Despite its appearance, the new Rolls-Royce Wraith isn't a sports coupe because the British luxury automaker doesn't make sporty cars - they merely hint at it. Yet this initial introduction of the fastest and most powerful vehicle to ever emerge from the company's Goodwood facility in England contradicts the official Rolls-Royce message.
The four-passenger Wraith shares the platform of the Ghost. This means both are constructed on a heavily modified, mostly steel, unibody platform common with the BMW 7 Series. All its body panels are also pressed from steel, with the exception of an alloy hood and composite trunk.
The coupe is shorter in both length and height, its wheelbase has been reduced more than 7", but the Ghost's unique rear-hinged "coach doors" were retained, leaving brightly polished handles to match those on the flagship Phantom Coupe.
Even though the front fascia of the Ghost and Wraith appear similar in the rearview mirror, closer examination reveals the stainless grille on the new coupe is slightly more recessed, its air intakes larger and the signature Spirit of Ecstasy figurine is angled forward 5? - she's now leaning into the wind.
She'll have to hold on though, because Rolls-Royce massaged its familiar 6.6-liter V12 twin-turbo to produce 624hp at 5600rpm and 590 lb-ft at 1500-5500rpm. That's 61hp more than before.
The rear wheels remain powered through a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic, but it now operates under the guidance of an innovative Satellite Aided Transmission (SAT) program - an industry first.
The balance of the mechanicals, from brakes to suspension architecture, generally mirror the Ghost - the most significant being the air springs with electronic variable damping that provide the signature Rolls-Royce "magic carpet" ride.
A glance down at the tires confirms the coupe rides on slightly larger wheels (20" as standard, with 21" options).
The Wraith cabin is splendid. What isn't swathed in buttery natural grain leather is covered in new Canadel panelling - open grain wood that allows the natural texture to come through. Thick wool carpets rest underfoot, and nearly all of the primary switchgear is finished in brightly polished chrome.
Overhead, the automaker again offers its perforated leather Starlight Headliner with 1340 fiber optic lights individually hand-sewn into the roof. They provide a welcome glow and a novel experience. Everything within the cabin and carpet-lined trunk has been treated to the finest materials, with a Teflon-coated umbrella still found within each front quarter panel.
There is zero drama when the massive V12 fires. From the driver's seat it was hard to know it was even running, the lack of tachometer (replaced by a cool "power reserve" gauge) compounding the confusion.
A gentle foot on the throttle will motivate the coupe around town, yet without an audible soundtrack from the engine or mufflers. The powerplant only reports under heavy throttle, once the turbos spool, and it's a distant rumble thanks to a double firewall (although the exhaust remains silent).
Rolls-Royce quotes 0-60mph in just 4.4sec, which is an impressive feat for such a heavy vehicle, but the downside is it will send all champagne glasses flying into the footwells.
On its carefully modulated air suspension, Rolls-Royce consciously tuned the coupe to provide "a sense of adventure" for the driver. To accomplish this, the steering is heavier and more direct, while the air spring and damper settings are more dynamic than the Ghost. Even so, it remains softer than any other sports coupe available.
On the highway, it glides effortlessly over bumps and expansion joints, with the smooth V12 ensuring forward progress remains unaffected by hills, wind or calamity. However, the heavy two-door isn't happy in sharp canyons, where sudden directional changes evoke massive understeer and squeals of protest from the overworked tires. It never relinquishes its composure, but it does lose some of its finesse.
The new SAT transmission logic operates almost transparently. Unlike many of today's adaptive systems, that monitor driver inputs to control shift logic, the SAT system reads GPS map data to predict corners and straights. Using this information, the automatic transmission will hold gears or downshift into a corner to anticipate the need. Rolls-Royce didn't tune this for performance (don't expect neck-snapping shifts), but rather for smoothness since being in the proper gear allows the engine to pull confidently at all speeds.
Without question, the Wraith is more involving than the Ghost or Phantom, yet each of its primary controls felt calculatingly buffered to driving input. Accuracy isn't an issue: the vehicle is obedient to directions, but a high steering ratio translated to slow turn-in, and the brake pedal required a strong push before the calipers bit firmly. Even the throttle tip-in could be labeled leisurely. A motoring enthusiast would consider the coupe's feedback soft, but a gentleman would call it restrained.
On paper, and in photos, the Wraith appears to present itself as a powerful luxury sports coupe to rival the Bentley Continental GT. But even as the Rolls-Royce wins the horsepower battle, its performance plays second fiddle to its primary objective of isolating the occupants from the outside world. It drives with grace, dignity and a sense of nobility that is peerless in the segment, while nonchalantly hiding its copious potential.
The Wraith is a magnificent luxury coupe, but it can barely be understood without taking an extended drive. And in the exclusive world of Rolls-Royce, that's exactly how it should be.