2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith
Base Price: $284,900
Engine: 6.6L V12
Torque: 590 lb-ft
When I first got the invite to drive the Rolls-Royce Wraith out in Arizona, it was right after I had seen the venerable Sir Mix-a-Lot tweeting about his interest in the car. Naturally, I responded that I was driving one soon, and that I'd be happy to entertain questions. His response: "I'd love to know how it compares to the GT Speed." Besides the fact that he gets bonus points for proper punctuation on Twitter, I think he hit upon the same thing that everyone wants to know. We view Rolls and Bentley as rivals usually, but this comparison might actually be off base.
Sir Henry Royce, one of the company's founders once penned the words “Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it.” These words have more or less been adopted as a mantra by the company. The part of that quotation that is most relevant to the Wraith, however, is the end; the type of car that the Wraith is did not exist, and so Rolls-Royce designed it.
The designers and communications executives who were all present at the event were all emphatic that the Wraith is not a sports car, which is not something we're used to hearing when being told about a grand tourer. Usually we're fed pseudo-lies about how it offers the ride of the most luxurious of limousines and the power and handling characterists of track-bred supercars. Of course, that's all crap, since 'sport' and 'luxury' are, for the most part, the two extreme ends of a spectrum upon which cars are placed.
When first beholding and touching the Wraith, it's obviously a Rolls-Royce, but it has been steeped in a more contemporary and youthful style than its stablemates. The fastback design makes a bold statement, but the proportions keep it from turning into a weird English version of a '69 Mustang. It has an incredible presence, and it will garner the attention of everybody in the vicinity. One fat man on a tiny sportbike in a midriff top and some very, very, very low-rise jeans flipped us off, and another man at a stop light gave us a huge grin and two very emphatic thumbs up, so buyers had best be ready for finger-based communications from the general public.
The interior definitely eclipses the exterior, however. The satin-finished wood veneer that covers massive amounts of real estate is not only beautiful, but lovely to touch; the leather is, of course, perfect and buttery and impeccably stiched; and the carpets are superlative. Everything in a Rolls-Royce can be compared to other cars — you can at least compare the quality of the leather or the engine in a Rolls with a Bentley or a high-end Benz — but the inch-thick, lambs wool carpets are unlike anything else. If you're ever in a Rolls, take your shoes off, and know that the design team wants you to do the same, because it feels incredible. My only complaint regarding this stunning interior was simply that once I had opened the glove box, I really had to fight it to get the damn thing closed again. What's with that?
Of course, the Wraith isn't a piece of furniture, and you want to know how it drives, so we took it out along some of Scottsdale, Arizona's best highways for cruising to find out exactly what kind of car the Wraith is. It's not a sports car, despite its sportier qualities, it's a grand tourer primarily. This is a car that would be perfect for long road trips, and would probably be an absolute mess on anything resembling a race track (though, it was caught testing on the 'ring). You can indeed have some fun in it, as evidenced by the little bit of oversteer I got coming out of one corner and the thrill of the sheer speed offered by the silk-smooth 624 hp 6.6L V12, but it will never grab you by the scruff and get your blood racing.
The Wraith is fast, but it feels relaxed and extremely composed, as evidenced by the nasty speeding tickets that were given to some of the journalists at the event. The steering, likewise, communicates just enough for the driver to know what's going on, and gives more feedback the faster the car is moving, but it never makes you really wrestle the car at all.
This focus on pure luxury and a dignified, rather than exciting, driver's experience makes the Wraith markedly different from the cars like the GT Speed that its being compared to. It's not a luxurious sports car, it's a rakish and driver-oriented take on the exquisite luxury experience that Rolls-Royce is already known for, and the auto industry is better for it because it's fulfilling the third part of Sir Royce's maxim.
Rolls-Royce is not trying to compare itself to the rest of the world, but it's also trying to avoid doing something different out of a desire to be distinct. Marcus Aurelius once said, "the object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane," and I think the Wraith embodies this perfectly. It's unlike anything else in the world, and it is not the work of the insane; that's what brilliance is.
So, Sir Mix-a-Lot, if you're wanting an awesome car to drive in a most dignified and stylish manner when you're not burning rubber in the McLaren, get a Wraith. If you want to have paddle shifters, get the Bentley.