“At 60 miles per hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” David Ogilvy’s rather inspired turn of phrase has come to define the prestigious brand in the minds of millions around the world. You simply do not hear anything in a Rolls-Royce. And that’s why, as I drive through some spectacular Austrian alpine countryside in the latest addition to the range, I’m feeling a bit confounded. You see, I’ve just heard a Rolls-Royce engine sounding like it means business, and it somehow doesn’t feel wrong. Will the world stop turning now?
While it will take a lot more than one perplexed motoring journalist to make the world stop turning, all it takes is one spectacular- looking, stunningly fast Rolls-Royce motorcar to make heads turn, even in one of the wealthiest parts of the world. It makes a substantial impression, this sub-five-second car named after a disembodied spirit. The most powerful Rolls ever built, the Wraith.
It’s only so often that an all-new model is conceived behind the hallowed doors at Goodwood, so before the covers came off the Rolls-Royce Wraith at Geneva earlier this year, the anticipation was immense and intense. And this car lived up to the hype. Based on the same chassis as the Ghost, the two-door luxury coupé stays true to its roots while seamlessly moving the brand into the 21st century with élan. The unmistakable Rolls-Royce grille remains proudly in place, but the Spirit of Ecstasy is now tilted forward by five degrees – a subtle reinforcement of the Wraith’s ‘coiled to spring’ stance. It’s this stance (viewed best from the rear three-quarter or in profile) that defines the Wraith, setting the tone for its performance on tarmac.
The cabin also lives up to the high expectations. The leathers are Phantom grade, the ‘starlight’ headliner is an optional extra and the veneer panelling uses a new open-grain canadel form that evokes the feel of the decks of luxury yachts. The dash and control layout are pretty similar to the Ghost, but there are some differences too. The steering wheel is a bit thicker and the seats are a bit more, dare I say it, sporty. The Wraith may be a coupé, but the wide doors and sliding front seats offer easy access to the rear seats, which are spacious and comfortable, even for six-footers. Yes, this coupé is a proper four-seater.
What’s more, the Wraith also gets what Rolls-Royce says is the most advanced car audio system in the world (a full technical briefing on just the acoustics can take more than a few hours). Take my word for it – it could make my singing sound Grammy-worthy.
Sound. That takes us back to the beginning and to the heart of the new Wraith. The BMW 7-series-sourced 6.6-litre bi-turbo V12 puts out 624bhp, and a whopping 81.5kgm of torque that’s available from just 1,500rpm. Floor the throttle and the Rolls pauses, hooks up and explodes with a turn of speed that is quite disconcerting, especially from a 5.3m long, almost 2m wide and close to three-tonne car.
Rolls-Royce claims a 0-100kph time of just 4.4 seconds and the Wraith does feel like it could get there on the mark, though it is advisable to find a clear stretch of road before you shed your inhibitions, as the coupé’s imposing proportions command respect. The large steering wheel demands your attention as speeds build, but at a slightly relaxed pace this car is quite effortless to drive.
Unlike a lot of cars that are capable of such speed, the Wraith’s centre console is refreshingly clear of buttons and controls to customise the driving experience. The eight-speed ZF gearbox is smooth and seamless, but rather than giving in to the temptation of adding paddle shifters to reinforce the Wraith’s sporting credentials, the engineers took a less visible but much more high-tech approach. The Wraith debuts the company’s new Satellite-Aided Transmission, which connects the gearbox to the GPS and navigation systems. The unit senses the car’s location on the road, anticipates what lies ahead almost in real time and uses the information to pre-select gears accordingly. Like a good butler, the SAT does its work unobtrusively so that the car always has immense reserves of power and traction for the driver to call on. But you can’t help but wonder what would have been possible with some manual control.
Where you won’t want for any manual control is the suspension. Our drive from Vienna through the Austrian Alps featured a good mix of cobbled and rutted city roads, wide open highways and some quick and narrow mountain roads, and the Wraith showed itself to be more than capable on all surfaces. It carries over the Ghost’s suspension layout (double wishbone front and multi-link rear) and there are a lot of electronic gizmos working away in the background, constantly adjusting the stiffness and travel depending on speed and lean angles.
The company says the Wraith is the easiest car in the world to drive quickly, and honestly, they aren’t far off the mark with that, even if visibility, especially on these narrow mountain roads, can be a bit challenging. While it is virtually impossible to completely eliminate pitch and roll in a car the size of a small yacht, the trade-off is acceptable, especially because the Wraith never stops providing the splendid cabin isolation and ride quality that defines the brand.
The Wraith delivers everything you expect from a Rolls-Royce and enough new elements – like the stunning looks and surprising level of driver involvement – to make it a worthy addition to a discerning gentleman’s garage.
And he’ll have to be a very wealthy gentleman too, given the Wraith’s ex-showroom price in India of Rs 4.6 crore. No Rolls is ever going to be considered value for money, but to the rarefied strata of society that the company caters to, this car offers a stylish and sporty alternative to the slightly old-school image that other Rolls-Royce cars portray.