You can read every sentence in every paragraph in every official release on the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith and nowhere does it call the new coupe the first ever sporting Rolls-Royce. The word "sport" and its derivatives are as welcome at Rolls-Royce as swear words on Sesame Street.
And yet when we went to the factory to drive the Wraith, the first thing Rolls-Royce let us do with it was fling it around the adjacent Goodwood racetrack. A Rolls-Royce on a racetrack? Mud bogging in a Ferrari would feel no more strange.
More Than a Two-Door Ghost
Clearly Rolls-Royce was always going to do more with its heavily adapted BMW 7 Series platform than churn out four-door limousines. This coupe was as inevitable as is the convertible that will follow it.
But Rolls-Royce could have simply draped a sleeker shape over the Ghost and left the engineering unchanged. To its credit, however, Rolls has instead gone through the car from end to end so that while the car's appearance from the windscreen forward makes no apology for its Ghostly origins, its character, feel and behavior are distinctly different.
Headline hunters will be drawn to the 6.6-liter V12 engine and its massive 624 horsepower, a number that exceeds even the Ghost by some 61 hp along with a small improvement in torque, too. But that overlooks a far more significant modification from the Ghost sedan: a 7-inch chop in the wheelbase. Simply moving the front and rear wheels that much closer together gives the Wraith a level of agility a standard Ghost would not recognize.
But Rolls didn't stop there. The steering has not only been reprogrammed to give it a weightier feel, it's also been given a quicker ratio as well. All the elements of the suspension that could be changed — spring, damper and roll-bar rates — have been revised, while the rear track is slightly wider, too.
Rolls has also persuaded the navigation system to strike up a conversation with the gearbox, so the transmission always knows what's coming on the road ahead. Encounter a situation where the gearbox would normally have upshifted, say at the end of a straight approaching a turn, and it will now hold the gear. It doesn't yet work in 3D, so it can't see hills approaching, but Rolls is working on it.
On Road and Track
Nosing the Wraith down the Goodwood pit lane, we're half expecting a man to leap out in front of the car and shout, "You can't drive a Rolls-Royce here." We're reminded of the stories from decades ago when Bentley launched its first Mulsanne Turbo at a racetrack in Hungary. Tales of it wallowing helpless from turn to turn have endured, but the Wraith makes no such mistake.
For a start, it's fast. Fast enough to hit 60 mph in 4.4 thunderous seconds. The engine with its revised output and exhaust system is louder at full throttle than any other Rolls we can recall. And yet it remains effectively silent at a constant cruise, something a Rolls must accomplish at all costs.
More interestingly, it doesn't fall over the moment you reach a corner, nor try to run away and hide in an adjacent field. It's a long way short of calling it agile, but it is composed, reasonably accurate and, yes, almost fun. It's like watching a bear dance: The extraordinary thing is not the skill of the dance, but the fact that it's happening at all.
Out of the road the Wraith still feels vast, particularly on the narrow lanes of southern England. It may be shorter and lower than a Ghost, but this two-door coupe is still larger in all three dimensions than BMW's long-wheelbase 7 Series. Even so, the shorter wheelbase is welcome here, as is the perceived extra precision of the steering. But you still can't go steaming into blind corners with any confidence that it won't always use more than its fair share of road at the exit.
What you can do everywhere is feel how the ride has changed. This is still a mightily comfortable car in which to travel, but that magic Rolls-Royce glide is now minutely interrupted by small road imperfections you don't feel in a Ghost, let alone a Phantom.
Familiar Feel Inside
The interior is instantly familiar to anyone who's so much as peered inside a Ghost. The architecture from the B-pillar forward is unchanged, save for a slightly smaller, thicker wheel and the latest update to BMW's generic infotainment system. But it's still beautiful, especially if you choose what Rolls pretentiously calls Canadel panelling, after the French beach spot where Sir Henry Royce used to spend the winters.
The open pore wood is meant to evoke images of the interior of a classic yacht, and it genuinely does the job. It helps that there's space, too. A 6-footer can sit behind a 6-footer without a problem. Rolls claims the Wraith has more rear seat space than you'll find in the back of an Aston Martin Rapide or a Ferrari FF, and it feels like it.
The First Hybrid Rolls-Royce
It may not have two engines, but what the Wraith does have is two distinct roles. On the one hand it must appeal to a younger, more dynamic clientele than would ever typically consider a Rolls-Royce. To do that it must feel quicker, more entertaining and, yes, sporting. But it must also be a Rolls-Royce, a car in which comfort, quality and refinement aren't just at the top of the priority list, they are the priority list.
Just because Rolls-Royce doesn't use the word "sporting" to describe the Wraith doesn't mean this is not a sporting Rolls-Royce. It just means it's not called a sporting Rolls-Royce. And the most remarkable thing about the Wraith is the fact that it can be legitimately described as such.
Before driving the Wraith we feared it might prove to be the ultimate contradiction in terms, a Rolls that perverted the spirit of the brand in pursuit of an entirely pointless objective. It doesn't. The Wraith is both a true Rolls-Royce and a credibly sporting car.
|Year Make Model:||2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith 2dr Coupe RWD (6.6L 12cyl Turbo 8A)|
|Vehicle type:||RWD 2dr 4-passenger Coupe|
|Configuration:||Longitudinal, front engine, rear-wheel drive|
|Engine type:||Twin-turbocharged, direct-injected V12, gasoline|
|Valvetrain:||DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder|
|Compression ratio (x:1):||10.0|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):||624 @ 5,600|
|Torque (lb-ft @ rpm):||590 @ 1,500|
|Fuel type:||Premium unleaded (required)|
|Transmission type:||Eight-speed automatic|
|Transmission ratios (x:1):||1=4.714, 2= 3.143, 3= 2.106, 4= 1.667, 5= 1.285, 6= 1.000, 7= 0.839, 8= 0.667|
|Final-drive ratio (x:1):||2.813|
|Suspension, front:||Independent double wishbones, pneumatic springs|
|Suspension, rear:||Independent multilink, pneumatic springs|
|Steering type:||Speed-proportional power steering|
|Steering ratio (x:1):||19.1|
|Tire make and model:||Goodyear EMT|
|Tire type:||All-season front and rear|
|Tire size, front:||255/45R20|
|Tire size, rear:||285/40R20|
|Wheel size, front:||20-by-8.5 inches|
|Wheel size, rear:||20-by-9.5 inches|
|Brakes, front:||Ventilated disc|
|Brakes, rear:||Ventilated disc|
|0-60 mph, mfr. claim (sec.):||4.4|
|Fuel economy, mfr. est. (mpg):||15 combined/13 city/21 highway|
|Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.):||21.9|
|Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.):||5,380|
|Track, front (in.):||63.9|
|Track, rear (in.):||65.7|
|Turning circle (ft.):||41.7|
|Legroom, front (in.):||41.5|
|Legroom, rear (in.):||36.9|
|Headroom, front (in.):||39.4|
|Headroom, rear (in.):||37.0|
|Shoulder room, front (in.):||59.0|
|Shoulder room, rear (in.):||54.7|
|Trunk volume (cu-ft):||16.6|
|Payload, mfr. max claim (lbs.):||770|
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.