Brits have a thing for timeliness. So it was no surprise that my flight for the Wraith drive left very early in the morning. After an uneventful flight, I found myself in Scottsdale, Arizona, sitting in a conference room at a lovely hotel, learning about the founding fathers of Rolls-Royce.
A picture was painted of two men. The first was a man who already had money and a bit of a party-boy mentality.
Charles Rolls, the party boy of the Rolls-Royce duo, enjoyed adventure just for the novelty of trying something new, and he was well funded enough that “no” wasn’t really part of his vocabulary. “He was a bit of a Richard Branson – an entrepreneur and playboy, a wild and wealthy thrill-seeker,” explained the presenter, “it was his greatest quality, but one that would eventually be the end of him.”
Rolls died while piloting one of the Wright Brothers’ early Flyers, making him the first Brit to die on a motor-powered aircraft.
On the other side of the equation was Henry Royce, who was born poor, but would become one of the greatest engineers of the early 20th century. It would be the meeting of these men that would pave the way to some of the world’s most lavishly-designed and meticulously-built luxury cars.
Baby Got Back
At the end of the presentation, we journalists were invited outside to greet our cars. It felt like grown man Christmas, journalists dashing outside into the heat to find their brightly colored adult go-karts waiting in a line.
Although the Wraith is a gorgeous thing to behold, with distinctive lines cleverly melded with exterior elements borrowed from other modern Rolls, it’s the suicide doors that astound me.
Money Buys Happiness
I may never get used to the process of opening the door from the front; it’s just been programmed into my head that you pull the door to the left, rather than the right. However, once the Wraith suicide door swings open, it exposes the largest single piece of wood trim in the entire automotive industry – and the craftsmanship is insane.
Thanks to the company’s bespoke options, you can choose virtually any wood on God’s green earth to fit to your confounding suicide doors, just as you can with the leathers that drench the cabin. But, it’s the grain of the wood that really got me.
The veneer curves inward to fit into the door panel, but the grain is layered at 55-degrees from end to end. Think about that. When you bend a series of parallel lines, they bunch together. But, the masters at Rolls-Royce have found a way to bend logic and physics to create something that looks seamless, even when it isn’t. That’s the kind of fit and finish we’re talking about here.
The leathers can be had in any flavor you’d like, as long as they can be sourced from a renewable farm. We chatted briefly about yellow alligator leather, which the company sources from an alligator farm in Florida, ships to Italy for treatment and conditioning, and finally cuts, sews and installs in England. Really, if you can name it, you can have it. Just keep in mind that it has to meet your country’s – and England’s – animal protection laws.
There’s also much to be said about the electronics in the Wraith, which are surprisingly spare. Of course there’s a radio with navigation and a heads-up display, all of which look mighty BMW iDrive-y to me, but that’s not necessarily a complaint.
The masters at Rolls-Royce have found a way to bend logic and physics to create something that looks seamless, even when it isn’t.
Dig through the electronics and you’ll find a setting that allows you to raise and lower the air suspension to ease entry, exit, and the traversing of speed bumps. But, aside from the standard infotainment screen, you won’t find too many other tech options. The Wraith doesn’t come with a frenzy of self-driving aides, and that’s because those things cheapen the enjoyment of motoring. As a coupe, this car is meant to be driven, not be driven in.
There are two bits of tech that I’m particularly fascinated by, though. The first is a cosmetic item, called the Starlight Headliner, from the Bespoke collection. Choosing this option adds about $10,000 to your bottom line, but it also packs 1,340 fiber optic cables into your headliner.
During the day, it’s not really noticeable, but at night, the interior of the car illuminates with what looks like a thousand stars across the sky. When they described it, it sounded gimmicky, and it might here, too, but in practice, it’s without question the coolest interior effects I’ve ever seen in a car. It even beats the Mercedes Magic Sky roof.
And, there’s the new Satellite-Aided Transmission (SAT). This is a complex thing to describe, so we’ll give you the basics here. Essentially, the ECU in the transmission is plugged into the ECU in the car’s GPS unit. The navigation system pulls data from the satellite, including road type, upcoming turns, topography, elevation, etc., and feeds that information to the transmission.
With that knowledge in hand, the eight-speed automatic is essentially able to predict upcoming hills, descents, and turns, and automatically selects the gear you’ll need to handle the road ahead based upon your current driving style. If it sees you’re hammering it through the Alps, it’ll choose a lower gear for your upcoming sharp right-hander. If it sees you’re cruising slowly through the streets of Sicily, it’ll keep you in a higher gear.
For Rolls, the implementation of the SAT is to enhance effortless driving. I can legitimately say that I never felt the car struggle to find gears, even down the twisty canyon roads of Arizona. It’s a brilliant, albeit complex, piece of equipment, and it’s something that I can only imagine will slowly make its way across the industry. Just don’t forget that Rolls had it first.
Power and handling are more like concepts than measurable realities when you’re piloting a Rolls-Royce, but the Roller boys are excited to boast that the Wraith is their most powerful vehicle yet.
Pushing out 624 horsepower from its 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V12, the Wraith is anything but slow. It pushes smoothly from just about any speed toward its electronically limited top speed of 155-mph. This engine could push further without much effort, however, so it’s easier to simply say that you’ll never, ever be short on go juice. If you’re really looking for numbers, though, it’ll do 0-60 in 4.2-seconds, which is a feat of magic for a car that weighs nearly 6,000 lbs.
Our presenter mentioned something about “a bit of noir” for Rolls-Royce, likening the Wraith to something a little more sinister than their traditional coaches. To that, I’d call it more of a “blanc noir”, or dark white, because sportiness remains a relative idea for this brand.
Yes, the Wraith is absolutely more assertive than anything else in the lineup that has preceded it. It’s an absolute gem when you want to pass slow-moving trucks on long desert straightaways. However, it’s really more of a charmer, the ultimate grand turismo, and one that you can have in with any variety of customizations to make it uniquely yours.
While driving the Wraith, I thought back to the two men who founded the company. And, I think the Wraith presents itself as a brilliant representation of both pieces of Rolls-Royce duo.
There’s no question that Charles Rolls would be proud; the Wraith is extravagant beyond competition, opulent in a way that most will never experience, and overwrought in way that only the most eccentric could ever appreciate.
Underneath all of its power and niceties, though, it’s also a machine fitting for Sir Henry Royce. With its unmatched comfort, meticulously built engine, and transmission that literally summons knowledge from the heavens, the engineering here is beyond reproach.
For me, it’s the newest car destined for my fantasy garage, if only I can swing the $360,000 to put it there.