ROYAL OAK, Michigan – It took Bill Mitchell to bring together the world's two most exclusive and iconic automobile brands, Rolls-Royce and Ferrari. His 1963 Buick Riviera was designed to meld the instantly identifiable exotic luxury brands, one stately and the other sporty, into an upper-middle-class American personal luxury car.
It has taken BMW some sixteen years of Rolls-Royce ownership to create a personal luxury coupe of its own -- a kind of uber-Riviera. But the Rolls-Royce Wraith is balanced with far less Ferrari performance and mystique than with modernized British clubroom ambience. Had Automobile Magazine's founder, Anglophile David E. Davis, Jr., been around for the Wraith coupe, he would have donned an elbow-patched tweed jacket over a Tattersall vest, just to go for a drive, whether alone or not.
Rolls-Royces and Ferraris are the least-loaned cars to magazine press fleets, and so the current Automobile staff had far less experience behind the wheel, or even being chauffeured in Rollers, than did Davis. Then this summer, we had five days and four nights with a Red Velvet Sparkle 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith.
"The battle going on inside of me when I'm driving the Wraith is; is it un-Rolls-Royce to take my shoes off and rub my feet in this sheepskin carpet?" road test editor Chris Nelson asks. "I decided yes."
The rest of the staff will be eternally grateful.
"Some cars are just worth waking up early for," videographer Sandon Voelker adds. "The 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith certainly falls into that category. I got myself up and out of the house at 4 a.m. Before pulling out of my driveway, I flipped on the night vision system to see a deer munching on some flowers about twenty yards in front of me. It's not a head-up display, but it's nice to check periodically."
"There's no massaging feature, no cooled, perforated seats in this car," Todd Lassa counters. "Donna and I didn't miss the sunroof, however, because we had the constellation headliner instead. The pinhole lights remind me of the ceiling of the Avalon movie theater in Milwaukee. This car is all theater."
It's a passion play for deputy editor Joe DeMatio, who gave his 80-year-old neighbor, Claire, and her boyfriend, Carl, a freeway ride.
"I accelerated, effortlessly, to about 130 mph, with both of them grinning like teenagers," DeMatio says. "When I pulled back into Claire's driveway, Carl, who was riding shotgun, ran his hand over the wood panel in the passenger's door and said, 'you know, this car is a contradiction. It looks and feels very old-fashioned, and yet it's actually very modern.'"
To which Joe responded: "Yes, and Rolls-Royce and its owner, BMW, worked very, very hard to achieve that."
The soft suspension under the heavy coupe didn't prompt Lassa to push hard on the better freeway ramps in Metro Detroit, though he experienced the 624 hp, 6.6-liter twin-turbo V-12's more than adequate performance.
"I needed a couple of full-throttle launches to get me out of the island parking lanes and onto Woodward Avenue, the body listing first to the right, then the left, but the Roller easily outran traffic. It felt rather unseemly for such a stately car," he says.
Voelker says the 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith handled the curves near Hell, Michigan, "with remarkable grip. The ride was supple, controlled and effortless. The steering is precise, but not sharp. It handles a bit like a fine sport yacht on glassy water. Turn in, let it find its edge, and hold the line through the corner. Roll on the throttle and the twin-turbo V-12 will surge this 5500-pound car forth like a freight train at full steam."
"You can feel the Wraith's weight, but especially under hard braking," Nelson says. "Those big brakes are essential, that's for sure. A car ahead of me stopped quickly on the highway, and I had to bury the brake pedal to stop the Wraith."
It really comes down to this: If you're fortunate enough to have 371 large for such a car, you don't buy it for the performance or for its ability to engage you as a driver. You buy it for its ability to coddle you, to remind you you're special, and for its presence. You will get the front valet spot at any restaurant.
"The two things that I will remember most about the Wraith," DeMatio says, "are the retracting and illuminated Flying Lady hood ornament and the optional starlight ceiling and its hundreds of individual LED lamps, which bathe the interior in the most ethereal glow. The effect is unlike anything I've ever seen in another passenger car."
One of these, and a Ferrari, is about all the average well-heeled enthusiast needs.
2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith Specifications
Price as tested$371,450
Engine6.6L twin-turbo V-12
Power624 hp @5600 rpm
Torque590 lb-ft @ 1500-5500 rpm
Cargo capacity16.6 cubic feet
Fuel Economy13/21 mpg (city/highway)
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