Rolls-Royce Wraith 2013: First Drive

words - Tony Watts
Traditional Rolls-Royce virtues meet speed and dynamism in the "not a sports car" Wraith
Rolls-Royce Wraith

First Drive
Vienna, Austria

What we liked:
>> Cosseting luxury and refinement
>> Surprising dynamic abilities
>> Build quality and bespoke options

Not so much:
>> Not a lightweight
>> Rear quarter vision
>> Options will add up

Rolls-Royce doesn't traditionally quote power figures, usually resorting to "adequate" when asked.

That this convention has been turned on its head with the launch of the Wraith is perhaps an indication of how much of a departure the car is for the British marque.

Then again, when you have a 48-valve 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 that produces 465kW and 800Nm, the temptation must be there to boast about it a bit.

The Wraith is the most powerful and fastest Rolls-Royce road car ever made, and it looks the part too with its pleasing fastback styling. That doesn't make it a sports car, however.

At the Wraith’s global launch in Austria, Rolls-Royce personnel were at pains to avoid the word, and even the button on the transmission selector stalk that directs the eight-speed ZF automatic to select lower gears and hold them for longer is labeled ‘low’, rather than ‘sport’.

Any car that tips the scales at a hefty 2360kg unladen is hardly likely to spawn anything as gauche as a GT3 variant either.

No, the Wraith is a Rolls-Royce first and foremost and the traditional virtues of the marque must be present. Of course, the company is proud to boast about its "waftability” -- a word that probably leaves most driving enthusiasts as flaccid as it sounds.

But there is something different about the Wraith.

For starters it is quick. Despite its not inconsiderable mass, the Wraith lifts her skirts and flies when you ask her to, hitting 100km/h from rest in a surprisingly brisk 4.6 seconds.

In-gear acceleration is even more impressive. The Wraith possesses an ability to build speed from around 80km/h with such ease that the head-up display is going to prove a necessary item on over-policed Australian roads.

It doesn't help that so much of the impression of speed is dulled by the Wraith's refined manner: You don't feel the transmission shift ratios at all; the engine can be heard only when pushed and even then only as a distant rumble; and the cabin is incredibly quiet at speed. At 140km/h on Austrian expressways cabin noise was the equivalent of a BMW 316i at half the pace.

This silence means you notice things that would normally be missed, such as the slight wind noise around the exterior mirrors above 140km/h, or a pen rolling around in a door pocket.

It is arguably a good environment for audiophiles too. With 18 speakers and 18 separate power amplifiers driving them, there's no lack of volume. But the fact the engineer responsible spent the best part of a year tuning the system can be heard, as can the difference between compressed MP3 files and CD-quality WAV ones.

The cabin is not only an aural treat; the quality of materials and workmanship is mightily impressive, if not quite up to the lofty standards set by the Phantom. There is perhaps too much chrome and trim pieces in the cabin that pick up fingerprints, though the new polyurethane wood treatment has a pleasing matte finish and a tactility from its open-grain feel (though it apparently has equal UV- and moisture-resistant properties).

There is enough room in the rear seats for two fully-grown adults too, and ingress and egress is easy enough by virtue of those large rear-hinged doors, though I wouldn't ask a grandparent to try unless they've been keeping up with their yoga.

Interior space shouldn't surprise though, as despite having a 180mm shorter wheelbase than the Ghost on which it is based, the overall length is still 5269mm. Its proportions are pleasing enough because everything else is to scale, including the massive 21-inch rims.

Of course the first impression from behind the wheel is of the vehicle's sheer size. It may be a coupé that rides 50mm lower than the Ghost, but you still look SUV drivers in the eye, and gauging where the car's corners are is a matter of guesswork, making the first few kilometers a tentative proposition.

Wafting along, the Wraith delivers all the expected Rolls-Royce virtues of quiet refinement and the controls are effortless, with a high level of assistance for the steering, though the brakes do require a firmer foot than expected for fast stops. They're designed for smoothness rather than initial bite, I suppose.

Surprisingly though, on narrow Austrian alpine roads the Wraith never felt ungainly, responding to those highly assisted inputs without hesitation. As a driver you need to suspend your disbelief that such a heavy vehicle is capable of such speeds, not only in a straight line, but around corners too.

The prodigious levels of grip were mainly tested by the equally prodigious amount of torque, setting the traction control to work out of sharper corners, while the front proved pleasantly unwilling to push wide.

There is some pitching under heavy braking or acceleration, as you'd expect, but the air suspension does a reasonable job of keeping the body level around corners.

The ZF automatic transmission makes use of the satellite-navigation system by anticipating corners and selecting the appropriate ratios, though it is not something you notice in operation.

Flaws are hard to find. Rearward visibility is limited so the reversing camera is necessary, and our test car had a light coloured parcel shelf, which reflected off the steeply raked rear window, rendering the rear-view mirror useless. Specify that in a dark colour is my suggestion.

While you're commissioning your Wraith, that will be one of the myriad choices to be made, before looking at numerous bespoke options. The test car was fitted with the ‘starlight’ headliner, featuring LED lighting distributed throughout the headlining through 1340 fibre-optic ‘stars’.

It sounds daft, but feels special. Then again it should, as it is a 16-hour job to build and will be priced accordingly. Start ordering those options and the $645,000 starting price will rise rapidly.

Rapidity is the Wraith's defining characteristic, however. Rolls-Royce promises effortless performance, and delivers. The Wraith is a car in which you could cover large distances at high speeds and emerge feeling fresh, making it a true grand touring proposition for those with the means.

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Published : Tuesday, 17 September 2013
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