Review: The Rolls-Royce Wraith - a free spirit

Powerful and seductive, the Wraith is a big, bold offering from Rolls-Royce with a handsome price tag to match, writes Mark Sharp

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 6:37pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 11:06am

You could probably buy a Rolls-Royce with the money the luxury car manufacturer splashed out on its lavish promotional video for the Wraith.

It's a dark, stormy night. The stately chariot breezes through a misty forest, a dashing gent at the wheel. A pretty young woman, dripping with diamonds, rushes through the gates of a mansion to greet him.

Then, in a nod to Yuen Woo-ping's choreography in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the frame freezes. The camera pans the static scene: water sprayed up from the wheels, the woman's hair and dress arrested in mid-air.

Returning to action, the driver roars off into the night, choosing to be alone with his Wraith.

So, what does this say about Rolls-Royce's latest model?

The company defines the Wraith as "a spirit that will not be tethered" - which is not quite what you'll read in the Oxford English Dictionary. Rolls-Royce is referring to the fact that it's the most powerful car the company has ever produced.

Watch: SCMP takes the luxurious Rolls-Royce Wraith to the streets of Hong Kong

Wraith is a revival of a Rolls-Royce name first designated in 1938. Like its ancestor, today's Wraith is intended to be purely a driver's car - no chauffeur required. Unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show a year ago, it is essentially the Ghost sedan reimagined as a coupé with an infinitely more dynamic profile. The roofline sweeps at an elegant angle down to the boot, inspired by 1930s-era cars.

The grille, meanwhile, is distinctively set back by about 4cm. Rolls-Royce's hallmark Spirit of Ecstasy on the bonnet apparently arches further forward by four degrees, as if to brace for the added power, but that's barely noticeable.

Under the bonnet, the four-seat grand tourer has a 6.6-litre, V12 twin- turbocharged engine. This generates 624 brake horsepower and 800 Newton metres of torque, available at just 1,500rpm.

That comes in handy, as the Wraith is hardly waif-like. While it's the smallest Roller in the stable, it still tips the scales at 2,369kg. It may be in part why this V12 makes the zero to 100km/h sprint in a relatively modest 4.6 seconds, and its top speed is limited at 250km/h. But it's not meant to be a sports car.

In fact, everything about the Wraith is big and bold - including the HK$5.9 million price tag. It has wide doors, sturdy but yielding front seats fit for a king, 20-inch wheels, the fireplace grille. Even the steering wheel seems unnecessarily oversized. Then there's the 470 litres of boot space.

Size, however, doesn't necessarily matter. The legendary British marque is synonymous with luxury, first and foremost. The Wraith is a five-star status symbol boasting that you have made it.

Inside, it's trimmed extensively in soft, flawless leather. The test model has a burr walnut veneer dashboard, the wood wrapping continuously around the wide doors. The soft, fluffy fabric on the roof headliner is cashmere, while the shaggy carpets underfoot are as plush as the coat of a St Bernard's dog.

Otherwise, the cabin is relatively smart and simple. It's more classy than ostentatious, with features that add a vintage touch to the quintessentially 21st century Roller. Think circular chromed air-con vents, a needle-thin gear lever protruding from the wheel hub, and a modest analogue clock.

Typically quirky British touches also come into play: Rolls-Royce's wide-opening, rear-hinged "suicide doors" can be closed from inside with the press of a button. The soft-touch mechanism means you only have to give them a light push from outside and they close automatically on contact.

If James Bond had a Rolls-Royce, he would surely appreciate the pop-out Teflon-coated umbrellas embedded in the front fenders.

And if you want to feel like the ultimate culture vulture in your Wraith, then blare out classical music over the audio system, which includes 16 speakers and two floor-mounted sub-woofers. It's like having your own orchestra inside the car.

On the road, its size takes some getting used to: the body is 5.27 metres long and almost two metres wide. Reassuringly, it has a commanding seating position, and the trademark Spirit of Ecstasy also helps. You can line her up with the middle of your lane, as though looking through the sights of a gun.

For more hi-tech assistance, a 10.25-inch screen that appears from under a walnut panel when you press the start button offers access to the car's 360-degree camera system. Press a small chrome button and side-view cameras enable you to see if you can squeeze the Roller between those two dirty trucks on either side.

The Wraith is not as silent as Rolls-Royce's flagship Phantom, but it isn't made to be. You're not supposed to be inking a business deal and clinking champagne flutes in the back seats. It's a less smooth, livelier drive, as you put your foot down to feel the power, coaxing a roar out of the exhaust.

The Wraith is a five-star status symbol boasting that you’ve made it

That said, you still feel the company's signature "magic carpet ride" effect through the cushioned suspension, although a particularly deep pothole is felt.

The car is beautifully responsive, even while driving slowly in low gears. The accelerator needs only a soft touch to get it rolling. This may be helped by a feature that is new to the Wraith: satellite-aided transmission that uses GPS data to predict the optimum gear for the road conditions ahead. You need to be fairly heavy on the soft brakes, however, to bring the Wraith to a halt.

The steering is incredibly light, despite the Wraith's bulk. A sharp corner can be navigated effortlessly with a slight turn of the wheel using just a finger and thumb.

So what's not to like about this ultimate gentleman's car? Well, it's so huge that, until you get used to driving it, you may find yourself cringing on a narrow road as you pass another large vehicle, worried that you might scrape the sides.

And despite all the hype, it's not necessarily the most exciting expensive car to drive. Of course, that is not primarily why you buy a Rolls-Royce.

A surprise was the cheap red plastic standard BMW seat-belt buckles, but that may have been because it was a test model - not made for a particular gentleman.

Given the company's multiple bespoke choices when ordering a car, it's unlikely a buyer would tolerate such a lack of taste. Chrome-plated, please.

Which is the beauty of a Rolls-Royce: you are paying the price to own the ultimate status symbol of your success. There are many options for the wood inlay and leather, and you can opt for body paint matched to the colour of your dog or favourite wine.

If the cad in the ad had reined in his Wraith and popped open the door for the sparkling siren, he could have shared the experience of an especially romantic HK$326,000 option - the "starliner". This replicates the night sky, or particular features of the heavens, with 1,340 LEDs embedded in the roof headliner.

But romance alone obviously cannot tether a free spirit for too long.

Watch Mark Sharp unleash the Wraith at