2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith first drive review: A superhero’s what-to-drive

2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith

2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith

If England had a superhero, his shield would bear the Cross of St. George, he would be a descendant of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson himself, and most certainly he would drive a Rolls-Royce Wraith. And although his given name might be Giles Alistair Sebastian (Alfie) Chadwick-Thromble III, the world would know him as Captain Britannia.

The hardcore devotee would argue of course, but that’s what they do, and here’s what Wraith does. With a 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 engine making 624 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, with an eight-speed GPS-enhanced automatic transmission. With active suspension. With an interior swathed in wood, leather and chrome.  With 1930s-inspired contours and an attention of detail that borders on obsessive-compulsive. And more, to wit:

interior of the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith

The interior of the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith is a study in wood, leather and obsession. (click to enlarge)

The Rolls-Royce Wraith is one of three models in the “modern” Roll-Royce line, comprised of the equally cosseting Phantom and smaller Rolls-Royce Ghost sedan, with long wheelbase versions of each, and the fabulously nautical Phantom Drophead Coupe. And now the Wraith.

The Wraith breaks the mold. While the Phantom Drophead Coupe has, as its name indicates, a retractable fabric top, the Wraith has a true two-door hardtop coupe, with a rakish fastback roofline drawn with the same spirit as the Spitfire fighter of World War II. The contours and the spirit of the Wraith lend themselves to a two-tone paint treatment, dramatic in differing shades, more subtle in the navy/dark maroon of our test vehicle.

The doors have frameless windows and there is no B-pillar. With the windows up, the chrome trim around the windows minimizes the joining of the windows. Lower the windows and the flow of the sidelights is trebled.

2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith engine

The engine of the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith is a 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 powerhouse. (click to enlarge)

Rolls notes the evolution of the classic pantheon grille, changed from the traditional vertical to the Wraith’s, swept back even further than that of the Ghost, and further recessed than the Ghost’s by 1.8 inches, and likened by its maker to a jet turbine. Invoking the spirit of speed, the Rolls-Royce mascot, the Spirit of Ecstasy, leans five degrees further into the wind, mounted further forward on the hood. She still retracts in case of a collision, and can be set to remain in place or withdraw under the hood when the car is turned off, depending on whether she can be trusted out alone.

The door handles are at the leading edge of the doors, the doors rear-hinged in what most of the world would call “suicide” but Rolls refers to as “coach.” But by being hinged at the rear, the doors swing clear of the opening, making it easy to get in the front seats. It’s more difficult to get into the back seat, which in turn is less comfortable than the back seat of a sedan. But then this is a coupe.

2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith inner door panel

The 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith inner door panel wood for the rear-hinged door is the largest of the Rolls-Royce line. (click to enlarge)

The Wraith’s coach doors, however, swing too far rearward for an easy reach when seated, so Rolls powers the doors closed via buttons at the base of the A-pillar, two on the right for both doors and one on the right for the passenger door. And why not? Don’t minivans have power doors?

The Rolls-Royce Wraith’s doors close with the certitude of a bank vault. No doubt there’s a safety reverse somewhere, but considering the weight of the doors, we were reluctant to try. At least for safety sake, the car won’t move with the doors open, and heavy latches keep the doors closed at speed.

2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith profile

The 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith looks particularly sharp with the side windows lowered. (click to enlarge)

If windows lowered looks good from the outside, it’s better from inside, offering the openness of convertible with the protection of a steel roof. The Rolls-Royce Wraith is quiet at speed, with only ruffle on wind noise at the right-side mirror on our test car. Aerodynamics follows form with the Wraith. Wind noise actually increase little with the windows down versus up, and there is very little buffeting, even on the highway. For true quiet-as-a-Rolls-Royce driving, however, the windows must be up.