For many years, if you wanted a sporty Rolls-Royce … you bought a Bentley. The two companies shared a common lineage and even a factory for more than 50 years. When Rolls-Royce and Bentley parted ways in 1998, the marques being purchased by BMW and Volkswagen, respectively, all of that changed. Rolls-Royce continued to provide the gravitas and over-the-top luxury that its customers demand, but there was a measure of spirit (pun not intended) missing from the lineup of automotive jewelry.
Enter the Wraith. Rolls-Royce’s new two-seater, based on the Ghost, promised to put a never-seen measure of sportiness into the brand. It’s certainly the sportiest production Rolls-Royce ever, barring the occasional factory-sponsored race car. Powered by a 624-horsepower twin-turbo V-12 and wrapped in sleek fastback body work, the Wraith definitely looks the business, without giving up Rolls-Royce hallmarks like reverse-hinged doors and bespoke interior trim.
Unlike the Phantom and the Ghost, however, the Wraith faces stiff competition in the marketplace, even at its $320,000 base price. Mercedes, Aston Martin and even its former stablemates from Bentley are waiting out on the track to put those performance claims to the test, and to take them apart if they’re not backed up. Driving Fans got behind the wheel of the Wraith in Vienna to see what Rolls-Royce’s beautiful coupe is really made of.
True to Rolls-Royce form, the Wraith is a big car. Really big. The wheelbase has been shortened by 7 inches from the big Ghost sedan, but the Wraith is still a 17-foot long, six and one-half foot wide car. The big 21-inch wheels look just right on the Wraith. The hood is stretched and the glass more steeply raked than in other Rolls-Royce products, and striking two-toning gives the car a quick visual link to its classic predecessors. The Rolls-Royce family grille has been smoothed and recessed for improved aerodynamics and a more purposeful look. The Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament leads the way, of course. The frameless coach doors provide a classic hardtop look with the windows down, and that long, sweeping fastback looks like nothing else on the road. The Wraith is fantastic transport for four. Rolls-Royce calls it a “gentleman’s gran turismo.”
Size, unfortunately, is not always a performance car’s best friend. With that 624-horse motivation from the 6.6 liter engine, it’s definitely the fastest Rolls-Royce ever produced. 0-60 comes up in 4.4 seconds. The engine is tuned for smooth, strong power delivery, so the Wraith accelerates like a storm surge rather than a rocket ship. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard. The Wraith also features Rolls-Royce’s new Satellite Aided Transmission, which downloads GPS data in real time and uses the maps to automatically select the correct gear for the road as it unfolds. The ability to pre-select gears enhances the Wraith’s smoothness, and is an impressive innovation that adds to the Rolls-Royce mystique.
When the road gets twisty, the Wraith feels as large as it is. The power is there, but tight curves introduce a distinctly nautical feeling to the handling as the double-wishbone front, multi-link rear suspension with air springs struggles to get 5,000 pounds to change direction. Rolls-Royce’s “magic-carpet” ride is very much in evidence, but may be at odds with the average performance enthusiast’s desire to feel the road. The Wraith would benefit from a less compromising sport mode to firm up the suspension, to make it more of a driver’s car.
That said, this is a Rolls-Royce and, to put it simply, Rolls-Royce does things differently. The driver may be a bit disconnected from the road behind the driver’s seat, but the Wraith still exudes the commanding feeling that makes a Rolls-Royce special. Massive blind spots to the flanks? No matter; the lesser cars will just have to stay out of YOUR way. Active cruise control, a pre-collision system and a 360-degree camera system all are on hand to make driving easier.
The interior is fantastic, with subtle details such as black chrome dials and orange-tipped needles on the dash gauges. Rolls-Royce’s fiber optic-lit Starlight headliner is offered on the Wraith, marking the first time it’s been available outside the Phantom family. Wood paneling and leather trim have been skillfully curved throughout the interior, reminiscent of a luxury yacht. Technology has finally enabled Rolls-Royce to offer an on-board valet with each of its cars as well — in the form of a voice-activated navigation system with real-time traffic, voice-activated email and text messaging, and the concierge-service Rolls-Royce Connect smartphone app. The rotary controller is similar to BMW’s iDrive system and includes a touchpad that enables users to write characters on it rather than clicking through menus.
The Wraith is, in the end, the Rolls-Royce of grand touring coupes. It’s far too large to be considered a serious competitor to an Aston Martin or Mercedes CL — though whatever ground it loses in the curves, it will handily make up when the road straightens out — but it definitely provides an intriguing blend of Rolls-Royce’s traditional magic-carpet ride and a sporty coupe. For the Rolls-Royce owners who like to drive their cars, the Wraith is definitely the way to go. Rolls-Royce’s imposing, more-than-a-mere-automobile attitude is present, and in the end that’s what counts.