When it comes to swankiness, no one does it like Rolls-Royce. We get a taste of luxury on the international launch of the new Wraith.[Not a valid template]
When you receive a hand-delivered invite for a press event, you know you’re going to experience something special. When said invite is to drive the new Rolls-Royce Wraith – the most powerful model ever developed in the company’s 109-year history – you know said event is going to be very special.
Built to follow-up the success of the Ghost, the new Wraith – a name revived by Rolls-Royce for the first time since 1938 – finally made its hotly anticipated debut at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. Here is a Rolls out of its comfort zone. A coupe, boasting a bolder design than any before it, offering more power and designed specially to handle and perform like no other Rolls-Royce before it. Astronomical pressure for a company which, despite the technological and engineering of the BMW family behind it, has the likes of Bentley and Maserati snapping at its heels.
Consequently, petrolheads the world over want two questions answered: does the new Wraith work as a performance coupe, and if so, is it still a Rolls-Royce?
To find that out, crankandpiston is off to Vienna, Austria, for the international launch drive. And straight from the off, it’s clear a Wraith event has lost none of the Rolls-Royce charm, with rooms booked in the palatial Palais Coburg Residenz hotel and chauffeured Ghost taxi rides from Vienna airport. And standing exquisite shoulder-to-exquisite shoulder under the Residenz lobby is the 10-strong Wraith fleet that makes up our test drive, which gives us the first opportunity to judge the looks up close and personal.
One oft-used word by Rolls-Royce to describe the new Wraith is ‘noir’, a subtle reference to the family’s ghoulish name, the new boy’s black sheep persona and its revised look. With ‘just a hint of the noir’ on offer, I make a mental note to say hello to Dashiel Hammett should he stop by. But is this an obvious characteristic of the car?
No doubt the Wraith is an imposing model, despite being the baby of the brood. The familiar Roll-Royce face remains intact, but the pantheon front grille is now set 45mm further back than that of the Ghost for optimised air distribution. Tightened curves about the slicker, more aggressively sculpted headlights make for a more dynamic visage, and while the now 102-year old Spirit of Ecstasy offers a strong sense of heritage, the new seven-spoke 20-inch wheels give the Wraith a superbly dynamic stance in profile.
Amidst this muted aggression though there is the time-honoured Rolls-Royce elegance. The beautifully smooth body lines – a tribute to the fastback design DNA of the 1930s – and subtly flared wheel arches give a magnificent flow to the bodywork, especially the sweeping roofline and delicate chrome-surround taillights. This balance between grace and muscle puts one in mind of a Riva speed yacht, which boasts both timely elegance and powerful modernity. This is doubly appropriate as it turns out, since the two-tone paint on our test model evokes a nautical theme.
So far then, the exterior combination of quintessential Rolls-Royce style and sporty accent is just about perfect. In the cabin though the balance swings wildly back towards luxury. As you’d expect from the boys and girls at Goodwood HQ, the cabin is infused with the finest wood trim and immaculately treated leather. Long scissor doors make getting in and out a doddle, both of which – like the rear doors on the Ghost and the Phantom – can be closed with the push of a button. To get a feeling of romance in the air, the Starlight Headliner – comprising 1340 fibre optic lights hand-woven into the leather roof-lining – gives the impression of the night sky. It’s a little bit dazzling but a neat idea all the same, and despite the long sloping roofline (which took me a little while to get used to), there’s still plenty of head and legroom. In an interesting move, Rolls-Royce has also retained its traditional high seating layout: this may be the most powerful Roller on the market, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grab it by the scruff of the neck whilst sitting comfortably.
Then again, with a 624bhp 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 – a derivation of the same unit in the Ghost – at our disposal and a Rolls-Royce that hits 0-100kph in 4.6 seconds and a 250kph electronically limited top speed, we’re not likely to be paying too much attention to that. The melodious roar when the engine turns over makes it yet harder too.