NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Imagine flooring the pedal of your Salamanca Blue Rolls-Royce Wraith while zipping through the scorched and severe environs of Scottsdale, Ariz.
That's the intense reality I recently experienced, but as I hit 130 mph on a particularly narrow stretch of road, I had to marvel at the ride's smoothness. That's the intention here despite the 590 lb-ft of torque –to achieve the "magic carpet ride" Rolls continuously promotes. No matter the power, it's not that hard to feel cushy with thick lambswool floormats by your feet (truth be told, I kicked off my Oxfords and drove discalced).
But don't expect drivers to open the suicide doors and head straight for the walker or cane. No, this is for a tech-savvy, monied whipper-snapper particularly in the U.S. (even if he wants mother of pearl inlays in his wood appliqués).
The Wraith, the newest V-12 coupé out of Goodwood, occupies a unique space in the ultra-luxury brand's repertoire, acting as much the part of sleek, sporty option within the arsenal of vehicles as it does an outreach mechanism to give Rolls a more youthful varnish.
"It's the gentleman's gran turismo," said Richard Carter, director of Global Communications at Rolls.
I'm no stranger to the concept.
As a nod to the car's motorsports feel, the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament is tilted 4 degrees forward as if preparing for speed. The cars that come two-toned (Silver Sand, say, to pair with your Salamanca Blue) accentuate the fastback silhouette and give the contours some movement as light bends around them. There is something Mustangian about the way the C-pillar wraps around toward the roof. In fact the body design harkens back to the American muscle car heritage: blink, and you might be driving a baller '69 Pontiac GTO.
The Wraith's doors are puckered just so in an aerodynamic convex Rolls refers to as a "waft zone."Whereas other Rollses flaunted the pantheon grill, the Wraith features a grill with an extended bevel ledge and angled veins to mimic the apertures of jet engines.
The steering wheel is smaller in diameter with the rim thicker, more graspable to play up the quick steering dynamics. In fact, the whole interior makes for a luxurious but sporty cockpit feel, accentuated by the tactile experience of the Canadel paneling, fine-grained wood mirroring the forest that encircled the French country home of company co-founder Henry Royce.
The Evolution: Fountain of Youth
Rolls sold 3,575 cars in 2012, a banner year for the company, and the Wraith is all part of the company's trajectory to expand. Carter said the Wraith is a step toward dispelling the misconception that a Rolls is just "a big Cadillac with a bunch of leather and wood."
The modern iteration of the Phantom –after the abysmal '80s and '90s during which the company made, as Carter put it, "bloody awful motorcars"—came with the 2003 Phantom. BMW had taken over the English luxury brand and followed with the extended wheelbase Phantom in 2006 fit for kings, queens and movie stars with acres of space in the back seat.
The 2008 Phantom was followed by the 2009 Ghost, which even at the height of the recession quadrupled the size of Rolls-Royce's business almost overnight. It was at a more approachable price-point of $250,000 for the entrepreneur (and attracted customers on average ten years younger than those of the Phantom), and the Ghost EWB came in 2011 to cater to clientele, particularly in China, who fancied lounging in the back seat as their chauffeur manned the wheel.
The Phantom Series II launched last year was merely a facelift for the $500,000 land yacht, but in this context, the Wraith is the big game changer.
A campaign Rolls is trying to promote is "permission to own," according to Oleg Satanovsky, a product manager at Rolls-Royce North America. The ultra wealthy always have the money to buy from the selection Rolls has to offer, but they may have anxiety about how they will be perceived by neighbors or colleagues.
The more approachable, more youthful Wraith can quell some of that discomfort by introducing more young customers to the brand at its $284,900 base price point.
Plus, the Satellite Aided Transmission (SAT) will appeal to tech geeks with money to burn; it uses GPS data to communicate directly with the gear box and shift accordingly based on approaching inclines and curves. This "smart" shifting, which adjusts based on a driver's style, is a prescient glance at the future of automotive efficiency in powertrain dynamics. Hence, the smooth 130 mph escapade.
Of course, not all the choices here were home runs. Rolls makes much ado about its LED lights that mirror the night sky (constellations can be customized, based on location and year of the heavens you desire—seriously, the company works with a planetarium). It's what Carter refers to as the company's "pièce de résistance," with 1,340 fiber-optic cables, hand-placed into the roof liner. On this one bit, I'd opt out. But whatever floats your Rolls.
--Written by Ross Kenneth Urken for MainStreet