2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith Review
Very, very expensive ectoplasm
Rolls-Royce is one of the most exclusive car brands in the world, and the new two-door Wraith – the name of which is intended to recall "something evil, something of the night" – is the most exclusive vehicle they offer.
|1. Pricing starts at $285,000, but the AutoGuide test car cost $360,000.
2. Each interior is bespoke.
3. A 6.6L V12 makes 624 HP, the most of any Rolls-Royce yet.
4. There is one transmission: a GPS-aided eight-speed automatic.
When we took up the assignment to review the new Rolls-Royce Wraith, we resolved to feign immunity to the car's $285,000 price tag and review it with the same cold, critical eye we would cast upon a Corolla.
Gliding along in Rolls-Royce new high-end coupe (remember to pronounce it coo-pay, like the British do), it's hard to remember that you are still just another commoner, and it's almost impossible to think of the Wraith as merely a mode of transportation.
Too Special to Play With Others
Before setting us loose in their new hand-built beauty and after giving us suitable time to admire the Wrath's gracefully flowing lines – we could spend days just staring at the C-pillar, where the roof gently folds into the trunk lid – the Rolls folks explained that the new Wraith is not competing against any other wheeled vehicle.
"The competitive set for the Wraith is not another car," a booted and suited Rolls staffer explained. The potential Wraith buyer already owns five or six automobiles. Along with the Wraith, he (or she, but most commonly he) is considering other high-ticket items: A helicopter, a piece of fine art, perhaps a house on an island. He is looking to spend money to congratulate himself for closing a multi-million-dollar business deal, or perhaps he is buying a gift for his wife who already has boxes of Tiffany jewelry. The Wraith, in other words, is a car for the one-percenters... perhaps the top sliver among them.
Exclusivity is the Wraith's stock in trade. And yet Rolls is not looking for big growth: They are happy to let marques like Bentley and Maserati chase volume. The percentage of the world's uber-rich is expanding at a slow but steady single-digit rate, and Rolls plans to index their growth to those who can afford the best of the best.
That's all well and good, but is any car really worth $285,000 -- let alone the $360,000 price tag of our tester? That's a question car fans will spend many late nights debating, but the Wraith certainly makes a good argument. Just walking up to one is intimidating: It is incredibly massive and almost inscrutable in its beauty, squinting squared-off headlights notwithstanding. Color choices make all the difference; our favorite Wraith was a two-tone blue-and-silver car that highlighted the shape of the hood -- sorry, bonnet -- and the graceful contours of the roof.
Death by Opulence
The Wrath's giant doors open suicide-style, as if to flip a diamond-ring-bejeweled middle finger at vehicular convention. Side clearance, we imagine, is not an issue because Wraith owners don't park in stall spots; that's for the valet to worry about. And should such matters become of temporary concern – slumming with the bourgeois at Neiman-Marcus, perhaps? – the Wrath's doors will stay put at any position to which they are opened. Sure, it's technology from a lesser BMW (a fact we don't mention in polite company), but it's still cool.
Settling into the thick leather seat, we uttered a silent thank-you to the herd of Bavarian bulls that gave up their hides to be hand-stitched into the throne we now occupy. We are told they lived a lazy life, surrounded by wooden fences rather than barbed wire to avoid imperfections in their skin. As a result, they produce low-quality meat and high-quality leather. (Somewhere, someone is eating a cheeseburger and not realizing that he got the short end of the stick.)
All cars provide the same basic house-to-office function and a serviceable Honda Civic will do the job as well as a Rolls-Royce Wraith. So the ownness is on Rolls-Royce to distinguish itself through craftsmanship, which is why virtually everything in the Wraith's cabin is cut, sewn, stitched, sanded, trimmed, and finished by manibus mortalis. Our test car had wood-paneled doors and a wood-paneled dash with decorative lines so straight, it's nearly impossible to believe they were painted by hand and not a machine. (If pressed, Rolls sheepishly admits that the "starlight headliner" is made by machine. And here we thought the LED bulbs were randomly arranged by hand...)
No Two Quite the Same
None of the cars at the press preview were exactly alike, and staff explained the bespoke buying process: "You fly your private jet to England, and we sit down and design your car, then you go home. You don't know exactly how much it's going to cost, and frankly, neither do we, not until we build it. Once the car is finished, we put it on a plane and fly it over to you." It's a long, long way from finding the Camry you want at a dealership in the next county.
A button atop the dash closes the giant doors electrically; they slam shut with the force of a guillotine, but surprisingly little noise. Once ensconced, we were struck with the delicacy of the controls: The elegantly-thin turn-signal and shifter stalks feel like they might snap off if used in anger. A button on the dash winds up the 6.6 liter V12, and from the vibration-free silence of it's idle, you'd never guess that it packs 624 horsepower, the most powerful engine ever fitted to a Rolls.
Driving the Wraith in a 99 percent world is not easy. The Wraith is happy to waft along at 90 mph with no more drama than a BMW driven at 65. If you earn enough to own a Rolls, chances are you don't care about the speeding tickets or the ensuing increase in your car insurance premium (which alone could be more than the average proletariat's car payment). We, your AutoGuide staffers, are part of the 99 percent and we do care, so after one quick test of Rolls' claimed 4.4 second 0-60 time, we struggled to stay close to the speed limit. This made our test drive feel like the world's nicest stroll.
Our test route included some challenging curves, but we admit to being a bit timid about push the Wraith to 10/10ths. Not that the Wraith wouldn't be ready: There's no "sport" mode for the suspension or the eight-speed transmission; instead, the Wraith uses the GPS navigation system to determine the contours of the road ahead and selects the proper mode for you. In an echelon where servants are the norm, would you expect things to be any other way? Suffice it to say that the Wraith doesn't fall apart when pushed: Power, grip and poise are all there.
As our test road wandered back toward the city, we started watching other drivers watch the Wraith. They slowed, they stared, they gave us the thumbs up. (It probably helps that we were in a wealthy section of Arizona, a decidedly red state.) And for all its size, the Wraith's light steering, long hood, and big mirrors make it easy to maneuver. This really isn't an intimidating car to drive, as long as you keep in mind that a dented fender might cost as much to repair as a new Ford Fiesta.
All of which raises the question: What the hell were we doing in the Wraith, anyway? Mere automotive journalists will never earn enough to buy one, and -- forgive us for being so crass, but we're going on statistics here -- chances are neither will most of our readers.
"It's all about brand reputation," explained the Rolls-Royce PR rep. The more the plebes respect the flying lady on the hood, the more those who can afford a Wraith will aspire to a Wraith.
And if that gets us behind the wheel, well, that's good enough.