Every single car on the market is a variation on the same theme, bound by certain immutable laws of design, engineering and expectation. The exception to these rules governing the automotive world is the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith. It is unlike any other car on the road – it is the most distinguished production car in the world today.
Of course, it’s easy for a car to be unique when its starting price is $284,900 (U.S.). At that level, anything is possible – you may even be able to produce a car that doubles as a hovercraft. But there are more new cars in this price range than ever before – and the Wraith makes all of them look ordinary.
The secret of this latest offering from the storied British car maker comes down to three factors: engineering, design and brand cachet.
In terms of engineering, the car’s tagline tells much of the story: The Wraith is the most powerful and the fastest Rolls-Royce in the 109-year history of the brand. Under its mammoth hood resides a twin-turbocharged, 6.6-litre V-12 engine designed by corporate parent BMW; this ode to internal combustion develops 624 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. Despite the fact that the Wraith is a large coupe (at 2,440 kilograms, the accent is firmly on the word “large”), it can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds.
In other words, it’s bloody fast, especially for such a physically imposing vehicle.
While this level of performance is, perhaps, a tad unexpected from a Rolls-Royce, the way in which it’s delivered is more predictable – it’s exceedingly smooth. The V-12 is linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission that, get this, utilizes GPS data to predict what gear you will need for the road ahead, before the road ahead has come into view. (So, if you’re planning to exit the freeway and hit a particularly curvy off-ramp, the Wraith is way ahead of you.)
This is the first application of this technology and it’s designed to help make the Wraith driving experience as effortless as possible. Mission accomplished: This advance is seamless to the point of being imperceptible. If I hadn’t been informed of it beforehand, I never would’ve guessed this technology even existed.
But it’s a good thing that the Wraith has a system for selecting gears, even if the driver isn’t the party responsible. Apart from a “low” switch on the transmission stalk, the eight-speed is completely automatic – there is no sport setting, there is no gear lever and there are no paddle shifters. In many ways, though, Rolls-Royce isn’t interested in creating an involving driving experience, its target is absolute serenity.
The passenger cabin, in addition to being fabulously lush, is also ridiculously quiet. The power, as significant as it is, does not come on in a dramatic heap; rather, it builds like an ocean wave. The variable power-assisted steering is not particularly crisp or direct, but it does feel solid and uniformly weighted, no matter how fast the Wraith is travelling – a remarkable effect. And the air suspension system and electronic variable damping combine to deliver a Posturepedic-like ride that allows the massive vehicle to corner with surprisingly little body roll.
Although these descriptions might suggest that the Rolls-Royce is a soft car, or a car that is not rewarding to drive, this is not the case. The Wraith is a decidedly silent and incredibly composed vehicle that seems capable of unperturbed performance at speeds ranging from a dead stop to infinity. It’s the only car I’ve ever driven that reminds me of a glider.
On the design front, originality reigns supreme. The car is, ostensibly, a grand touring coupe, but this broad classification doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. While this Wraith has the basic shape of a coupe, it’s a fastback that more closely echoes classics from the 1930s than anything currently on the market.
This doesn’t mean to imply that the exterior design is derivative or retro, either, merely that this particular Rolls-Royce seems like it’s from another era or perhaps a parallel universe. This aspect of the Wraith becomes more apparent when it’s adorned with the optional two-tone paint scheme, which visually separates the hood, roof and trunk from the rest of the car – and emphasizes how different its profile really is.
The Wraith has two doors (like all other coupes) and four seats (like some), but the two doors open, coach-style, toward the front of the vehicle. This is not unique to the industry, but it is unique when compared with every car that doesn’t happen to bear a Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament.
Moving inside, the Wraith carries forward with other themes the car maker established with the Phantom and the Ghost, its two existing vehicle lines.
The headliner can be ordered with 1,340 fibreoptic lights sewn into the fabric by hand; the pattern of these lights can be customized to match the night sky seen from a given place at a given time at any moment in history. There is also a Teflon-coated umbrella stored inside each door. And the instrument panel includes a power reserve meter, a gauge more common to watch-making, which displays how much oomph is left in the proverbial tank.
All the stellar attributes described here, and the countless others that have gone unmentioned, come at a steep price. Beyond the aforementioned MSRP, the list of options is as long as a piece of string and their combined value would give a team of accountants migraines for months. But the crowning glory on the options list may be the gold-plated Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, which rings in at a cool $9,100.
The figurine on the Wraith is different when compared to those found on any other Rolls; it’s set further forward on the grille and angled by five degrees. Given this fact, and the theme of this particular article, a renaming might be order – something along the lines of “The Spirit of Individuality.”
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