The 2016 Rolls-Royce Wraith is something of an outlier for the British luxury brand – it’s the Rolls you drive yourself, rather than enjoy from the more traditional perspective of the rear seat. Past that, however, it’s also a car that intends to make your time behind the wheel a bit more engaging than what your chauffeur would experience piloting the four-door Ghost sedan on which the Wraith is based. Either way, after driving this two-door behemoth in and around Montreal, there’s one thing I can state without reservation: regardless of where you’re sitting, being inside the Rolls-Royce Wraith is an event in and of itself.
It’s only natural that a car measuring 17 feet in length would have an impact on a crowd regardless of the badge, but the Wraith takes the ripple made by its mammoth size one step further by pinging the bling detector of every pedestrian and passerby within a 50-foot radius. Even those who really have no interest in anything automotive instinctively recognize that the Rolls-Royce Wraith is something special as it floats silently down the street like some fantastical steam-punk conveyance pulled directly from the mind of Terry Gilliam.
The Wraith is certainly a spectacle, but in an entirely different manner from any of the exotic sports cars that might be able to match its $300,000 starting price. While Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren captivate by way of their carbon fiber origami and outrageous exhaust notes,Rolls-Royce heads 180-degrees in the opposite direction. The Wraith’s stately presence is powerful without any associated histrionics, its enormous V12 engine as quiet as a nuclear submarine on full lock-down unless provoked by a stab at the throttle. Even then, only a hint of the massive 624 horsepower sitting under its hood can be detected, and solely due to the specific ministrations of Rolls-Royce’s engineering team, which wanted the Wraith to offer a more engaging aural character as compared to the Ghost.
The insulating effect of the Wraith’s design also informs all sensation of motion inside the cabin. Regardless of what speed I called down from the plush driver’s seat to its elegantly-appointed engine room, I couldn’t help but shake the impression that I was not driving so much as traveling, much in the same way one would ride in a powerful, private locomotive. The Rolls-Royce gathers itself and thrusts forward with a gathering confidence that feels limitless – and, indeed, a cursory examination of the speedometer out on the highway often revealed that I had broken the triple-digit barrier in perhaps the stealthiest manner possible.
All of this happens despite the SUV-like 5,500 pound curb weight of the 2016 Rolls-Royce Wraith, an eye-popping measure that is magicked away not just by the car’s 6.6-liter motor, but also its phenomenal air suspension system. Through most turns the Wraith tacks absolutely flat, its massive rectangular hood seeking corner exit like the needle on a magnificent bespoke compass, and only once you really start to hustle the enormous coupe do petty annoyances like center of gravity and momentum begin to inform the car’s dynamics.
Rolls-Royce might be targeting younger drivers uninterested in laying out so much cash for a car whose driving duties will be delegated, but the company is clear that the Wraith isn’t intended to serve as a sports coupe. Rather, consider this personal luxury to the nth degree, a landscape of hand-built leather, thick carpet, and simple, yet complete instrumentation and control surfaces (including a repurposing of BMW’s iDrive infotainment interface alongside the famed ‘Power Reserve’ dial that replaces the tachometer).
The Wraith is not a car for bouncing off the rev limiter on the back-stretch of Brand’s Hatch. It’s much better appreciated while cruising from the center of town to your hinterlands estate, the suspension system dialing out potholes capable of swallowing a Mitsubishi Mirage whole, the excellent stereo system clearly enunciating your favorite tunes across a perfectly deadened sound-stage, and the almost-invisible eight-speed automatic transmission using a GPS signal to quietly pre-shift for you so you don’t have to trouble your right knee when encountering a hill.
At the same time, Rolls-Royce has clearly built a vehicle that operates within its own, carefully-crafted ecosphere, a coupe that lives in a niche seldom breached by the vast majority of the world’s population. Remember that part of the Wraith’s appeal, from an outsider’s perspective, is trying to guess who exactly is riding along inside, and consequently attempting to place them on the socio-economic hierarchy that holds us all in its firm grip. Movie star or media baron? Tycoon or hip hop impresario?
Or how about cosmonaut? After all, the Wraith I drove was outfitted with an individually-stitched headliner illuminated by over 1,000 LED lights to replicate the breath-taking spread of the Milky Way galaxy in the night sky. The feature is certainly a fitting underscore to the Rolls-Royce experience, with the Wraith a coach-built rocket ship soaring so high above the aspirations of most drivers that it might as well be on a mission to Mars as it rolls on down the boulevard.