2014 Rolls Royce WraithPosted on November 2nd, 2013
High-luxury coupe melds style and power
By Nina Russin
My father always said that given the means, he would buy a Rolls Royce, simply because it was the best car in the world. A Rolls Royce would last him a lifetime, giving him more pleasure than any other automobile he might purchase, and sparing him from ever having to enter a new car dealership again.
Although my father never had the opportunity to ride in or drive a Rolls, I have been lucky enough to do both because of my job. The first Rolls I rode in was a 1939 sedan out of the Queen’s court, notable not only for its exceptional elegance but its surprising lack of engine noise.
The engine was as quiet as an electric motor. The owner informed me that he was still working on eliminating a bit of lifter tick. His ears must have been better than mine.
The 624-horsepower Rolls Royce Wraith does not follow in the ghostly quiet tradition the company is famous for, simply because a car with an engine powerful enough to launch a small building into space needs to make some noise. The growl the Wraith’s dual exhaust pipes emit when its driver dips into the throttle is both exhilarating and humbling.
Apparition of the future
The new Wraith takes its name from a closed coupe first produced in 1938. Although the 1938 Wraith wasn’t as powerful as the 2014 car, it was technologically advanced for its time, with a Hispano-Suiza engine produced by Rolls Royce under license, independent front suspension, power-assist front brakes and 17-inch wheels.
The word, wraith, means ‘an apparition of a person before he or she dies.’ Although the new Wraith shares the tradition of craftsmanship that has long defined Rolls Royce, it is more a harbinger of the brand’s future than an apparition from its past.
The Wraith’s fastback design is a radical departure from the classic three-box Rolls architecture, as is the growling 12-cylinder twin turbo engine under its hood. An eight-speed automatic satellite-aided transmission uses the car’s GPS system to anticipate changes in the road and preselect gears, eliminating any potential shift shock.
The powertrain reflects the influence of parent company BMW, which has owned Rolls Royce since 2003. BMW, with its reputation for performance and technological savvy has escorted the British Automaker into the current millennium with a commanding presence it might not have been able to otherwise accomplish.
Wraith designers bucked the trend of long wheelbases and short overhangs. The coupe is a whopping 207.9-inches long and rides on a 122.5-inch wheelbase. It weighs over 2-1/2 tons and rides on 20-inch wheels.
Although buyers have a myriad of exterior color choices, the car works best with two-tone schemes that emphasize its strong beltline and aero roof. Doors are hinged to the rear, and open so wide that they are difficult to close once inside the car. To solve this problem, engineers placed buttons to the driver’s left that close and latch each door.
The grille and Spirit of Ecstasy up front are the most traditional Rolls Royce elements in the design. The hood ornament is angled slightly forward in keeping with the coupe’s futuristic theme. For similar reasons, the grille is slightly recessed, with lower bright work that gives the front end a more planted appearance.
The long, narrowing decklid is somewhat reminiscent of boattail speedster designs on pre-War cars. It also reminds me somewhat of Gordon Buehrig’s TASCO: a design study produced in 1951 that introduced the T-top to the automotive world.
The Rolls Royce tradition of handcrafting automobiles is most evident in the Wraith’s opulent interior. A program called Bespoke enables buyers to interact with the Rolls design team and customize the interior to their liking. Bespoke, designer, Alex Innes, cited several unusual requests he has had as part of this program, ranging from a thermos integrated into the door which had to be crash tested for side impact, to a boot lined with the personal tartan of the car’s buyer.
Inside door panels feature Canandel wood paneling laid out at 55 degrees. The wood-lined doors are meant to mimic groves of trees lining the sides of narrow roads in the south of France.
A spine that runs from the front to the rear of the passenger cabin reflects modern aviation designs, incorporating center consoles, the mouse control for the infotainment system and cupholders.
Designers kept digital displays inside the car to a minimum. The clock, speedometer and tachometer are analogue. Only the center stack screen that displays navigation controls and audio settings contains digital images.
Handcrafted leather front seats have power controls on both sides with position memory. I found all of the controls throughout the car intuitive to operate, as one might expect of a vehicle of this caliber.
Because of its long rear overhang, the Wraith has a massive trunk. Not only is it long enough to hold a bicycle with both wheels in place but quite possibly the cyclist as well.
Test drive in Arizona
I drove the Wraith on a 70-mile route through Scottsdale, Arizona and a section of the Tonto National Forest east of town. As many test cars as I’ve driven over the past 25 years, the prospect of driving a 17 foot-long car with a $367,000 price tag was a bit daunting.
But once I got behind the wheel, all of that seemed to fade away. Despite its size and mass, the Wraith is an exceptionally responsive car. Being able to perform a U-turn on the two-lane Bush highway in a car as long as a battleship was frankly amazing.
It’s hard to describe what 624 horsepower and 590 foot-pounds of torque feels like. Because of its twin turbochargers, the engine develops peak torque as low as 1500 rpm: a slight tip of the throttle. I suppose it’s the land-based equivalent of piloting a jet engine.
Visibility around the perimeter is pretty good. I was able to adjust the driver’s seat high enough to see beyond the coupe’s expensive hood. The rear window looks narrow because of its extreme rake. A rearview camera eliminates any blind spots when the driver shifts into reverse.
The interior is pleasingly quiet under normal driving conditions. There is no engine or road noise, only exhaust growl during hard acceleration.
Twenty-inch wheels give the Wraith an ample footprint for high-speed driving. Twenty-one inch rims are available as an option. Fourteen-and-a-half inch ventilated disc brakes on all four wheels stop the car on a dime.
Standard safety features on the Wraith include front, head/side curtain and side airbags, adaptive cruise control, infrared night vision technology, around-view monitoring for parking, antilock brakes, stability control and automatic notification of police and emergency medical personnel should an accident occur.
Rolls Royce handcrafts each Wraith at its Goodwood, England assembly facility.
Like: A powerful, opulent coupe steeped in Rolls Royce’s tradition of handcrafting. The Wraith is a truly contemporary car, incorporating leading edge powertrain and information technology, all housed in a stunning design.
Make: Rolls Royce
Base price: $284,900
As tested: $367,875
Horsepower: 624 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 590 lbs.-ft. @ 1500 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 4.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 13/21 mpg city/highway
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