2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith Review

How do you dare improve on perfection? Take two doors out
By Imthishan Giado


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Vienna, Austria is a strange venue to launch the new Rolls Royce Wraith, the most powerful car the (mostly) English firm has ever built.

Yes, I know why they picked Vienna – chiefly for its connections to the heyday of European noir in the days of the Great Game, when the capital of then Austria-Hungary was the centre of intrigue and suspense. On these narrow streets lined with baroque architecture and overflowing with shadowy nooks and crannies, spies traded secrets, allegiances – and sometimes, their lives – in the employ of the Great Powers of their time. It could not last, and the World Wars broke first Austria-Hungary in two, and eventually the Viennese dominance of European affairs.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith
But when it comes to cars, modern day Vienna is a genuinely terrible place to launch a new car, especially one as ostentatious as the new Wraith. For starters, cyclists and pedestrians rule the shaded boulevards, dashing about with preciously little heed for your million-dirham automobile. Then there’s the room – which you will need lots of, because the Wraith is massive.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

Sharing its core 7-Series-based (oh how the RR team cringes every time you mention that factoid) platform with its saloon Ghost stablemate, the Wraith measures nearly 5.3 metres in length and 1.9m metres wide. Wondering how that compares to the Ghost? 127mm shorter, 178mm shorter in wheelbase and 50cm shorter in height – and interestingly, 25mm wider in the rear axle. With all that loss in dimensions, you’d hope for a considerable weight savings. But no – at 2440kg, it’s a mere 45kg lighter than the Ghost from whence it came.

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In one measure though, it is superior. Aimed at a younger clientele than the traditionally older Phantom buyer, the Wraith absolutely nails its styling target with a rakish fastback body that embodies everything Rolls Royce but with a subtle hint of dynamicism. Though the front end purrs Ghost everything has been revised with larger intakes bookending a more deeply set grille. Resisting the urge for trendy ‘character lines’, the flanks are clean, muscular and bone-straight from the powerboat-sized front end to the gently tapering tail. That one inch extra in the rear axle makes all the difference, adding an element of heft and menace to the rear end. Not for the boys at Goodwood anything so gauche as flared box-section arches though; this is a gentleman’s coupe, not a Satwa special.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

Pull open the hefty suicide door, slide yourself in – it’s an awkward movement to back yourself in the first 1,300 times – and prepare to lose yourself in one of the most luxurious cabins on sale today. Again, it’s not hugely different from the Ghost with some small but noticeable exceptions. The instruments feature red-tipped needles, the steering wheel is ever-so-slightly thicker and the wood…oh God, the wood. Consider this; all the dead tree on the door cards wrapping around the cabin is canted at an angle of precisely 55 degrees throughout.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

That’s the level of craftsmanship you’re looking at, and indeed the Wraith screams attention to detail. Every metal trim pieces feels as solid as the mounting of a luxury yacht, the switches click with perfection that Audi would envy and the seating position is a click or two above ergonomic heaven, seats so comfortable you would never leave them if you could. Which goes double for the sink-your-toes-in-butter deep-pile carpeting.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

Pleasingly, there’s a lack of frippery and the Ghost dash remains as clean as ever of excess switches, everything reduced to the central iDrive controller. For Wraith, the interface has received a reskin and ditches the earlier rotary style selection for a series of horizontal tiles. A cinch to figure out, and easy to operate on the move, something which I’m reluctant to do, so wonderful is this cabin to relax in.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

With 624bhp and 590lb ft on tap from a 6.6-litre V12, there is absolutely no drama to the way the Wraith gets off the line, but it remains a very curious sensation indeed. Thanks to that long, horizon-dominating prow, the Wraith builds speed in exactly the same way as a powerboat, the nose lifting up every so slightly. It’s as if you’re astride the shoulders of a great giant, gently stretching his arms for the first time in the morning, the world rolling away at your feet. Be very assured – this is a very, very powerful car, shrugging its titanic weight to arrive at 100kph in a near-silent 4.6 seconds. But again, it’s the way the Wraith achieves speed that’s so impressive. Where other cars huff, snort and paw at the ground to signal their strength, the Wraith builds and builds in majestic isolation until you arrive at your desired velocity – and hold it there as long as you choose, or until the petrol runs out anyway.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

Having said that, you can forget speed when Vienna is part of the same sentence. The narrow streets are a terrifying place to pilot a barge as immense as the Wraith and I must have grown an extra white hair every kilometre, hands gripping the wheel in an effort not to accidentally nudge another grey Golf into a passing tram. It was some relief that we emerged onto the Austrian highway, on our way to an Alpine pass and some stunning mountain roads.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

Or so I thought. Austria is not Germany, and you’re generally restricted to a speed of about 130kph; hardly taxing the Wraith’s considerable abilities, especially considering half the bloody motorways are permanently under construction. Curious thing though: the Wraith has a stiffer ride than I expected. No, not harsh in any sense of the word but very, very marginally more firm than the Ghost from whence it sprang, as if to remind that yes, it is a more sporting choice. Our sage Fraser Martin suggests that it’s to do with the bigger 21” wheels and the inherent lack of squishy sidewall, but I felt the same on the 20” car I drove in Austria.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

At last, we divert off the motorway and into the mountains for some proper corners…or so I thought. Literally, the moment we began climbing into some charming Alpine villages, the heavens opened with an intense fury the likes of which I have never seen before. Instantly, the roads – barely wide enough for one regular car let alone a mammoth Wraith – are coated with a treacherous sheet of water and any thoughts of brisk driving go out the window, replaced by thoughts of “oh, so that’s what aquaplaning feels like.” So heavy was the downfall that I could barely see where I was going in places even with the Wraith’s wipers on full tilt.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith

Nevertheless, I can tell you thing about the Wraith for certain – it’s not a sporting drive by any means. There is simply too much car and too much mass to rotate for any kind of dynamicism in tight corners. While turn in is deceptively sharp, it quickly turns to default understeer unless you lay on the throttle like an axe murderer in which case you’ll be rewarded with…a gently admonishing traction control light and a brief sensation of 624 horses making the axle hop in protest. Yes, there isn’t a button on the dash to turn off any of the nannies. For that you’ll have to delve deep into the depths of iDrive, something I wasn’t keen on with our Noah-style floods.

You may think I didn’t like the Wraith, then. You would be very, very wrong.

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 As with all Rolls Royces, the trick is simply to treat the Wraith like a cruise missile. You tell it where to go, there’s an appropriate delay, and then it responds with appropriate manners. You don’t hustle a Rolls Royce, you guide it with your fingertips, gentle delicate movements of that sensitive thin-rimmed wheel, using the immense firepower on tap only if you absolutely must. And as any gentleman knows, undue haste is an unseemly thing. It is also worth noting that despite the torrential outpouring, the Wraith never engaged in anything so gauche as a powerslide. The huge 20-inch tyres dispensed with the sheets of standing water as discreetly as a good butler would, and traction was simply immense. Throughout it all, the cabin has the hush and comportment of a church, the comfort of your favourite bath robe and all the technology a person truly needs, and none of the nonsense – no social media apps here! – that you do not.

The transmission is especially interesting, as it’s claimed to be the world’s first SAT – Satellite-aided-transmission. What that means is it reads GPS and map data to work out what corners are coming up and put the silky-smooth eight-speed ZF into the appropriate gear as you approach them. Interesting in practice but I honestly couldn’t tell you if it made any difference whatsoever to the driving experience; the ZF has always been a great box, adept at figuring out gears, and its implementation in the Wraith is no exception.

Driving the Wraith was a truly majestic experience but it’s worth noting that it didn’t feel all that different from its four-dour Ghost stablemate. The differences in steering, ride and handling are so minute as to be indistinguishable. So really, what are you left is a two-door Ghost in a sexier suit that shows up the Bentley Continental for the new-money barge it clearly is.

Who says that’s a bad thing?

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Verdict
Nobody needs another Rolls Royce, but I’m immensely glad that the Wraith exists and that the boys from Goodwood have made it as wonderful to drive as the rest of the ‘family’. I even survived the horrors of Viennese rush hour traffic without any battle scars to report – but it was worth it all for that amazing drive in pouring rain behind the wheel of the Wraith, blasting through the Alps as though I was a reborn ‘30s playboy.

As for the car itself – the Wraith might just be my new favourite Rolls. It feels less stuffy than the Phantom, less seven-star limo than the Ghost and as adept as a Drophead Coupe as a car to see the world and be seen in. And when you arrive at your destination, you’ll know that you’ve completed a journey – the mark of a true Rolls Royce.

2014 Rolls Royce Wraith
Specs
Price: AED1.4 million (est. starting price only; every Wraith is ordered as part of the Bespoke program with custom options)
Engine: 6.6-litre V12, 624bhp @ 5600rpm, 590lb ft @ 1500-5500rpm
Performance: 0-100kph 4.6s, top speed 255kph (limited), 14L/100km
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Weight: 2440kg

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