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Test Drive: Rolls-Royce Wraith

The most driver-focused car Rolls-Royce has ever built

by Evan Orensten in Design on 06 December 2013

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Our first look at the Wraith came last winter, and left us wanting to get behind the wheel. We recently had the chance to spend a day with it in and around Vienna, where we glided down scenic boulevards, sped on motorways and toured scenic country roads. The 2014 Wraith is a fastback coupe, and it’s the most powerful Rolls-Royce ever made, gracefully moving its 6,000 lbs to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

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The coupe to its four door sibling (the Ghost), the Wraith sports a handsome, anvil-like nose that’s raked back ever so slightly, giving it a more athletic lean. The rear is what really shakes things up, though. The cabin sweeps dramatically downward to the butt of the car in a way that was seen in the early 1950s Silver Dawn Coupe and on American muscle cars of the Sixties and Seventies, and it’s a design that works with the brick-shaped front end. That same styling may come as a disappointment to some, either because of its unusual look, or that it isn’t quite sporty enough. Perhaps it’s the severe contrast between what looks like the marriage of a hammer and an egg, but we think the Wraith is a beautiful, unique motorcar to behold.

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The interior is, as expected, opulent. Its leather the best money can buy, and you can have it colored and conditioned in virtually any way imaginable. It costs a little extra to get wild with bespoke leathers and woods, but if you’re shopping for a Rolls the additional cost probably isn’t much of a concern, and the opportunity to have it reflect your personal style is part of the brand’s appeal.

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In short, we were particularly drawn to two design elements in the Wraith. The first is the optional Starlight Headliner. It’s not the first time we’ve seen it, but it is the first time we’ve seen it cover such a large space. While some may consider it a little gimmicky or better fitted for a party bus with a pole, it really is one of the most brilliant things when seen at night—and quite chic at that. The interior glows with 1,340 fiber optic strands packed into the ceiling of the car—of course, the dazzling lights can be custom-tailored to whatever night sky or design you desire. Rolls-Royce will even meet with an astronomer to determine the starscape over your city on the night of your birth should you desire to commemorate your arrival into the world.

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We’re also particularly fond of the wood veneer and the door panels (which Rolls calls Canadel Panelling, inspired by the cove of Le Canadel beach in southern France, a favorite of Sir Henry Royce), which can be sourced from just about any tree on the planet—assuming it’s grown in a renewable forest—making up the largest single piece of veneer in any vehicle on the market. What’s most impressive is that the veneer is curved to fit into the door and the striations line up at a perfect 55-degree angle. Think about that for a second—when you bend a surface filled with parallel lines, they bunch together. The crafty woodworkers at the Goodwood, UK factory have found a way to bend the laws of nature to produce a perfectly-aligned interior finish that design nerds like us can get behind. And because the door panels (and every other wood surface in the interior) are perfectly bookmatched both have to be done flawlessly. One mistake and the pair has to be started from scratch. It’s something you’ll appreciate every time you open the door.

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The 2014 Wraith is the most powerful Rolls-Royce in the brand’s 110-year history, producing 616 horsepower from its twin-turbocharged 6.6-liter V12. Driving the Wraith leaves you wanting little more than to spend more time with it. A very fast car, especially for its weight, but in typical Rolls fashion, it doesn’t ever feel wild. There’s beasty power (and braking) on tap, but accelerating feels more like you’ve been scooped up by a wave and propelled forward rather than being thrown back into your seat. The optional "Wraith" package includes the 1,300 watt Bespoke Audio option, which ranks up there with the Mercedes-Benz Burmeister and Range-Rover Meridien systems, both of which we highly regard.

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Luxury is having what you want when you want it, and the Wraith fulfills that promise. Endlessly smooth and much more compelling behind the wheel than the sedans in the lineup—even its steering wheel is thicker than the signature pencil-thin one found in the Ghost, suggesting that this car is a little more about driving than being driven. For a nearly 6,000 lb car, handling is surprisingly flat (that’s a good thing). Though we wouldn’t call the Wraith a sports car—“Sport” is a relative term for Rolls-Royce—it absolutely qualifies as one of the world’s most exquisite GranTurismos.

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The 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith is a statement of unconventional, beautiful design and impeccable interior finishes. There’s no doubt that it’s powerful, as are all Rolls-Royces, but there are equal amounts of joy found in admiring the car as there are in driving it—maybe a first for the brand, as the Ghost and Phantom lineup tend to be better enjoyed from the rear seats. Most will consider it the first driver’s Rolls-Royce in a very long time, one that innovates in its luxurious appointments and customization and delivers a driving experience that sets it apart from others in its niche.

Visit Rolls-Royce for more information on the Wraith. While nicely kitted out with its $285,000 base price, features and customization can easily add another $50,000.

Night images courtesy of Rolls-Royce, all others by Evan Orensten

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