Additional Photography courtesy of Rolls-Royce
It must be strange to exist in a class of one; to not have contemporaries, to not have benchmarks to measure yourself against. The owner of a Rolls-Royce must be familiar with this feeling, and they must be able to console themselves by swaddling their bodies in quilts stuffed puffy with hundred dollar bills. If you read our February 2014 issue, you got a glimmer of driving Rolls-Royce's latest touring coupe, but it was just a drive. The Wraith is a high-performance fastback packing 624 hp from its 6.6-liter, twin-turbo V12. Clearly, we needed another opportunity with the car at a test track to see what all that power can do in a 5,328-pound cruiser.
If you're reading the magazine in page order, you no doubt read Ian Kuah's review of the new Mercedes S63 Coupe. The latest in space-age German technology can be yours for the very reasonable sum right around $220,000. I say reasonable because everything is relative. The Rolls-Royce Wraith starts at $288,600, but the car we tested had a bottom line of $360,325 with options. Let that sink in. That's more the than the price of a Boxster S in options alone, but I digress.
Testing the performance of a Rolls-Royce is a bit of an otherworldly experience. There aren't many people in this world who get to drive a Rolls and fewer still who are fortunate enough to drive them at their limits. I do this job for science.
Acceleration runs are obviously fast, yet strangely effortless. Launching the car can be difficult with 590 lb-ft of torque being delivered through just the rear tires. The engineers in Goodwood eschewed the all-wheel-drive trend and stuck with the more traditional rear-wheel drive. Careful throttle modulation and a bit of practice allows for a 0-60-mph sprint in just 4.1 seconds. In comparison, a Bentley Continental GT Speed I tested did the same in 3.8 seconds, but with the added benefit of powering all four corners. If you keep your Berluti boot planted in the Wraith's thick woolen carpet, the quarter-mile eclipses in a mere 12.5 seconds with a trap speed of 114 mph. The ZF eight-speed automatic is smooth and efficient. It never feels as though power is oozing away like some autos, but it certainly never bangs a shift, either. From inside the car, the engine noise-and all external sound for that matter-doesn't exist. From outside, the Wraith sounds like a Spitfire ripping down the runway-it's glorious.
Coming back down from speed, the Wraith stops in a relatively short 109 feet from 60 mph. That is 2 feet shorter than the aforementioned Bentley, which not only enjoys an advantage of wider front tires but a 150-pound advantage in mass as well. Again, no drama in the endeavor, just punt the brake pedal toward the floor and the car dives on the front axle while screeching to a halt.
Our figure-8 testing is where things normally get interesting for larger, more massive cars. This Roller is no exception. Braking into the skipad sections is again fantastic, although you feel every ounce of mass wanting to continue on; the big brakes scrub speed dutifully. Turn in too quickly and the car returns gentle, speed scrubbing understeer. The same happens if you try and carry your braking too late into the turn. The Wraith prefers a more gentle, patient hand at the wheel. Fast steering inputs create a situation in which the tires, wheels, and suspension charge eagerly into the turn, while the body tries to continue straight on. The Rolls certainly does. The body movement could best be described as nautical. Although the Wraith is tuned to be more sporting than its chassis-mate Ghost, it is still far from a sports car. The air suspension is firm but compliant in most situations but isn't quite designed for snatching at lower-speed, high-g turns.
The Wraith prefers the driver to come almost completely off the brakes, let the car settle and regain composure, turn in deliberately but patiently, again, let the body settle its considerable mass on the outside tires, and then feed in the power. The Wraith will average 0.82 g around the skidpad section. A quick prod of the throttle will blast the rear tires free from the constraints of friction, creating a gluttonous, smoke-pouring drift. Driving a Rolls-Royce, even one that isn't yours, gives you a glimpse into the life of the 1%. Powering a Rolls-Royce out of a turn, swinging the back end around while feeling the tires melt beneath the mountain of torque, lets you gaze down on the 1% from the life of a fractional.
If you are more concerned with lap times than with smoke-filled gluttony, you can feed power in slowly, let the rear end hook up and power out onto the straight, while picking up the front end like an offshore racer. The Wraith will ultimately lap our figure-8 in 26.6 seconds. The Continental GT does the same lap 0.9 seconds quicker, again the all-wheel drive is a big advantage exiting turns. The Bentley won't ever present you with the option of drifting, however.
At the end of the day, we can try and compare the Wraith to other vehicles, or collections of other vehicles if that makes more sense. Ultimately, however, it stands alone. I have laid out the performance numbers to bare, but hopefully I have also given some insight into the feeling of the Wraith. From the inch-thick carpeting, to the immense slabs of wood that make up the door panels and then drifting up to the fiber-optic-equipped starry night headliner, nothing gives you the elegant experience of this Rolls-Royce. While Cadillac, Lexus, and the rest of the luxury pretenders throw stitching on every edge and corner of their interiors, Rolls has moved past that and is now leaving the busy, overworked look for simplicity and the beauty of uninterrupted shapes.
It seems almost counterintuitive to say about a $360,000 high-tech vehicle, but the pleasure comes from the simple act of driving it. It isn't simply the exclusivity endowed by the price, but the rarity of such a well-engineered vehicle that achieves world-class luxury with elegant athleticism.
2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith
6.6-liter V12 48v twin-turbo, direct injection
Max power 624 bhp at 5,600 rpm
Max torque 590 lb-ft at 1,500-5,500 rpm
Eight-speed automatic ZF transmission with Satellite Aided Transmission system
Four-piston calipers, 16.1" rotors f, single-piston, 15.8" r
Double-wishbone f, multi-link r, air springs, electronic variable damping, antiroll stabilization
Wheels & Tires
20x8.5" f, 20x9.5" r wheels, 255/45 R20 f, 285/40 R20 r Goodyear EfficientGrip RFT tires
Steel bodywork, alloy hood, composite trunk lid, coach doors
Starlight Headliner, natural grain leather, Canadel Paneling, wool carpets
12.5 @ 114.0 mph
155 mph (limited)
26.6 sec @ 0.72 (avg)
0.82 g (avg)