BMWBLOG heads over to Scottsdale, AZ to test drive the all-new 2014 Rolls Royce Wraith.
Somewhere east of Apache Junction, AZ – One hundred or so miles have gone past in silence and luxurious comfort in the passenger’s seat, but it was time to switch places and take the wheel for the remaining one hundred or so miles. Pulling into a picnic site on Roosevelt Lake, the big Rolls Royce Wraith glides to a stop. And a few minutes later, it’s off again, heading south on Arizona 188.
Why the Wraith moniker?
The noun “wraith” has Scottish origins and means ghost or spectre. Rolls-Royce uses spectral names for their cars, as much to suggest that while their presence is in the corporeal world they are, nevertheless, not of the world. Rather they are above the world – on another plane. And in an amongst the Ghosts, Phantoms, and Seraphs, now comes the Wraith. The Wraith is visually distinctive – a slightly more sinister Ghost. The Wraith features a shorter wheelbase, modified grille, more power, and a bit more aural feedback when the accelerator is pressed than the Ghost, on which it is based. The Wraith is a two plus two, fully luxurious, and remarkably capable, Grand Touring car. And I was about to find that out heading south on Arizona 188.
The Almighty V12 Under The Hood
The Rolls Royce Wraith is a big car. At 5,380 pounds on a 122.5 inch wheelbase, the Wraith is 1,000 pounds heavier with a ten inch longer wheelbase than a BMW 650i. Taking the wheel and pulling away from the picnic site, it became apparent that the Wraith was going to deliver an engaging driving experience. No, it wasn’t race car tingly, but the Wraith delivered good feedback through the steering and great control and comfort from its intelligent air suspension. The suspension of the Wraith is the best I’ve experienced – it felt planted and poised, never ponderous or punishing – the hallmarks of an ultra-luxurious Grand Touring car.
Prodding the accelerator to get underway on AZ 188 the Wraith’s 6.6 liter twin-turbo V12, coupled to a very smart 8-speed automatic transmission, effortlessly propelled the car forward. In a pinch a driver can push the Wraith from a standstill to sixty miles per hour in just 4.4 seconds – but that power is more likely to be displayed in passing and merging situations. To that point the Wraith eschews a tachometer. In its place is a power reserve meter indicating how much power may be summoned.
The transmission’s shifts are seamless which results in stress free power delivery, it is as if there is one very elastic turbine powering the Wraith. The gearbox is further enhanced by the use of satellite (GPS) aided intelligence. The transmission software reads the drivers inputs, the terrain from the GPS information, and ensures that the appropriate gear is selected.
High-Class Surrounds You
The result is an effortless driving experience, silky smooth, never harsh, hurried, or hassling. The Rolls Royce Wraith is a joy to pilot. And it is a delight to ride in. The Wraith’s interior is finished to a fare-thee-well. One of the first things noticed is that the switchgear, buttons, vent pulls are all unique to Rolls-Royce. There is nothing outsourced – or parts binned. Everything is built from solid materials, there is no metallic foil on plastic. And everything, EVERYTHING, is finished. Placing a hand into the map pocket in the door panel revealed that the back of the pocket – which may be unfinished in some premium cars – is finished in leather which has been backed by a nicely tactile foam.
What appears to be glass, inserts in the door pulls and buttons on the central stack of the IP, are actually composite pieces built to resemble glass, since glass is prohibited from use in the interior by legislation in many markets. Yet they have taken the effort to impart a ‘bottle green’ look to the material when the edges are viewed – it is just like good glass. It is an example of how the artisans at Rolls-Royce approach their craft.
And this leads to a discussion of what can be specified by a customer for the car. Rolls-Royces are usually ‘commissioned’ – the customer works with the design department to create a one off vehicle, much in the same way as that customer would work with an architect to design and build a house.
Rolls-Royce design believes that it can build anything the customer wants – within the regulations imposed on motor vehicles. If the customer chooses the optional Starlight Headliner (a massively complex piece of kit utilizing optical fiber cables and four junction boxes to create a star field in the headliner) they may also want a specific constellation or zodiac sign to appear. Not a problem – it can be accomplished. If a customer wants a particular design in the wood veneer, it will be laser cut and inlaid by master craftsmen, again, not a problem. If a customer desires a particular color of leather, the hides – which are the best imaginable – are died to the customer’s specification, not a problem.
The customer may also specify exterior paint – which is always a multi-step process involving wet sanding of the surface between coats, no Rolls-Royce exhibits orange peel – and coachlines (commonly known as pin striping in the United States). Regardless of how specified, the Wraith can be configured to specifically fit a customer’s taste.
This all takes time, but the end result is a vehicle that is suited perfectly to the customer’s desires. The use of the word ‘custom’ in regards to automobiles has a slightly eccentric connotation in the United States and subsequently the English word, ‘bespoke’, is a better description of the end result. After design and build the customer obtains a car that is made to fit.
The History of Modern Rolls Royce
Rolls-Royce has been building cars for over 100 years. Henry Royce played a leading role in the engineering, while Charles Rolls was the visionary, connected entrepreneur, that established the mark in the few short years he had at the company. From the beginning the company has striven to be the best – as Royce stated the idea was to, “(t)ake the best that exists and make it better: when it does not exist design it.”
In the early 1930s Rolls-Royce purchased Bentley. In 1980, on the heels of problems within the aero-engine branch of Rolls-Royce, the British company Vickers purchased the motor vehicle segment of the company which then became Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. Unfortunately the marque suffered substantially under the stewardship of Vickers and in the late 1990s Rolls-Royce Motor Cars was put on the block.
Two companies bid on the Vickers owned Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, the Volkswagen group and BMW. The Bavarians had existing ties to Rolls-Royce through the sale of engines to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and joint work with Rolls-Royce PLC (the aeronautical company). And it appeared that BMW was the favored suitor for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, however Volkswagen tendered the higher bid.
In the announcement of the sale it was made apparent just what Volkswagen had purchased. VW, it turned out, had purchased the factory at Crewe and the right to build Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. But the fly in the ointment, for VW was that the rights to the Rolls-Royce name and logo were owned by Rolls-Royce PLC . And the rights to use the name and logo were purchased from Rolls-Royce PLC by BMW in a separate deal.
With BMW supplying engines for the existing Rolls-Royce model range, VW found itself in a difficult situation. VW and BMW eventually agreed to transfer the production of Rolls-Royce to BMW starting 2003 at a new manufacturing facility while VW retained Bentley and the factory at Crewe. BMW, now empowered to build Rolls-Royces, delivered its first Rolls-Royce to a customer one minute after midnight on 1 Jan 2003 – the very moment they were permitted to start doing so.
Excellence Once Again
And now – with the Wraith pulling into the hotel drive, it is apparent that BMW has preserved the heritage of Rolls-Royce in its newest model. The Wraith provides an unparalleled luxury grand touring experience. Cocooned in sumptuous surroundings, the driver and passenger make the leap from the corporeal to ethereal – in but not of this world.
Under the stewardship of BMW, the Rolls-Royce brand has returned to excellence. And the Wraith is the latest example from the company known the world over. Aimed at the spectacularly successful young entrepreneur, the Rolls-Royce Wraith will show that they have arrived – in luxurious style, speed, and substance.
See an extensive photo gallery of Rolls Royce Wraith