SCOTTSDALE, AZ – Reaching below the side-view mirror for the door handle, it becomes readily apparent that a ride in the new Rolls-Royce Wraith will be unconventional.
Its two doors hinged at the rear swing wide – wide enough to be nearly perpendicular to the wheels and wide enough for a big man the size of Tony Soprano to climb in comfortably.
From the driver’s seat, even Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t reach the door handle to pull it closed, so there’s a button near the base of the A-pillar to let a motor do it instead.
The sooner the door closes, the sooner the outside world drifts away, no matter how loud the broken-down pickup truck with half an exhaust system that creeps up beside you at the stoplight.
No matter how long the traffic jam due to a jackknifed manure spreader up the road, the Wraith interior will be a den of solitude.
More than any other feature, the cabin is what truly sets apart the Wraith.
Any Rodeo Drive pedestrian or auto show visitor can ogle the sheet metal of a Rolls-Royce and marvel at the gyroscopic wheel hubs that keep the “RR” logo always upright.
But getting a chance to caress the lambs’ wool floormats or the high-altitude Bavarian cowhide or recline under a man-made galaxy of stars – or better yet, slide behind the wheel of this car that stickers for $359,150 – well, that takes more than good luck.
It’s beyond ironic that a person on a journalist’s salary gets to spend a few hours driving this 624-hp British beauty and – even crazier – to pass judgment on it.
What a country.
Far and away, the most astounding feature of the new Wraith interior is the matte-finish Canadel paneling, made of Brazilian rosewood and named for the cove in France where Henry Royce once vacationed.
The grain of the rosewood is canted rearward at 55 degrees and flows continuously through the four door-trim panels all the way back to a point of convergence perfectly centered between the two rear seats.
At that point, the occupant realizes the grain on either side of the chevron is identical.
This mirror-image design theme carries forward atop the consoles between both the front and rear seats, establishing a visual center right along the driveshaft tunnel. It’s like staring down along the peaks of the Appalachian Trail.
At night, you can do this under the soft illumination of the Starlight Headliner, which uses five LED modules concealed in the roof feeding 1,340 fiber-optic lamps that shine through a random pattern of holes perforated in the leather over head.
The feature is becoming popular for Rolls-Royce, and no two Starlight Headliners have the same twinkling array. Some customers have requested patterns of their astrological signs or to replicate the sky at the precise moment and place of their birth.
Ever wonder what Rolls-Royce executives mean when they talk about “bespoke” customization? It’s that.
Another good example is a customer who owns lots of land asking the auto maker to make veneer from one of his favorite trees and to apply it liberally throughout the cabin.
That explains why customers wait between three months and a year for their cars.
But enough about the soothing interior.
The 6.6L twin-turbocharged V-12 deserves a shoutout for its ability to take this 5,380-lb. (2,440-kg) fastback to 60 mph (97 km/h) in a randy 4.4 seconds, floating over every road surface as if barely making contact.
Eight-speed automatic transmissions are becoming common, but the Wraith’s (sourced from) uses GPS to predict undulating terrain and curves and to shift gears accordingly, and nearly imperceptibly.
Rolls product specialists declare matter-of-factly the Satellite-Aided Transmission will always be in the right gear, no matter what.
Want to shift gears on your own instead? Sorry, you’ll have to buy a Bentley or look down-market at, Mercedes or Audi.
Not all the Wraith’s first impressions are positive.
Fit-and-finish problems mar the experience, such as the wobbly radio volume knob and poorly aligned joint between leather and carpet next to the front passenger’s left knee.
And a surprising array of black plastic switchgear, A-pillar air vents and other interior trim seems out of place in a car for the rich and famous. And how can this clientele accept a car without cooled seats? They’re optional.
On the safety front, the side mirrors are oversized and too tall, to the point of seriously blocking the driver’s sightline, particularly out the passenger side.
But the Wraith is just what Rolls-Royce needs to muss up its stodgy hair and cater to a younger breed of entrepreneurs.
The first cars delivered from the Goodwood plant in the U.K. started arriving a few weeks ago, and the Wraith is sold out in the U.S. through May.
The automaker isn’t saying how many deposits have been received, but that the car likely will boost the brand beyond last year’s global record of 3,575 deliveries.
The Wraith slots in between two 4-door “saloons,” the entry-level Ghost and flagship Phantom and benefits from considerable content from, which has owned Rolls-Royce since 1998.
The architecture is unique to Rolls (shared with the Ghost), but the engine block comes from BMW, as do most of the electronics, such as the navigation system, modified iDrive controller and lots of wiring harnesses invisible to occupants.
What’s not invisible to the consumer is an interior painstakingly composed of precious materials, such as 45 layers of veneer and a piano-black finish on the instrument panel that is so shiny, the front passenger really doesn’t need a vanity mirror, but gets one anyway.
|Vehicle type||Two-door, 4-passenger, rear-wheel-drive luxury gran turismo|
|Engine||6.6L twin-turbo DOHC, direct-injection V-12; aluminum block/heads|
|Power (SAEnet)||624 hp @ 5,600 rpm|
|Torque||590 lb.-ft. (800 Nm) @ 1,500-5,500 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||89 x 88.3|
|Transmission||8-speed Satellite-Aided Automatic|
|Wheelbase||122.5 ins. (3,112 mm)|
|Overall length||207.9 ins. (5,281 mm)|
|Overall width||76.7 ins. (1,947 mm)|
|Overall height||59.3 ins. (1,507 mm)|
|Curb weight||5,380 lbs. (2,440 kg)|
|Base price||$284,900 ($359,150 as tested)|
|Fuel economy||13/21 mpg (18-11.1 L/100 km)|
|Canadel paneling spectacular||Leather/carpet joint sloppy|
|Starry, starry night, all day long||Too much interior plastic|
|GPS-aided 8-speed auto||There’s the matter of price|