’s profile is quite sleek. It has an exaggerated, “fastback” design like the Mustang from the movie Bullitt. This gives it the appearance of speed, even when it’s sitting still. Many Wraiths will be configured with a two-tone paint job, but this one was monotone in Rolls Royce’s new Salamanca Blue. The color showed off the car’s lines in a lovely way, with an effect that made it seem to shimmer in the light. It was gorgeous.
Right away the Wraith distinguishes itself from the average car with its suicide doors. You grab the handle at the front, ease the massive door out, and simply step inside the cabin. Once seated, there is no need to reach out and close the door yourself — it is quite heavy and would prove difficult to maneuver while seated. Instead, you simply press the “Door” button located on the small window sill up front, and the door swings closed automatically. Yes, the Wraith is that sort of baller.
Once settled inside you will find that the materials are nothing short of immaculate. Soft leather is everywhere and the switchgear consists of metal and top-notch plastic pieces. My favorite part of the Wraith’s interior has to be the wood work, though. Most of the door area is fitted with finely finished, nautical-esque wood. That same boat-wood shows up in smaller bits elsewhere in the cabin, and the whole dash is finished with piano black wood trim. The detail work is incredible, each air vent, the analogue clock, even the infotainment control wheel, all have an artful appearance.
There is also a cherry on top of this immaculate automotive pie, and that comes in the form of the starlight headliner. Hundreds of little LED lights are sewn into the headliner, allowing you to bring a beautiful starry night with you everywhere you go. Brightness is adjustable, of course, but it never cast a noticeable shadow, even on the brightest setting. It sounds like an easy thing, to put a bunch of little lightbulbs in the ceiling, but I must say it is a detail that makes all the difference in the world in a car like this. It really turns the “special feeling” factor up to eleven. Fellas, if you can’t seal the deal with your girl in this car, it just isn’t meant to be.
When it comes to the seats, everyone might as well have their own couch. Not only are the seats trimmed in the nicest leather you’ve ever seen and padded “just so”, but the posture of the seats is pristine as well. Massage and ventilation functions can both be had in the front seats, so you can stay cool and relaxed as you drive. Supple, is the word I would use to describe how the Wraith feels to sit in.
The ergonomics inside the Wraith are wonderful, and there is plenty of room to stretch out. Even the two rear seats have enough room for full sized adults. Just before my drive, a 6 foot tall woman hopped out of the back seat. I asked here how it was, and she said she had plenty of room, but it was a tad claustrophobic back there because the rear windows are so small. Yet another reminder that the Wraith is not your traditional Rolls Royce.
So the interior is everything I would expect from a Rolls Royce, the quality, the attention to detail, the showmanship, all of it is top notch. The signature Rolls Royce umbrella is even still there for you, right in the upper corner of the door opening — that way you can open the door, grab the umbrella, and have it open before you even leave your seat. Most importantly, the Wraith seems to extend the same level of courtesy to the driver that traditional Rolls Royces always gave to those in the rear seat. From the looks of the interior, it would seem that things are right on track for the Wraith as a driver focused Rolls.
Grand Touring Expectations
While a proper grand touring car must be engaging to drive, the worst thing Rolls Royce could have done here is build a sports car. For the Wraith to still be a Rolls Royce, luxury must take priority, no ifs, ands, or buts. Don’t think of this car as a Grand Touring car in the same way as, say, a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta or an Aston Martin Vanquish. Those are very sport-focused GT cars. The Wraith, on the other hand needs to be the pinnacle of luxury-focused GT cars.
Remember, the grand touring car was born in Europe, when rich people would drive between cultural centers for tourism, business, and extra-marital affairs. A grand tourer needs to be stylish, comfortable, and fast, a sort of do-everything experience with a lot of polish. The idea was to be able to wake up in London, spend the day hauling ass down to Monte Carlo, and step out fresh as a daisy, ready to party when you arrive.
A grand touring car also must be competent at cornering, able to take on an Alpine pass without breaking a sweat. Handling is the aspect that I find really separates strict luxury cars from “grand tourers.” This is where the Phantom Drophead came up short for me, and where the Wraith must be able to succeed.
On the road
The sheer length of the car is the first thing you notice when you set off. The Spirit of Ecstasy glistens off in the distance as you look down the hood. During tight maneuvering, you should drive a Rolls like a truck, taking turns wide, and with great care.
As we get out on the road, the Wraith feels absolutely bulletproof in its solidarity, yet it is unbelievably smooth in its every aspect. In most Rolls Royces, the goal is to isolate occupants from the outside world, to the point where you just seem to float along. The Wraith still very much has that floating sensation, but the engineers have also opened the lines of communication with the road, if only just enough for the driver feel what the car is doing. The electronically controlled air suspension muffles bumps to an astounding degree, but it also lets just enough vibration through to tell you there was a bump. The chassis tuning feels just as delicate and precise as any Ferrari I’ve experienced, only here, Luxury is the focus instead of performance.
The steering was also most incredible, exceedingly smooth, but also extremely well connected. However, make no mistake, the Wraith is not a sharp, lively driving experience. Such characteristics would only serve to make it feel nervous and edgy on the road. Instead the steering assist is consistent, making for a nice smooth feeling as you turn the wheel. The steering rack is on the longer side, but there is no guess work when it comes to knowing how far the wheels have been turned. In addition, there is lots of feedback coming through the wheel to your fingertips, letting you know exactly what is happening at the front tires. In terms of the driver interface, Rolls Royce seems to have found a nice balance between ease of use and dynamic precision.
When it comes to cornering, the Wraith feels as big and heavy as it is, but it also manages to be entirely competent. For such a large car, 5200lbs, I found it very easy to place on the road, and its chassis felt tight and composed when hustled. There is no sense of looseness in the chassis like there was in the Phantom, you turn the wheel and the chassis responds. It handles great for the sort of car that it is, but let’s face it, this isn’t a car you will be pushing to the limits of grip. It is more of a cruiser that is also comfortable running a brisk pace through the woods should the mood take you.
For grand touring duties, the Wraith passes the handling test with flying colors. You wouldn’t think such a heavy car would be comfortable cornering at speed, but this car will surprise you. I certainly wouldn’t shudder at the thought of taking a Wraith through the mountains, and that is something I know I wouldn’t want to do in a Phantom.
One of the major hallmarks of the Wraith is that it is the most powerful car Rolls Royce has ever made. Its twin turbo 6.6L V12 (yeah…) produces a mighty 624hp and 590ft/lbs of torque. That’s enough to slingshot this behemoth of a coupe to 60mph in just 4.6sec, and I can vouch that it has that sort of pull. Top speed is limited to 155mph, but more is possible if you spring a coup d’etat on the electronic governor. In the past Rolls Royce has been known to label the power output of their cars as “sufficient” in lieu of any actual horsepower figures. If they were to do the same with the Wraith, they would need to put “bountiful.”
As always, numbers don’t tell you what a car is actually like to drive. Early on in my drive, I turned onto a long straightaway, and was told to give it throttle by the rep who as riding along with me. I pinned the gas pedal to the floor, and there was a brief moment of stillness as the transmission found the right gear. Then a V12 roar permeated the cabin as we surged forward with the force of a tsunami. Power delivery is very smooth, but also extremely potent, and utterly relentless if you ride through a few gears. The Wraith is properly fast, much more so than you would expect from a car so heavy. Thankfully the Wraith also has the brakes to match the power of its engine when it comes time to slow down.
While it absolutely flies when you really step on it, you don’t need to go flat-out to access the Wraith’s performance. In fact, it willingly offers up plenty of acceleration with just a little bit of throttle thanks to the massive low-mid-range torque available from the twin turbo V12. The car feels like it barely has to lift a finger to accelerate in most situations. Effortless is how a top-tier luxury car’s performance should feel. Acceleration is the one aspect of the Wraith’s performance that most owners will likely use, so it is important that it is both easy to access and effective when implemented.
God is your gearbox
The most trick thing about the Wraith has to be its satellite-guided ZF 8-speed automatic transmission. It links up with the GPS, analyzing both how you’ve been driving and the road ahead, and then seamlessly selects the optimum gear as you drive along.
Aside from a random wide-open-throttle pull, the satellite transmission all but eliminates gear hunting by the transmission. It makes for an exceedingly smooth, and intuitive driving experience. You are always in the right gear, so there is never a lack of power available in any situation. I say “God is your gearbox” because it is like someone is looking down on you, making sure you have always have a pristine driving experience.
Some might argue that this satellite transmission detracts from the Wraith as a driver’s car, and subsequently as a grand tourer. If this system were placed on a BMW, or even a Bentley, I would agree, but this is a Rolls, and the car is supposed to save its owner some trouble. Human mistakes and the somewhat clunky nature of traditional automatic gearboxes can, at times, upset your relaxation, so the Wraith has a system that nixes such inadequacies. Sure, there may be less for you to do as the driver, but there is also one less thing to worry about, and that lets you relax that much more. It is the sort of thing that might only work on a Rolls Royce, but work well it does.
Dollars and sense
The Rolls Royce Wraith I drove came in at $357,000, and that certainly makes it the king of luxury grand touring cars, if only in terms of price.
At its price level, the Wraith has few obvious competitors. In my mind, the two cars closest to it are the Bentley Continental GT W12 and the Mercedes CL65 AMG. The Wraith costs a hefty sum more than either of them, but they all offer a similar, luxury grand tourer package.
Incidentally, we actually have a German shootout in disguise here — BMW (Rolls) vs. Audi (Bentley) vs. Mercedes. Despite the price difference, I would argue that many buyers of the CL65 AMG and Continental GT can afford to spend a lot more on a car than either of those cost. However, until now, there has been no need to, as the Bentley and Merc occupied the top tier of the luxury GT range. Obviously, the Wraith is out of reach for buyers stretching themselves to afford the cheaper two cars, but those who have the money may now opt for the Rolls.
The Wraith is a lot more distinctive than the Mercedes, and even the Bentley. Anyone who has spent time in any wealthy areas will know that Bentley Continentals become like the Toyota Camry of exotic cars — they’re everywhere, and you just don’t care anymore when you see them. Distinction is never a problem you will have in a Rolls Royce. In addition, I think the Rolls has a leg up on the Bentley in terms of all out comfort, largely thanks to that satellite guided transmission — there is just less to worry about for the driver, and a constant sense that the car is always ready to go.
This brings me to the other car that I think the Wraith competes with, the Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe. The simple fact is that the Wraith outguns the Phantom Coupe in every single way for less money. The Wraith is better to drive, better looking (in my opinion), and comes with the distinction of being the fastest and most powerful Rolls Royce automobile ever made. I really don’t understand how anyone could choose the Phantom Coupe at this point, and still be considered sane.
The Wraith was a bold proposition for Rolls Royce. The idea of a driver-focused gentleman’s grand tourer has traditionally been something Rolls Royce would have abstained from. However, after trying the Wraith out for myself, I must say that I am completely sold.
Not only is the Wraith a proper luxury grand touring car, it is also still a proper Rolls Royce. Their engineers clearly fine tuned this car to a high degree that they managed to preserve its identity as a Rolls, despite taking a fundamentally different approach toward the purpose of the car. The trick aspects, like the satellite transmission, also make it all the more proper in my mind. The driving dynamics are what really blew me away though, just the delicate balance between seclusion and involvement. They were walking a tight rope there, yet they managed to pull it off.
Before this, the Bentley Continental GT was the best luxury grand tourer car in my mind. The Bentley definitely still has a major price advantage, but car-for-car, the Wraith has it beaten. This car is the new capstone of luxury grand tourers. Setting a new standard above the highest standard, the Wraith is a Rolls Royce that really lives up to the grand reputation of the brand.
WoM Score: 2014 Rolls Royce Wraith
Primary Function: Luxury: 2
Secondary Functions: Performance(2) Practicality(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 1.5… More than Bentley GT, less than Phantom Coupe
Final Score: 9.5/10