By Motoring Editor, Maarten Hoffmann
The Rolls-Royce Wraith black badge is a ground-breaking model for this most iconic of British vehicle manufacturers as, not only is it the most powerful Rolls ever produced, but it is aimed at a younger demographic, as the average age of a buyer is 43, apparently. Although the Sussex based company will not use the word supercar but prefer a debonair gentleman’s GT, this is a supercar and let there be no doubt about it.
Wraith is an old Scottish word meaning Ghost or Spirit and the first model appeared in 1938 supplied as a running chassis to independent coach-builders at a cost of £1,700. On today’s Wraith, that might get you a wheel.
The first thing you notice is the sheer size of it. It is huge of course at 5.2mts but it is the brooding presence that makes it seem even larger. The all-steel body is spot welded in 6394 places and then hand sanded to a perfect finish before endless layers of paint and lacquer are applied. The result is as beautiful as anything you will ever see on the road – apart from another Rolls, of course. It has a majestic quality that is as rare as hen’s teeth and, l am delighted to say, it has lost none of that unique Rolls appeal. The trademark ‘wafting’ quality is there in spades but the chassis has been retuned to offer flatter, more agile and responsive handling and that is just as well with a 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 brooding under the magnificent acre long bonnet, offering 624bhp and a 0-60mph time of 4.3 seconds. That would be impressive in a supercar but in a stately home weighting in at 2.4 tonnes, it is jaw-dropping remarkable.
Handling has never really been high on the list for Rolls as it was never really designed to be a driver’s car – until now. The Wraith is the most dynamic Rolls ever produced, never feels unsettled, never waivers from the selected course and affords the driver an imperious detachment as it is controlled with fingertip sensitivity, even under hard acceleration. If this car were female, you would certainly want to take her home to meet your Mother – and she would march you up the aisle at the barrel of a Purdy 12 gauge.
The eight-speed gearbox is seamless and has a clever little party trick. The car constantly monitors the Satnav and knows what’s coming up and selects the appropriate gear for the road, therefore the car is always in the right gear for the road ahead. The driver has little idea any of this is going on but it does avoid unnecessary kick down and ensures a smooth and linear progression. And whilst on the subject of progression, this is unlike any l have experienced. Having driven some of the world’s fastest cars, l am not unused to rapid acceleration but here, with 60mph coming in 4.3 seconds, it is not the speed so much but the manner in which it is reached. It clears its throat for a second off the line and then just charges forth with such smooth, demonic fury that had Lord Cardigan possessed a Wraith during the Charge of the Light Brigade, the 600 would off routed the Russians who would of fled the field in abject terror.
The interior is everything one would expect. The finest leather from cows kept in fields with no barbed wire lest it scars their hides, superb hand stitching, lambswool carpets so deep that if you drop a coin you might never find it again, and Canadel wood panelling that would not look out of place on a mega yacht or a stealth bomber.
The laughter came when my daughter tried to get into the car and remarked ‘Daddy, they have put the doors on backwards’.
Indeed they have but by design, of course, as you are faced with ‘suicide doors’ hinged to the rear that allow ladies to exit without flashing their knickers. The doors are huge but well weighted and can be closed with the touch of a button as it would be unseemly to have to close one’s own door.
As it shuts, it hides the button for the superbly secreted monogrammed umbrella that pops out of the front wing should it have the temerity to rain.
The dash is superb with the classic red tipped instrument needles, a power reserve button rather than a rev counter and a multi-function screen that can be hidden from view at the touch of a button. Then there is the starlight headliner. This certainly divides opinion with some thinking it cool and others horrified. I was certainly in the horrified camp but as the week drew on and l drove with it on and off, l started to realise that without it, the roof just looked a tad dull and with it on, you are in a mix of Arabian nights and Studio 54.
The dials are not really used as the head-up display works so very well and can tell you everything you need to know without taking your eyes off the road, including radio stations and all voice activated Satnav instructions. The bespoke sound system is particularly efficient and offers peerless sound quality.
The interior is sumptuous and unrivalled in its quality, materials and build quality. I have owned a couple of Rollers in my time and there is just something special about them. My first was a used Silver Shadow and it had an unerring knack of just making me feel special every time l drove it. There was a tingle of horror as l entered the cabin of the Wraith and spotted the rotary dial - please tell me they have not placed the gearbox on a vulgar knob? Thank goodness no, it is where it should be on the steering column and even the chrome pull rods are still there to open the air vents.
Here is a car that knows it is special and is determined to remain so. The rotary knob operates all the infotainment controls and far from vulgar, it is made of crystal cut glass and decorated with the Spirt of Ecstasy and operates with smooth precision. The 10.3in high def screen can be hidden by the touch of a button and even when using the Satnav, it can remain so as all instructions appear on the head-up display. The voice control system works brilliantly and the Bluetooth is a breeze to pair. Another party trick is that you can send your required destination to the car from your phone in advance, therefore saving time once you depart.
I read some reviewers who complain that there are no paddles to change gear manually and bemoan the lack of a rev counter, but these chaps need to return to reviewing Skodas as there is absolutely no need of such things. Why on earth would you want to change gear manually and a rev counter for what? The massive V12 hardly breaks a sweat under normal driving conditions and at 100mph, it is really only just waking up. There are vast amounts of power in reserve, at all times, and watching a rev counter is to miss the theatre of everything else going on. Driving the Wraith is an event not a chore.
The Wraith black badge is a triumph of engineering, a triumph of design and a resounding triumph in performance. It is rather expensive but then all the best things in life are and this is one of the very best things that you could possibly bring into your life and, once in, you will never want it to leave. I still have the marks of my tears when they took it away.