Polished Grace: 2014 Wraith Test Drive Review

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The Wraith is the new kid on the block with a 2013 introduction that makes it the freshest Rolls-Royce model since the Ghost debuted in 2010. Conceived as a two-door version of the Ghost, the Wraith’s designers went to great lengths to distinguish the two and give the coupé its own distinct character. That character, in a word, is robust.

Those of you up on your history will know that the Wraith was a Rolls-Royce car produced during 1938. Although that era was marked by financial tribulation, Rolls-Royce never forgot about the car it made briefly at that time, and decided to honor its origins with a modern day revival. While the 2014 Wraith has excited drivers with its poised sportback design, there are plenty of callbacks to that original 20th century model.

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But first, our context: we wanted to give you a local appraisal of the Wraith with details set right here in Raleigh. Plenty of articles and reviews will let you know what a vehicle is like in Malibu or Spain or New Hampshire, but there’s nothing that can replace the experience of a vehicle in your own city. For this particular drive we selected a 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith in English White with a Crème Light interior. Although many people favor a two-tone exterior color scheme, we found driving this all-white beauty—particularly on this cloudy morning—quite a pleasure.

From a design standpoint, the Wraith is a different direction for Rolls-Royce. Although it is related to the Ghost, the Wraith features a design full of signifiers about its agility. The inset Pantheon grille at the front, for example, is recessed deeply to communicate motion. The ever-present Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament is also angled forward a few degrees. But where the Wraith really sets itself apart is, surprisingly, the rear.

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Many auto makers invest a lot of energy in the front of the vehicle but struggle with how to resolve their design in the end. Rolls-Royce used the Ghost’s front as a platform, and then evolved the design more radically with every foot going backward. The door handle moves up to the front just beneath the side mirror, and swings open from the rear of the car. Passengers can thus enter in a distinctive fashion right off the bat, and use a motorized button to close the door.

Behind the front seats is an expansive rear bench that demonstrates Rolls-Royce’s principle that every passenger should be comfortable. In addition to being amply spaced for friends or just a weekend bag, access to the outside is easy thanks to the absence of a b-pillar, which is the steel support beam that separates windows in most cars. The rear windows can also retract, so access to fresh air and sunshine is excellent, no matter where you sit.

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The roofline stretches back all the way from the top of the windshield to the end of the rear trunk in a massive plane, and we think it is this element that makes the Wraith’s design so satisfying. Instead of trying to compromise features, Rolls-Royce solved them all with a simple solution: make the vehicle longer. By lengthening the roof, headroom for rear passengers is guaranteed, copious trunkspace is ensured, and somehow the proportions of the Wraith make sense, as well.

It’s this harmony of proportions that makes the Wraith such a successful design. In a platonic sense, a car must have wheels, doors, sides, a hood, a roof, etc. But to blend these elements in a way that is both functional, and aesthetically rational is a fiendishly elusive proposition, one that automakers have wrestled with for decades, and still confounds many today. The Wraith’s use of a stretched roof should go down as one of the most satisfying keys so far fashioned.

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From the outside, seeing the Wraith start up is fun. The head lamps flash in a burst of light—we’re used to hearing engines rev, but the light is a more restrained indicator of life. The Wraith has the Ghost’s twin-turbocharged V12 engine, but has been optimized to produce more power. The Wraith is also the first car in the world to change gears with the assistance of satellite-aided GPS, meaning that the car reads the road, and pre-shifts accordingly. This feature will eventually spread to the rest of the Rolls-Royce lineup, but for now it remains a singular pleasure for Wraith drivers.

Rolling up Capital Boulevard to I-540 West is quite simple in the Wraith. The steering wheel is thicker than the Ghost’s, and the seats offer a more fitted, bolstered grip. These details are meant to emphasize the more sporting nature of the coupé. The nature of the ride is still very much focused on comfort, however, with the electronically-controlled air suspension—a luxury feature that mitigates road imperfections—that has been dubbed “magic carpet ride.”

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On a Tuesday morning, we found little need to call upon the Wraith’s power, but we could always sense it lurking there, just beneath the surface. What we did take advantage of was the Head-Up Display, a futuristic projection of information on the windshield for the driver’s benefit. Whether showing our speed in white characters or the more elaborate turn-by-turn directions in color of our navigation system, the system showed crisp, elegant symbols such as turn arrows and road names that made driving safely an easier experience. We were very impressed with this forward-thinking technology and by how unobtrusive it was.

For anyone who has driven a Rolls-Royce or even a BMW before, the location of controls should be familiar—even unconscious—to your hand. The rotary controller for the display screen works ably, and now features a script surface so that you can draw characters with one finger without raising your hand. You can pinch or pull on the touchpad to control the screen, just like a mobile device, but the screen itself is not a touchscreen. This is a product in Rolls-Royce’s research into what makes the most efficient and safe user interface for drivers. Instead of tiring your arm by constantly raising toward a screen, it can rest comfortably where it belongs: near the wheel.

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In the cabin you will also recognize classic Rolls-Royce elements: protruding stainless-steel organ pulls to control the air vents; finger-sculpted piano keys on the doors to control the windows; luxurious lamb’s wool carpeting so soft that it begs for the removal of one’s shoes; slabs of book-matched, open grain wood paneling that takes teams of craftspeople to contour and orient to its proper 55-degree set; and supple, natural grain leather stitched by hand. The Wraith is eminently comfortable, and it is arguable as to which is more of a pleasure: to drive or be driven.

For our part, we were pleased to have the opportunity to have driven what is fast becoming one of the most luxurious and rare cars drivable on any continent today. We invite you to visit us and do the same whether you live in North Carolina, Virginia or Tennessee.

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Polished Grace: 2014 Wraith Test Drive Review was last modified: June 30th, 2015 by Rolls-Royce Raleigh

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