It is said that Rolls-Royce co-founder Sir Henry Royce once proclaimed: "Take the best that exists and make it better: When it does not exist, design it." The second part of that quote is most curious, as the century-old automaker recently introduced an all-new Ghost-based coupe with no apparent peers – a two-door boasting a 624-horsepower, twin-turbocharged V12 with rear-wheel drive and sleek fastback styling.
Yet despite its specifications, it was never planned to be a sports coupe. Rather, the British automaker tells us that it was thoroughly engineered to be, "a car where the sense of arrival and joy of the journey are as important as the canvas upon which it is drawn." Whatever that means.
With my head bursting from curiosity, a suitcase full of freshly pressed dress shirts and a matching blue blazer on my back, I boarded an airliner for Vienna, Austria, to understand exactly what the new Rolls-Royce Wraith is really all about.
The Rolls-Royce Wraith, a coupe version of the Ghost sedan, was officially introduced at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year. While the all-new two-door bears a deliberate resemblance to its four-door sibling, a closer look reveals much more than just the loss of two doors. A glance at its nose reveals a resculpted bumper with more aggressive air intakes and lower air dam. Chrome accents brighten its face, and the signature grille has been recessed deeper within the fascia. Lastly, the automaker's famed Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament has been tilted forward by five degrees – giving the figurine a more aggressive and dynamic stance.
The coupe has a high waistline, a long hood and a low roof. By far the most interesting part of its styling is the deliberate separation line between the body and the greenhouse. While seamlessly welded into one continuous piece, it serves as the perfect visual break for the company's optional two-tone paint schemes.
The famed Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament has been tilted forward by five degrees.
As expected, the Wraith shares platforms with the Ghost, meaning both vehicles are built on heavily modified BMW 7 Series (F01 platform) architecture. Compared to the four-door, the coupe is five inches shorter in overall length, seven inches shorter in wheelbase and two inches shorter in height. Lastly, the coupe's rear axle is one inch wider than it is on the sedan. Like its four-door sibling, the Wraith's unibody chassis is steel. The ferrous material is also used for nearly all of the body panels with the exception of the aluminum alloy hood and composite rear decklid (constructed from this material to allow GPS and mobile antennas to be hidden from view).
Coach doors, artfully hinged at the rear instead of the front, are a Rolls-Royce signature, and the new Wraith faithfully upholds this very functional and elegant tradition. To ease use of the massive doors, both are fitted with electro-mechanical self-closing assistance – buttons for power operation are conveniently located at the base of the A-pillar inside the cabin. Their unique design opens each dramatically wide, putting on an impressive show to passers-by while allowing occupants to gracefully slide into the four passenger seats without awkwardness or unexpected paparazzi opportunities. Britney Spears would likely have saved herself quite a bit of embarrassment had she and Paris Hilton that night in a Rolls-Royce instead of a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. The trunk lid is also equipped with power operation.
With a gentle pull on the oversized handle, the doors of the Wraith glide open. It's no surprise that the interior of the coupe nearly mirrors that of the sedan – the dashboard and instrument cluster appear to have been lifted out of the Ghost nearly intact. However, as the coupe lacks an anchoring B-pillar, its two front seats feature completely integrated seatbelts, which make using the safety restraints very convenient while improving access to the two surprisingly roomy rear executive seats.
The Wraith introduces Canadel Panelling, an open-pore wood devoid of traditional thick, glossy finishing lacquer.
Sliding coolly into the four-place cabin, I found the surroundings nothing short of spectacular in terms of materials and craftsmanship. The interior features "Phantom-quality" drum-dyed leather (a combination of natural grain and tipped) with contrasting piping, brightly polished chrome and hand-selected genuine wood trim. The Wraith introduces Canadel Panelling, an open-pore wood devoid of traditional thick, glossy finishing lacquer. It looks and feels wondrous. A reskinned version of BMW's much-improved iDrive infotainment interface, with a round console-mounted dial renamed the Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller, is tasked with the infotainment, navigation and vehicle settings. And, for the first time outside the flagship Phantom range, owners may opt for the unusual Starlight perforated leather headliner with 1,340 hand-sewn fiber-optic lights that not only provide a great conversation piece, but allow occupants to bask in their soft glow.
I had an urge to operate all of the traditional levers and switches in sequence, one-by-one, just to feel the smoothness of their movement, but my eyes were immediately distracted by the plush natural wool mats under my shoes. Each is so thick and soft that it makes the lining of an Ugg boot feel downright coarse in comparison. When I hesitated to climb into the driver's seat with rain- and mud-soaked shoes, a witty Rolls representative assured me that the natural product was very soil and water resistant, commenting, "sheep get wet and muddy, dry off and then shake themselves perfectly clean on a daily basis."
Refocused on the job at hand, I patiently watched my soft-close door pull itself shut and its double-paned glass seat into the weather stripping, their sealing action reminding me of the main cabin doors locking on an airplane. Shut tightly, the vault-like cabin provided an immediate sense of safety, security and near-complete isolation.
The vault-like cabin provided an immediate sense of safety, security and near-complete isolation.
Sitting behind a large diameter, leather-wrapped steering wheel, which is thicker than the one on the Ghost, the Wraith driver faces a traditional analog gauge cluster with blood-orange tipped needles. All of the circular instruments are familiar to more prosaic automobiles, with the exception of Rolls' trademark 'Power Reserve' dial on the left that displays available engine power (in a manner that is nearly the reverse of a tachometer). A firm foot on the brake pedal, followed by a quick press of the start/stop button awakens the engine.
While the idling engine is nearly imperceptible from within the cabin thanks to an insulating double firewall, buried within the nose of the Wraith is a twin-turbocharged, 6.6-liter V12 with BMW roots – a bored-out version of the 6.0-liter 12-cylinder that BMW fits to its flagship 760Li sedan. In this tune, it produces 624 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission with just four modes: Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. A fifth mode, labeled 'Low,' is engaged by pressing a button on the front side of the stalk. Consider it a 'Sport' mode, as it holds the gears longer between shifts.
The new coupe boasts an electronically controlled independent air-ride suspension (double-wishbone front and multi-link rear architecture) with variable damping and three driver-selectable settings. The ride height is fixed in its middle position during normal driving, but it may be manually lowered to ease passenger access when stopped or raised to clear steep driveways or obstacles while driving.
Buried within the nose of the Wraith is a twin-turbo, 6.6-liter V12 with BMW roots.
To bring the 5,208-pound Wraith to a halt, engineers have fitted the massive brake discs with four-piston monobloc calipers at the front and single-piston sliding calipers at the rear, both clamping iron rotors. Standard wheels are 20-inch alloys, wrapped in Goodyear runflat tires (sized 255/45YR20 and 285/40YR20). Interestingly enough, optional 21-inch wheels are wrapped in Bridgestone self-sealing rubber, with softer sidewalls to compensate for their slightly lower profiles (255/40YR21 and 285/40YR21).
With the electronic transmission lever set in D and my six-foot, two-inch frame very comfortably planted into the buttery soft driver's seat, my introduction to Rolls-Royce's latest began in the congested heart of Vienna.
The Wraith is a big vehicle (three inches wider than a Mercedes-Benz CL-Class, an inch wider than a Bentley Continental GT and at least half-a-foot longer than both), and this made it a challenge to maneuver in the city center's narrow European streets and unfamiliar commuter traffic patterns. This uncomfortable first impression prompted half-joking comments to my co-driver that the experience was like taxiing a Gulfstream G650 across an airport tarmac choked with thousands of buzzing Cessnas. The steering didn't help, either. While it was easy to place a tire on a specific cobblestone, its high ratio meant the steering wheel needed to be turned more for the same results. With this design, the engineers had sacrificed sharpness but gained smoothness.
The experience was like taxiing a Gulfstream G650 across an airport tarmac choked with thousands of buzzing Cessnas.
Rolls-Royce proudly tunes its suspensions for a 'magic carpet ride' (the sensation of riding on a bed of air), and the Wraith delivers on that promise. I wouldn't call it floaty, but everything from tire impacts on rocks to the uneven undulations in the road was dutifully absorbed. Thick laminated glass and hundreds of pounds of insulation kept the traffic noise of Austria's busy capital outside, while I enjoyed soft foreign tunes on the 1,300-watt audio system.
The Wraith drove with a heavy feel, but abundant torque meant only light throttle applications were needed to be the first off a traffic light, or to quickly adjust lane position in a roundabout. After just 20 minutes, I had made my way to an open highway.
Free of the urban congestion and bustle, I buried the accelerator pedal into the thick wool mat and hung on as the needle on the 'Power Reserve' dial spun rapidly counterclockwise. According to Rolls-Royce, the 5,204-pound Wraith will sprint to 60 miles per hour in just 4.4 seconds, and it will continue to gain speed until it hits an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. My coupe's rapid acceleration up and through the posted speed limit gave me no reason to question those numbers. Curiously, the shove in my backside was not accompanied by a roaring exhaust note, but rather by a muted 12-cylinder growl that appeared to emanate from a very remote distance.
The shove in my backside was not accompanied by a roaring exhaust note, but rather by a muted 12-cylinder growl.
The Wraith was remarkably quiet, with very little wind or tire noise permeating the cabin. Adaptive radar-based active cruise control, iBrake 6 crash avoidance technology, voice-activated navigation and a head-up display made piloting one of the world's most expensive luxury cars completely effortless – the driver is more stressed while watching television.
Guiding the Rolls-Royce coupe through the Austrian mountains was the most revealing part of the drive. First, it was an excellent opportunity to experience the company's all-new Satellite Aided Transmission (SAT), a system that uses GPS data to read the road ahead and proactively and predictively select the transmission's next gear. Second, the twisty roads communicated a wealth of information about the coupe's true character.
Other than the fact that the Wraith always seemed to be in the proper gear, the highly sophisticated SAT system was nearly transparent in operation. According to the engineers, it will downshift (or hold the current gear) when the vehicle's satellite-based mapping system senses it is about to enter a corner. Conversely, the transmission will only select a higher gear when the road straightens out. As incredible as the technology sounds, the eight-speed automatic, which was shaking hands with satellites in earth orbit 12,500 miles away, seemed to work magically.
But I was less impressed with its performance on some of the more challenging roads. The Wraith was competent in sweeping corners, where it settled down nicely around the radius, but it lost some of it composure when I explored its limits and pushed hard in the very windy, occasionally even hairpin, corners. The high steering ratio, heavy curb weight and long wheelbase all worked against it. There were no passengers in the back seats to complain, but understeer and tire squeal convinced me to slow down. It was very apparent that the Wraith is no sports coupe.
It was very apparent that the Wraith is no sports coupe.
Yet this behavior isn't an oversight, misstep or because some Goodwood engineer overlooked a few calculations – no, this Rolls-Royce was just being a Rolls-Royce, doing its damndest to isolate its occupants from the aggressive travel outside. Once I slowed to the road's posted speed, its gentlemanly composure promptly returned.
Late in the afternoon, with its low fuel warning light illuminated brightly, we arrived back at the hotel. I was amazed to realize that I had been sitting in the driver's seat for nearly eight hours. Truth is, I would have spent another full day behind the wheel without protest, as the Wraith was genuinely that comfortable.
The world's newest Rolls-Royce had performed magnificently by nearly every definition of the word. Perusing my notes revealed nothing but compliments about its interior, wonderfully smooth ride, abundant power and insightful transmission. The ergonomics were logical, and even the two back seats were found to be comfortable during one stint. My list of complaints remained limited to excessive splashing noise from the rear wheel wells during a heavy downpour and to reduced forward quarter visibility due to the two oversized side mirrors. Yet overall, and without reservation, the Wraith had earned a solid 'A' on its first test.
While some have compared the Wraith to the Bentley Continental GT, I would argue that they sit on opposite ends of the ultra luxury grid.
While some have compared the Wraith to the Bentley Continental GT, I would argue that they sit on opposite ends of the ultra luxury grid, both in purpose and price. While we're still waiting for Rolls-Royce to release US pricing for the Wraith, we expect its base price to be upwards of $100,000 more than that of the $200,000, 12-cylinder Continental GT. Bentley also touts the "supercar performance and handcrafted luxury" of its coupe, while Rolls-Royce promises that it its new coupe "challenges perceptions and delivers the most dynamic, involving driving experience in the marque's 109-year history." Those who drive both will find the Bentley luxurious, sporty and engaging, with an audible track that supports it mission – it is a hands-on driver's car. The Wraith, to the contrary, is impeccably polished, poised and capable, but it remains true to the exclusive Rolls-Royce brand by isolating the driver from the annoyances of road-based transportation. It is very gratifying to drive in its own way, yet the word 'Sport' isn't in its vocabulary.
But a courteous and honorable man doesn't always need to carve canyons for entertainment; he may simply want to make it to the gala comfortably, safely and with distinction. With those needs in mind, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, succinctly calls the Wraith "the ultimate gentleman's gran turismo." Looking back at the day I spent in Austria with the new coupe, I couldn't agree more.