U.S.-bound Wraith is a Rolls like no other

Posted: November 10, 2013

The Rolls-Royce Wraith, which will debut in the United States in about a month, is quite a departure for the sedate, century-old British automaker.

Can you imagine a Rolls fastback coupe with 624 horsepower and a 0-to-60 time of 4.4 seconds?

Well, that's what we have here: a sporty Rolls-Royce, the fastest, most powerful car in the company's history.

The Wraith's performance and techniness remind one that the company is now owned by BMW. One of its features is a satellite-assisted automatic transmission that was developed by two BMW engineers in their spare time. The system essentially uses GPS to assess the driving conditions in the road ahead (even if they are around the bend) and select the best-suited gear for that situation.

Also unique are the raked doors, which open from the front.

"I love these suicide doors," I told Alex Innes, a Rolls designer. Innes winced and said: "We call them 'coach doors.' "

While much about the Wraith is freshly ploughed Rolls-Royce earth, the way it is built is pure Rolls tradition. That tradition includes a huge amount of handwork by craftsmen - craftsmen who hand-push the cards down a robot-free assembly line. It takes anywhere from 700 to 1,000 hours to build a Rolls-Royce.

"If it's heavily bespoke [custom-fitted], it can take six months," said Rolls spokesman Richard Carter.

Those "bespoke" features include standard options - and just about anything you want within reason.

And those extras add substantially to the cost of the Wraith, which is already extensively and exquisitely appointed at its base price of $284,900.

In the case of the vehicle I test-drove, the bespoke options had driven that starting tag up to $372,351.

Among the elements in the tester was a "Starlight Headliner" that consisted of 1,340 starlight points of light. That standard starlight headliner costs $12,925. For one customer, who wanted the stars in his headliner arrayed as they were on the day he was born in Dallas, the cost was a bit more. (Those astronomers don't work for nothing, you know.)

Indeed, Rolls customers keep the bespoke designers hopping. Family crests are big. Designer Innes said one client wanted leather on its floor instead of carpet.

Actually, you don't have to have esoteric bespoke custom work done to drop a bundle. In addition to the $12,925 heavenly headliner, there are items like a gold-plated "Spirit of Ecstasy" hood ornament ($9,100) and the two-tone paint job I found on the tester ($7,750).

With prices like that, Rolls manages to make ends meet even though it sold only 3,575 cars last year.

Those low sales actually serve the brand's exclusivity and business model. As spokesman Carter put it: "We don't chase sales; we chase money."

The delights of driving the new Wraith begin with getting behind the wheel and pressing the button that closes the suicide - or rather, coach - door.

After you get done gawking at the superbly crafted, leather- and veneer-dominated interior, you hit the button and bring that 6.6-liter, twin-turbo V-12 to life. Interestingly enough, Rolls has vested the Wraith with a very un-Rolls-like feature: an engine note. While the rest of the car is devoted to the Rolls-Royce code of silence, the engine makes a sporting sound when flogged.

And boy does it go. For this car, 100 miles an hour is a brisk walk. It doesn't feel like a 583-pound car when you get on the gas - and it doesn't feel like a 2.7-ton automobile when you get on a windy back road and push it.

Remarkably, that unexpected agility comes with the expected Rolls ride.

I hated to have to leave through that suicide - I mean, coach - door.


EXCELLENT

2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith

Base price: $284,900.

As tested: $372,351.

Standard equipment: 6.6-liter engine, satellite-assisted 8-speed automatic transmission, rear drive, and an amenity list including all things bright and beautiful, including doors that close at the press of a button.

Options: Must-haves like a Starlight Headliner and lambs-wool floor mats.

Fuel economy:

13 city and

21 highway.

Handling: Adroit.

Engine performance: Superb.

Styling: Sporty, hence a Rolls oxymoron.

Warranty: 4 years, unlimited mileage bumper-to- bumper.

The Ben Key: four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.


alhaasauto@aol.com

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