Up close and personal with the Rolls-Royce Wraith
The new-look Rolls-Royce has ticked off its first decade in business since relaunching under BMW ownership with the most potent car in its history, the Wraith coupe. The Wraith heralds a major new innovation for the company in its Satellite Aided Transmission (SAT), which gives its 8-speed ZF gearbox the ability to plan the drive ahead according to GPS data.
It’s been ten years since BMW launched the new-look Rolls-Royce back on the market. When it came, the Phantom was like nothing Rolls watchers had seen for decades. Gone was the sense of moribund product stretching brand veneer ever thinner over old engineering. In its place was coachwork deftly integrating thoroughly modern detail with touches of trad-Rolls in an appropriately huge silhouette. At 5.8 m long, 2 m wide and 1.6 m tall, it outsized anything else on the road you could call a car. Now in its second series and barely changed it remains as imposing as ever.
Inside, the good folk of Goodwood and their German stewards showed they’d done their homework. The cockpit is a dearth of knobs and buttons, epitomizing traditional Rolls-Royce discretion. But unlike those predecessors that saw out the last decades of the 20th century, today’s Rolls embodies the technological tour-de-force to justify its stratospheric price tag.
BMW maintained the marque’s traditional 6.75-litre displacement, but put it in a V12 rather than the former V8. The update nearly doubled power output, from the old Silver Spirit’s 183 kW with undisclosed torque to 338 kW/720Nm, hastening the 0-100km/h (0-62 mph) dash from 9.5 to 5.9 seconds.
Much has happened at Rolls-Royce HQ since 2003. The company expanded the Phantom lineup to two-door Drophead (convertible, 2007) and hardtop Coupe (2008) variants, then followed it in 2010 with a new platform the (marginally) smaller but more powerful Ghost. The V12’s displacement dropped a little to 6.6-litres, but twin turbochargers boosted output to 420kW/780Nm – sufficient to shunt the new car to 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds.
Now, Rolls-Royce has signed off its first decade since rebirth with the most potent car ever to wear the Spirit of Ecstasy: the Wraith coupe.
The new car sits on the Ghost platform, but only in the most basic way. It’s a very different car, in ways that count. The powertrain has been tweaked, bumping output up to 465kW/800Nm – very big muscles indeed, even for a 2360kg loco like this. A broad, low-slung torque band making those 800 Newtons available from 1500 all the way up to 5500 rpm sling-shots it to 100km/h in an unfeasible 4.6 seconds. That means it’ll see off an M3 from the lights. At this point, remember that in my part of the world at least, you can get four well-specced M3s for the starting price of a Wraith.
The Wraith is the smallest of today’s seven-model lineup, 130mm shorter than the Ghost overall, and 183mm shorter in the wheelbase. In true coupe style, rear-seat passengers pay the price in legroom. You sit relatively low back there, peering out through a rather small side window. Nevertheless, there’s still enough space there to allow the company to legitimately claim it as a genuine four-seat grand tourer.
Described by Asia Pacific regional director Paul Harris as “the sports jacket in the Rolls-Royce wardrobe,” the Wraith sits 50mm lower than the sedan and 24mm wider across the rear axle. The air suspension has been recalibrated for better handling – but not, the company says, at the cost of that hallmark “magic carpet ride”.
Technologically, it borrows heavily from its parent company’s EfficientDynamics green-tech portfolio, meaning regenerative braking and on-demand ancillaries are all there, contributing to what Asia Pacific general manager Dan Balmer assured Gizmag are “the cleanest engines in the super-luxury segment”. With urban fuel consumption figures up around 20L/100km and combined-cycle CO2 emission figures well over 300g/km, this sounds a little like claiming the comfiest torture method ever, but everything’s relative.
Elsewhere, technology rules, from the 18-speaker, 1300W bespoke audio package to the one-touch button on the steering wheel giving direct voice-command access to navigation, phone, email, text messaging and a host of vehicle settings. They present on a 10.25-inch center screen, but rather than using a touchscreen, Rolls has augmented the BMW i-Drive based Spirit of Ecstasy rotary controller with a touchpad allowing users to pull-and-pinch images in the manner of a smartphone screen, and input characters by writing with a finger.
You can input sat-nav destination info by voice or from afar via the Rolls-Royce Connect smartphone app.
But the one the company is really proud of is the satellite aided transmission (SAT) system, which makes its debut in the Wraith. Here, a GPS connection to the 8-speed ZF auto allows the transmission to see junctions, roundabouts and topographical shifts ahead and map out gear changes in advance. Rolls-Royce says SAT won’t be immediately available everywhere as it is dependent on the the quality of the available mapping data.
Safety systems are vast, starting with driver aids like adaptive cruise, head-up display and infrared night vision and a 360-degree “top view” camera system, with primary safety systems including multiple audiovisual warning systems and emergency brake priming – one stop short of autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
The marque’s Advanced Crash Management System (ACSM) makes combines 2000 readings a second from a matrix of sensors to keep the car’s safety systems responsive to changes in driving conditions. Along with the usual front, side and curtain airbags, driver and front passenger both get kneebags.
An important element of the Rolls-Royce value proposition is the immense scope it offers for bespoke orders. Along with a long list of standard options, the company makes it clear to buyers that whatever else they might like in the way of made-to-order paint, upholstery, trim, veneers, brightwork, floor coverings, lighting, entertainment systems etc, it’s theirs if a) it’s humanly possible and legal; b) they have the funds; and c) they’re prepared to wait.
Being so skewed to bespoke purchase, the company doesn’t keep vast inventory in its target markets. It’s still scoping out current and future demand patterns through world markets, but execs claim the order books look like filling fast in parts of Asia and the Middle East. It’s also confident the Wraith will find plenty of appeal in the US, given that country’s post-GFC recovery and its taste for two-doors.
Every new Rolls-Royce comes with a four-year, unlimited mileage warranty. The €245,000 (US$320,000) price includes all service and maintenance (except glasswork and tires) for the duration of the warranty, regardless of mileage, plus 24/7 roadside assistance.