PHOENIX – No cars, no dealers, no factory, no nothing; it is a convoluted story but that’s what BMW started with when it acquired the full rights to Rolls-Royce in 1998.
The first car on BMW’s watch didn’t roll off the newly built assembly line at Goodwood, England until 2003. But since the introduction of the Roll-Royce Phantom, the company added five more models in eight years. What’s more, the top of the line Phantom Series model line was updated in 2013.
But don’t let the numbers fool you, the additional models have not diluted the brand, the Phantom, the Extended Wheelbase Phantom, the Phantom Drophead Coupe (that is a convertible), the Ghost and the Ghost Extended Wheelbase have concentrated the strength of Roll-Royce and reestablished it as the premier uber-luxury brand in the world.
Enter the all-new 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith which is unlike any other Rolls-Royce built in the 109-year history of the company. It is a fastback that Roll-Royce said is in the tradition of European GT or gran turismo cars.
The four-seat Wraith is a coupe with coach doors. In the vernacular, they are called suicide doors. And these doors are now a hallmark of Roll Royce, every model it produces is equipped with coach doors
And the steeply sloping roof of the Wraith does not hinder back seat occupants. Four full-size people can travel in this Rolls-Royce coupe in extreme comfort for very long distances. A 16.6 cubic-foot cargo space assures that every last one of them can take enough stuff to last a couple of weeks.
It took five-years to develop the Wraith and as one Rolls-Royce staffer said it is the logical next step for the brand. Although the company is not quite sure who they are, it expects the Wraith to attract younger buyers as well as more women.
One thing is certain, buyers of the Wraith, as with every Rolls-Royce, will not be affluent, they will be wealthy. The base price of the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith is $284,900. The car we test drove was priced at $370,651.
For the money, customers get legendary treatment and cutting edge workmanship. The Wraith is, like every Rolls-Royce, hand crafted. Its manufacturing plant has no conveyor belts, no robots and very little machinery.
In the Wraith, skilled hands have constructed the most powerful Roll-Royce ever. A twin turbocharged V12 generates 624 horsepower which can move the 5,380 lb. coupe from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Coupled to an eight speed transmission, the Wraith is relatively fuel efficient. It gets 13 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway, not that the customer base even cares about mileage numbers.
But the secret to the effortless movement of every Rolls-Royce has been low-end torque. The Wraith’s V12 generates 590 pound-feet of torque at 1,500 RPMs. However, this car was not a brute. Handling was ballerina like, the Wraith responded quickly to driver input. The micro-second adjusting air suspension was soft without a spongy feel and firm without being harsh and power was subtle – until it was needed.
We chose to pass a vehicle on a two lane but swiftly moving local highway. From 75 MPH, we gave the car some gas, swung out, moved passed the vehicle and ducked back into our lane. It couldn’t have taken more than five seconds. A quick check of the speedometer told us that we had approached 115 mph and the engine never worked hard to get there. The Wraith’s top speed is “governed,” read electronically limited, to 155 mph.
The Wraith also houses the industry’s first satellite aided transmission. The system uses the car’s GPS data to ascertain where it is, look at the road ahead and then preselect the next gear. The technology also includes a more direct steering response to help in cornering and what Rolls-Royce called more dynamic spring and damper settings.
There are no paddle shifters or ride modes to select. The Wraith does everything for the driver, unobtrusively. “Step inside Wraith’s coach doors and there is the feeling of going aboard a luxury yacht. It is a serene space for four occupants, who will be cocooned in a striking and contemporary interior furnished in beautiful materials, surrounded by tactile Phantom-grade leathers,” said the press materials.
Indeed, the Wraith’s interior was other-worldly. An open wood grain “Canadel Panelling” debuts in the car. And it is not veneer, it is 55 degree mounted wood paneling covering the inside of the front doors and it also lines the back seat passenger area and strategic spots throughout the car.
The Wraith can be equipped with a glass roof with leather sun screen or with what Rolls-Royce called its “Starlight Headliner,” simulating a star studded night sky by hand weaving 1,340 fiber optic lights into the head liner.
Black chrome dials were framed by a black horseshoe sweep. Blood orange tips to gauge indicators paid homage to the marque’s aviation heritage whilst the steering-wheel is thicker rimmed to build dynamic intent. The interior was plush, instruments were intuitive and the creature comforts were impressive.
In addition to the wood paneling and starlight headliner, our test vehicle had lamb’s wool floor mats, 21-inch forged alloy wheels (20-inch wheels are standard), a 18-speaker, 1,300 watt audio system, RR monogrammed on the headrests and color matched boot, read trunk, trim.
Mammoth amounts of engineering go into every Rolls-Royce like infrared night vision that will identify specific hazards in the road up to 218 yards ahead. But it is the little stuff that really sets the brand apart.
Like every Roll-Royce for the last 102 years, the Spirit of Ecstasy figure sits atop the grille frame of the 2014 Wraith. Set on automatic, it will retract beneath the frame when the Wraith is locked or rise when it is open. The figurine can also be lowered or raised manually by an electronic switch on the car’s infotainment screen.
But in this time of scallywags who revere nothing, if someone tries to wrench the fabled hood ornament from its mounting, it will automatically retract beneath the Wraith’s grille frame. Every Rolls-Royce has this feature. It is the sort of thing that would make Henry Royce, arguably the foremost automotive engineer of his day, exhale a deep breathe of satisfaction, knowing that the company he and Stewart Rolls founded is in good hands.