What It Is
A rare new model for Rolls Royce, one that breaks with tradition in more ways than one.
Exquisite hand craftsmanship equals a sublime driving environment.
We'll never be able to afford one. Never, ever, ever, ever....
The traditional Rolls-Royce experience, in a package that breaks ever so slightly with tradition.
I finally understand who would spend upwards of $300,000, $400,000, or even $500,000 for a 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith. And it all has to do with a Thermos.
Rolls-Royce operates an individualization service called Bespoke, which most of its customers use at least a little. As long as a request doesn't modify the body or violate a safety law, Rolls-Royce will try to accommodate the customer's desires. One customer--I don't know his real name, so let's call him Navin Johnson--wanted to have a custom-made Thermos mounted inside each door of his Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé. So, naturally, Rolls-Royce accommodated Navin and crafted the most elegant, color-matched, leather-wrapped, saddle-stitched Thermos you'll ever see. It's beautiful. But here's the thing: Rolls-Royce was nervous that the Thermos could break loose in a crash, becoming a missile that could injure the occupants, and it couldn't sell the car until it could prove that the Thermos was safe. So it crash-tested a car with the Thermos mounted before selling it to Navin.
Let me just clarify this: Rolls-Royce crash tested a car worth hundreds of thousands of dollars so that a customer could have a custom Thermos mounted in the door. And you can sure as hell bet Rolls-Royce didn't just eat the cost of a whole extra car, so on top of the price of an already expensively hand-crafted Thermos and the specially hand-crafted door panel to hold it, the cost included one crashed Rolls-Royce, just to be sure. It passed, and Navin got his Thermos.
So, who buys a Rolls-Royce? The kind of person for whom crashing a perfectly good Rolls-Royce just so he can have a Thermos mounted on the door is a reasonable expense. It's for those very few--about 3,500 last year--who care less about the price tag than they do about what the product represents. Here, it represents getting exactly what you want, how you want it.
For most, how the car drives is secondary, since they likely have a stable filled with other exotic cars. But Rolls-Royce motorcars are still cars, and in the case of the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith, it's a car that's designed to attract a slightly different kind of buyer, one who's looking for a more engaging driving experience. With a 624-horsepower V-12 engine and a top speed electronically limited to 155 mph--it could easily go faster--Rolls-Royce says it's the fastest car it has ever made. But you don't see that when you first lay eyes on it. No, first you see the fastback design.
WalkaroundPresence. There's no other word to describe the first impression of a 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith out on the road. In fact, the only car with more road presence may be its bigger brother, the Rolls-Royce Phantom, but even that car has a familiar three-box sedan shape.
Not the Wraith. The upright Rolls-Royce grille blends into the long, graceful hood. The line divides: half sweeps up to the roof and then gradually tapers down again toward the tail; the other half underlines the windows. There is no obvious trunk; the lid itself is integrated into the sloping rear end. It's a unique look, one that Rolls-Royce says can be represented with three lines: The aforementioned roof, the window line that splits off from it, and the "waft" line that curves down from the front of the door and back to the rear wheels. It's a striking design from a company that has built to a familiar template for decades, and while there may be more elegantly styled coupes, there's no denying the aphrodisiac effect the power of the Wraith's shape projects.
Sitting DownThe doors of the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith hinge at the rear, and when fully opened are at nearly 90 degrees to the body. But stretching is inelegant, so a button in arm's reach near the driver closes the door for you.
The entire car is built by hand; there are no robots, and Rolls-Royce actually has more woodworkers than metal crafters at its Goodwood, England, factory. Everything is so precisely put together that we get the feeling that not only is OCD not covered under the health plan, having it is a job requirement.
Inside, you're treated to old-world craftsmanship everywhere you look. There's no metallic-look anywhere: If you see metal, it's metal. If you see wood, it's the finest veneers. The lamb's wool floor mat melts around your shoes. Look up, and you will see the Starlight Headliner, consisting of 1340 individually hand-cut and placed fiber optic cables, all arranged to give the appearance of driving under a starry sky at night. The fiber optics are even cut at different angles to create the illusion of different magnitude stars. It's a $12,925 option. For even more money, you can even have them arranged, for example, into the constellation patterns above the hospital at the time of your birth. Seriously, even the sky isn't a limit if you bring enough money.
The open-grain wood in our car is unusual for Rolls-Royce, which is famous for its high-gloss finishes. The veneer is arranged on the center console so that the grain matches on either side. On the curved door panel--where the door pull itself floats in an ocean of wood--the veneer is specially cut so that the grain maintains the same straight 55-degree angle from top to bottom. Just doing that requires painstaking detail by the skilled woodworkers that assemble the interior.
There are familiarities among the exotic materials though. The navigation system, including its knob-and-menu setup, is a Rolls-Royceified version of parent company BMW's iDrive system. Same with the column mounted shifter, which is a more elegant version of a previous-generation 7 Series'. And there are a few bits of plastic here and there, like the BMW-spec rearview mirror and the plastic surround for the headlight switch. But we notice these in the same way we notice a beer can in a forest; the rest of the environment is so pristine that the slightest bit of artificiality stands out. In any other car, we'd probably not even give a second thought.
DrivingPush the start button, and the big V-12 clears its throat and then seems to disappear behind a heavy velvet curtain. Click the lever into Drive, and the large coupe effortlessly moves forward. In fact, "effortless" describes everything about the car. The steering is light, but accurate, and the weight builds in corners as it should. The engine not only moves the 5,380-pound car, it does so with an ease you wouldn't expect.
It also does it with a sound you wouldn't expect, and therein lies the real difference between the Wraith and other Rolls-Royce cars. You feel and hear things in this car that you don't in other Rolls-Royces. The suspension absorbs everything in its path, and the body remains planted at all times. But it also has a little bite to it, and you hear it thumping over smaller bumps. Bend it into a corner, and you'll be surprised by the flat stance. The same holds true for the engine; inaudible most of the time, the engine hums then howls as you accelerate. It's Rolls-Royce levels of engagement of course, and isolation, coddling, and that effortlessness is still the name of the game. But now it has just an extra hint to remind you that you are, indeed, driving a car, and not a motorized country club sitting room.
SummaryThere are a lot of cars that are as fast, or faster, than this one. There are cars that offer more room, or maybe more gadgets, or horsepower, or sharper handling, or whatever it is that floats your boat. We've driven cars that are all of those things.
But that's not the point of this, or any Rolls-Royce.
The point is you can enjoy a unique driving experience in a Rolls-Royce Wraith. And "unique" is the right word, since for the right amount of money, virtually anything is possible. That's what makes this car different and what makes it so expensive. Mechanically, it will appeal to someone who is used to a more engaging driving experience, but even those people likely have a garage filled with Ferraris, Bentleys, and what have you, for when the driving bug really digs in deep. No, the real draw will always be the knowledge that your car is one-of-a-kind, a hand-crafted work of art built to a standard absent in every other automaker in today's world.