The Queen. Heads of state. Rock stars and swimming pools. FAB 1. So rich is the lore of Rolls-Royce that it's a motorcar company that needs little introduction. Seeing one on the roads might be a rare thing, but this iconic marque enjoys the highest of the highlife. It is the gold standard, the definition of luxury to which many aspire.
But at that lofty height Rolls-Royce is plagued with preconceptions. You might think that Rolls-Royce is boring or conservative, perhaps a car for the outdated gentry of yesteryear, resigned to history like the great houses of Downton Abbey.
The Wraith tries to challenge some of that. It's not the car you'll see chauffeur-driven with Lord Snooty in the backseat. It's a car that's markedly different to the Phantom (especially) and the Ghost (less so) it sits alongside. The Rolls-Royce Wraith is that motoring cliché: it's a driver's car, where the most important person is sat behind the wheel.
Rolls-Royce Wraith review: Devilish design
Nothing says more about the ambitions of the Wraith than its design. It's a small Rolls-Royce, if that isn't an oxymoron. By that we mean it's more compact than its high-flying cousins, taking a sporty coupé approach. There's a fusion of ideas, hanging onto a front that's classically monolithic, clinging to Ghost's grille, before morphing into a fastback, giving a sporty roof line. Those are lines are also reflected in Dawn, the latest model from Goodwood to join the pack.
Gaze from the front, or in your rear-view mirror, and there's the magnificence of Rolls-Royce bearing down on you, but when we pulled back the net curtains to casually peer out of the kitchen window, the Wraith has the profile of a muscle car.
In many ways that's decidedly un-Rolls-Royce, and in those cursory glances, we're reminded of a 70s Chevy SS or classic Ford Mustang. But there is no escaping the majesty, or no escaping the sporty poise either.
For some that might make the Wraith look like it's carrying a little steroid bloat. The side windows, perhaps, are a little small given the mass of car. But the muscly shoulders and the small flick on the top of the boot at the rear add to those lines matched with 20-inch wheels wearing low-profile tyres.
Luxury is all about striving for the best. Luxury is about being able to do away with compromise, because you don't have to. With the Wraith that means you get those sporty looks and sporty performance, but you don't have to sacrifice comfort or space. The boot opens to offer plenty of luggage stowage at 470 litres; you can slip two adults into the rear seats and they'll be as comfortable as they are on the sofa at home, if not more comfortable. There's only space for two, however, with the Wraith taking the prize for probably the biggest 2+2 on the road.
But the real showpiece of the Wraith design is the coach-style doors. More commonly known as suicide doors, they mean that the Wraith can spread its wings when you disembark, perhaps drawing more stares than anything else. But did you know they are power closing? Of course they are. Once your passenger has stepped out, you can press the dash button and the door will close itself.
The bonnet is fronted by Spirit of Ecstasy with the option to sheath the iconic figurine when you lock the car, now a standard feature across RR models. What you don't notice from the outside is how much the bonnet curves off toward the front. From the driver's seat you really notice it, with Spirit of Ecstasy a figurehead sitting proudly on the prow and about the only indication of where the front of the car is.
Rolls-Royce Wraith review: Interior charms
But for all the splendour of the the fusion exterior of the Wraith, it's the interior that potential owners (read everyone) will enjoy. It's here you can make your bespoke selections, choosing interior detailing, finishes and colours to make it uniquely yours. Want your Scottish clan embroidered on the seats? No problem. Want it in hot pink leather? Ney bother. Want it colour matched to your darling Pekingese? Stranger things have happened.
Beyond the limitless options for a custom interior, the Rolls-Royce Wraith carries a lot of charm. The present meets the past, bringing opulence without vulgarity. Some might think the deco-style dials and Spirit of Ecstasy detailing are a little chintzy, but once you're cosseted within those accommodating sporty seats, you'll find you're increasingly forgiving of those characters.
There's probably little point in telling you how high quality the interior the Wraith is: it comes with the territory and means we get to save on superlatives. What is more impressive is the charm that comes with it. You'll notice the steering wheel is big and round, as you'd expect from a Rolls-Royce. It's a world away from the flat-bottomed steering wheels some sports coupés offer (looking at you Audi RS7), and it preserves that heritage feeling.
But we like the way that once you set the steering wheel position, it powers itself up when you open the door, or returns to position once you're seated. It means the Wraith can keep form without losing function and we have to say we love the feeling of that perfect circle spinning through our hands coming out of sharp turns.
Then you have the controllers for the vents. There are no plastic dials here, just metal plungers to change the ventilation you're getting. Those old school charms meet the new, with a fibreoptic Starlight Headliner. This is a bespoke option (each made by hand) and you can control the brightness as you see fitting, bringing a lift to the interior. There's the option for a glass roof instead, a thoroughly modern option.
Continuing the theme of modernity is the huge display that sits in the middle of the dash. It's subtly covered when not in use, but when revealed it doesn't look out of place, the frontispiece in a wide range of tech treats. Adaptive active cruise control? Check. Night vision? Check. Cameras to give you all round vision? Check. Heads-up display? Check.
Yes, much of this stuff is coming from parent company BMW, and it's similar to the sort of technology you can opt into on most executive saloons, but the real point is the Wraith isn't lacking. It's not just about leather sourced from cattle free-roaming at high altitude in the Alps, or the mirrored precision of the wood grain, it's about not having to compromise.
The bespoke Rolls-Royce sound system is also very good. There's speakers spread throughout the cabin and it has the advantage of operating in a car that's already isolated from a lot of road noise. It links into the radio, as well as offering support for external devices and it sounds really good. There's the option to switch between "studio" or "theatre", the latter for more of a surround sound effect.
But within the wonderment of that sumptuous interior, there are two things that strike us. Firstly the Wraith clock. We're not huge fans of heritage clocks and from the VW Passat through to the Mercedes SLS AMG, we've seen these anachronisms. Yes, in the Wraith it matches the rest of the décor and it pulls off the heritage charm where others don't, but at night, it's a glowing disc and you can't see the hands, at all. Secondly, alongside the metals, leather and wood, the plastic of the indicator and wiper stalks feels slightly out of place.
Rolls-Royce Wraith review: Performance power
A push of the button starts the car with barely a whisper, staying true to Rolls-Royce's ideals of preserving silence. That's if you're in the car. Leave the door open and you'll be hit by the 6.6-litre V12 thrum.
You're rewarded with a silky smooth and quiet ride, which is exactly what you'd expect. Given the sporty stance, the Wraith will soak up plenty of bumps in the road, but offers adaptive suspension height to change the ride. It's wonderfully quiet, a place you can motor along, enjoying the peace and tranquillity.
But the Wraith isn't a ponderous wallowing beast. It might weigh the best part of 2.5 tonnes, but there's plenty of power under the bonnet and the body roll is well managed. Sure, it's not going to corner as spritely as sports cars costing (perhaps) as much, but hitting 60mph in 4.4 seconds, it's surprisingly fast.
That's part of what you're buying into in the Wraith. For the most part, there's stately elegance as it wafts along, but bury your foot into the wonderfully thick lambswool carpet (optional) and the Wraith lets the demon out of the cage. It's then that you'll hear the roar from the engine as you vanish over the horizon, powered by 624bhp.
There's a smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox and the Wraith skips up and down these gears almost without you noticing. There's power when you want it, but then the Wraith is predictive - it knows what's coming on the road thanks to the satellite assisted gearbox so it can be ready to respond. There's no sports mode and no paddle shifters, so if you really need speed, it's down to that pedal response.
There's something of a pause before the Wraith drops a couple of gears to deliver the explosion of power, so it's not as responsive as those models where you get to pre-arm it with a sports mode, or can manually switch down. There's the odd moment when the change down happens with a bit of a clunk, such as when breaking at lower speeds, but we love how it backs off the power a touch before switching up under acceleration. It keeps things smooth.
It's worth bearing in mind that this is rear-wheel drive only and while that fits with plenty of other sports cars, there will be many who say that it's begging for four-wheel drive to give additional purchase in all conditions.
From the driver's seat the visibility is pretty good, although we found the Starlight Headliner could be a distraction when glancing into the blindspot at night, but it can be dimmed or switched off. The wing mirrors are pretty big, so side visibility is good and we were also aided by the optional driver's aids.
This technology package delivers things like lane guidance: drift toward the line and feedback will vibrate and tell you to keep it on the straight and narrow. Then you have night vision. It's perhaps a bit of fun, unless you're somewhere really dark, but it picked out cars well enough and even showed us a bridge we couldn't see through the fog. There's also collision avoidance, giving a warning in the heads-up display when you're too close to the vehicle in front that's really effective. We also had it detecting pedestrians on a dark night.
But of all these technologies, we found ourselves enamoured most by the 360-degree camera system. With a car the size of the Wraith, parking is tough and you always want to be sure you're not going to bump anything. The system is the same as we've seen elsewhere - Audi for example - and it makes parking a pleasure with a real time top-down view of everything around your car. It'll be essential whether you're trying to parallel park outside Harrods, or squeeze into tight bays in the Aldi car park.
We approached the Rolls-Royce Wraith with a mixture of trepidation and heady excitement. Where the Phantom (especially) is "typically" Rolls-Royce, the Wraith takes some of Ghost's more modern look and pairs it with sporty coupé stylings. The result is remarkable and unique.
The Rolls-Royce Wraith isn't stuffy or boring, it's a surprising fusion of heritage and sporty performance. It delivers opulence, practicality and performance and it does so without compromise. Well, we say that, but the compromise is the starting price of around £200,000 and our review car was loaded with an additional £60,000 worth of extras.
There's also the small consideration of the mileage. Our model (over the 8000 miles it has done) has averaged about 18mpg. That's the cost of having that huge power plant. But for those who can justify spending as much on a car as they might a small property, that's probably of little concern.
Those more concerned about the environment may be wishing for some of that BMW i technology in the future.
But above all, the fact that Rolls-Royce is doing this worthy of praise. This is a unique car, delivering an experience that's extremely rare, to a few who can afford it. The motoring world would be a boring place if we never had anything to aspire to or dream about.