A Roller that bites
Wednesday 6 November 2013 16:33
After the Phantom and the Ghost comes the Wraith in Rolls Royce’s drive to remain relevant to the global jet-set, says Josh Sims
The name is perhaps the first indication of the gap Rolls Royce is seeking to fill in its portfolio with the Wraith, the company’s latest step - after the Phantom and the Ghost - in its renaissance under BMW ownership from ‘Downton Abbey’ threatened irrelevance to contemporary super-brand. It is named after the company’s two-door sports model - yet one with serious coachwork - of 1938. “And certainly the Wraith is following in that heritage,” says Giles Taylor, Rolls Royce’s design director. “The name was actually decided on not long before its launch, but perhaps ‘Wraith’ was always destined to end up on this creation.
It’s a very fast, very comfortable, two-door, true four-seat fastback - which hasn’t been done before. It really is a new kind of car for Rolls Royce, but relevant to our customer.”
That’s a customer who is younger, sportier, more style-conscious, who’s after a more ‘feel it in the pit of the stomach’ driving experience but without losing Rolls Royce’s celebrated ‘waftability’ - “the power to give great, effortless pace, but also silence in the cabin and a distinctive cushioning,” as Taylor describes it. “A car like the Wraith is all about capturing modernity in a timeless way, without wishing to sound contradictory. It’s what Chanel does in fashion. It’s now but it’s also classic. I’d go so far as to to say it’s my favourite of the new generation of Rolls Royces - it just has ‘it’, that sense of glamour.”
Certainly the Wraith’s stats are impressive: a 624 bhp twin turbo V12 giving 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds, making it Rolls Royce’s most powerful drive-train to date.
So too the tech: the debut for Rolls Royce of SAT or Satellite Aided Transmission, for example, which processes GPS data to predict the driver’s next move and automatically select the right gear for the road ahead, thus avoiding unnecessary gear changes and giving smoothness of ride. Navigation is voice-activated and can be app-controlled from a smartphone. Speaking of which, it also has an iBrake, a radar/camera-based system that assists in emergency stops.
But the Wraith is no ‘gentleman’s club on wheels’, as Rolls Royces have often been described, though gentlemen may still apply for ownership. Indeed, Taylor doesn’t go so far as to recommend string-backed driving gloves, pipe and cravat, but he does rather reckon his new design is “very much suggestive of the gentleman’s gran tourismo, of the classic GT era of the 50s and 60s, which is perhaps a rather romantic idea, but it does seem just right for getting from Mayfair to Monaco and allowing you to turn up looking the part.”
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Of course, passing through Mayfair one would be hard not to at least see some connection between the Wraith and a gentleman’s club after all - and that is both the refinement of the Garrick variety and the sexiness of the Raymond Revuebar kind. Certainly the Wraith’s interior is not short of leather, although the company prefers the comparison of a luxury yacht than an old Chesterfield sofa. And Taylor is enthused by the large door panel in one-piece wood veneer - specifically Rolls Royce’s new open grain wood treatment, Canadel panelling - the largest of its kind in the industry, he suggests. Even the grain is angled to give a sense of forward momentum.
Such details are to be expected, both from Rolls Royce and at Rolls Royce prices. More important, for the Wraith and what it represents at least, is that sleek, almost aggressive exterior, which took some inspiration from Taylor favourite classics the likes of the Maserati A6G, Maserati Ghibli, Aston Martin DB4 and DB5. The Wraith is shorter and 50mm lower than the Ghost, enough that the driver feels closer to the ground - although while any other car design looking to suggest speed would reflect light from the under-carriage to further suggest a car hunkering down, the Wraith, Taylor notes, sits up.
It floats rather than prowls. The grill looks like a real air intake too - because it is - “and not a decorative touch, which is true for other Rolls Royces,” he adds. The car’s upper and lower halves being in different tones gives it a nautical effect, one emphasised by frameless coach-doors and the lack of a B-pillar (which can make for an exhilarating ride all windows down).
And, perhaps most strikingly - and certainly what gets its designer most animated - is the Wraith’s one strong, unbroken line bisecting an already sleek silhouette.
“It has a sense of clean architectural surface language,” as Taylor puts it in designer-speak, meaning, in short, that the whole look hangs together with a minimum of fuss to distract the eye. “Look at the side of the car and there’s a very strong sense of linearity to it - which was actually a real challenge. There’s nothing extraneous.
The Wraith is definitely a very modern but crafted contemporary piece of design of the kind that Rolls Royce customers are looking into. As a company we now stand for nicely modern cars - but we can go another step without starting to lose out to the fashion-consciousness there is in car design now.” Taylor is presumably working on taking that next step now. But he isn’t saying in which direction he’s pointing or how big a stride
he may take