What's it like to use a £300,000 car in real-life? From parking stresses, to the gearbox that knows the open road ahead, we test the Rolls-Royce Wraith
- Our week-long test of the smallest Rolls-Royce in the range that's still as long as a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van
- With a 624bhp 6.6-litre V12 twin-turbocharged engine, the Wraith is the most powerful Roller you can buy today
- The baby of the Rolls-Royce range costs £235k as standard — same as a three-bed detached house in Manchester
- From being panic-stricken by width restrictions to gobsmacked by the GPS-linked gearbox, we test it on all roads
The Wraith is the smallest, most powerful and most affordable new Rolls-Royce of the moment, but with a price tag of £235,000 it needs to be staggeringly good to warrant the same financial outlay as a three-bed detached house in Manchester.
In reality, very few leave the factory without a lavishing of optional extras taking the total tally way above this already gob-smacking price – even our test car rings in at over £300,000 when you factor in all the kit it has.
We spent a week behind the wheel of the Wraith on a variety of roads to find out if using a Rolls-Royce as a daily driver is a bundle of joy or a stress-inducing burden and put it through our real-life test drive.
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Quarter of a million car: The Wraith is the least expensive model in the existing Rolls-Royce range, but even before you've added optional kit it costs £235k
What you need to know about the Rolls-Royce Wraith
On first reflection, the Wraith’s stats don’t seem to add up. While it’s the least expensive (I refuse to use the term ‘cheapest’) Rolls-Royce, the 624bhp produced by the V12 is more than any other model in the current range.
It’s also the smallest model the BMW-owned British carmaker currently sells.
Don’t get this wrong, it’s still almost the exact same length as a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, but it’s significantly shorter than the daddy of the Rolls-Royce range, the Phantom, and also more compact than the Ghost, which it happens to share a platform with.
All these factors tally up for one reason – the Wraith is like no other Rolls-Royce in the range, as it’s a car designed to be driven rather than driven in.
That's a bold move for a car brand synonymous with chauffeuring rather than driving, and an even bigger task to transform what is essentially an over-sized luxury cruise liner into a responsive GT car.
The fact is, there isn't anything else like it on the road. The closest you’ll get is the Mercedes-Benz AMG S65 Coupe, which is a £183,000 saloon converted to a fire-breathing sports car, though many have drawn comparisons with the 626bhp Bentley Continental GT Speed that costs £80,000 less than the Roller.
So can the Wraith fit the billing of a competent driver’s car despite its near 2.4-tonnes of unfuelled mass? We put it through its paces in town and on the open roads.
Parking problems: Parking in a tight underground car park proved difficult — the car was wider than some entry barriers
Mind the doors: The Wraith has the largest coach doors of any Rolls-Royce. They also close at the touch of a button
What's it like in town?
There’s a good reason why Rolls-Royce provides a chauffeur training scheme – manoeuvring even this smallest 'drivers' model in the range through a city centre takes a certain degree of skill.
To be honest, everyday driving situations sent me into a panic. For instance, that 6ft 6 width restriction directly outside my apartment in North London requires the nerve and judgement of a world class heart surgeon in a 6ft 4-wide Wraith.
I even had to take a passenger to access the underground car park I left the car in overnight because it wouldn't fit in the entry lane without inadvertently dislodging the wing mirrors – someone had to buzz into the ‘IN’ barrier and then open the wider ‘OUT’ gates to let me in every night.
Which brings me onto another worry factor – parking it. That’s because the visibility is pretty abysmal, even looking ahead. Without the Spirit of Ecstasy to guide you, it would be difficult to comprehend where the elongated bonnet actually comes to an end. A tiny rear window makes the rear visibility extremely limited too, though the car comes fully equipped with an advanced birds-eye view reversing camera to help you negotiate into empty spaces.
Town trauma: The Wraith is as long as a Mercedes Sprinter van, making negotiating around cities fairly stressful
Even on the roughest of road surfaces the air suspension soaks up all the imperfections
Then there’s the concerns about where you’re parking the car. I would estimate that almost 10 times out of 10 Wraith buyers either have a mile-long private driveway - or a gallery - to keep their pride and joy in, but ultimately there are going to be times when you’ll be leaving this £235,000 attention-magnet somewhere public.
You soon find yourself nervously checking other cars around you for door prangs and scratches. A cold sweat then hits you as you walk away from the car fearing you may have parked close enough to that pub for a stumbling local to collapse on top of it.
Again, these might not be concerns for an owner who can part with more than a quarter of a million quid for a car, but for a Joe Normal like me, these were all significant issues.
Fortunately, there are some positives for how the car performs in town. It’s smooth and hushed at low speeds, speed bumps will go almost undetected beneath you thanks to the pillowy-soft air suspension, the steering is light and manageable for a model with sporty ambitions and the exclusivity factor of trawling through a town in a Rolls-Royce means you tend to get the right of way from other drivers appreciating it.
Possibly the most useful feature is the cameras mounted on either side of the front bumper that can be activated at the push of a button to present a side view on your interior screen when pulling out of junctions – this sounds extreme, but you need it with a bonnet as long as this one.
For a car that weighs almost two and a half tonnes without any fuel, passengers or luggage, the Wraith handles adequately on twisty B-roads
GPS-aided transmission means the system knows how tight the next corner will be and change gear in preparation for it before you can even see it
The world is already your oyster if you're a Wraith owner: The interior is a fantastic place to be with beautiful materials and a navigation screen that can zoom out to show the entire globe
What's it like out-of-town?
This is where the Wraith should feel distinctly different to any other Roller, but having never driven a Phantom or Ghost, I won’t be making any comparisons.
So how does it compare to something more mainstream – and by mainstream, I mean a car from a manufacturer that doesn't sell around 4,000 cars globally each year.
The first surprise is the steering, but not necessarily in a good way. Despite the steering rack being faster than the Ghost (it turns from lock to lock in three rotations of the wheel compared to 3.2 in the Ghost) it lacks the precision and weight of a true sports car and even a responsive grand tourer.
Fully expecting the front end to turn in instantly at the first roundabout directly outside Rolls-Royce's Goodwood headquarters, I frantically had to work the enormous steering wheel through my hands to make the third exit, like a pirate spinning a ship whip wheel to perform a 180.
What is more impressive is the response of the suspension. It’s easy to think a pothole-smothering set-up in town would handle like a bouncy castle on wheels on faster roads, swaying from one side to the other, but it proves to be relatively well balanced. It certainly doesn't halt your speed on a tight twisty B-road, though the sheer size of the car does limit your cornering exuberance in fear that the bramble bush in close proximity to the kerb could mark the precision-polished paintwork.
Possibly the most interesting, and slightly disconcerting, thing is the automatic gearbox. That’s because the eight-speed transmission is GPS aided, meaning it detects the road you’re on, predicts the gear you’ll need for the next corner or incline and pre-selects it before you even get there. The transition from gear-to-gear when driving normally is undetectable and feels a little like a single-speed transmission.
What it means is perfectly smooth, judder-free gear changes that ensure the Wraith maintains its balance and composure at all times. Though mind-bogglingly clever, I’d argue it’s not always a brilliant thing. Sometimes you need the sensation of the chassis movement under gear changes to help you tackle a bend – you want the revs to climb and the nose to dip as the gearbox downshifts for a tight 90-degree turn.
Instead, it feels somewhat vague and consistently neutral so you feel like you have to make more effort with the steering wheel.
Powerful and hushed — the Wraith is at its best on a motorway but even at the speed limit it barely uses all its power
There's not much room in the back, but occupants up front are lavished in luxury. Our test car had the optional starlight headliner fitted
What's it like on the motorway?
This is where the Wraith makes the most sense.
The effortless refinement of the car stands out most when cruising at 70mph – you can whisper to your passengers at any speed and hold a totally audible conversation. I've driven electric cars that create more cabin noise than this 6.6-litre twin turbo V12, though it's all down to the masses of soundproofing rather than the quietness of the motor.
With an engine that size, acceleration is effortless too. Bury the hand-crafted throttle pedal into the lambs-wool carpet and the automatic gearbox drops a couple of cogs, the car pitches back onto the rear axle and the Wraith takes off with the Spirit of Ecstasy almost looking towards the clouds – that’s the effect of such a plush suspension setup.
Rolls-Royce says a Wraith travelling at the national motorway limit still has 90 per cent of its power left in reserve – just think about that for a second. The growl of the V12 soon becomes addictive, and you realise that 4.4 second 0-60mph claim is no fictional stat.
You might not want to do this too often, though. The 20.2mpg fuel economy on a combined cycle is probably achievable when driving modestly but will soon plummet into the single figures if you get too throttle happy. That said, if you can afford to buy a Wraith in the first place you shouldn't have too many problems covering the running costs.
Which one should you buy?
There’s only one engine available but that comes with a seemingly infinite spec selection, so there’s little point making a suggestion. Read our feature about picking up this car up from Rolls-Royce's Goodwood headquarters to find out 20 incredible facts about what features buyers want in their Rolls-Royce.
The Wraith completed the iconic Goodwood Festive of Speed hill-climb quicker than a variety of focused sports cars
Rolls-Royce Wraith pub fact
A Rolls-Royce Wraith ascended the famous hill-climb at the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed in just 52.71 seconds. That was faster than two Maseratis, a Porsche and a Bentley – not bad for a 2,460kg car.
The Cars & motoring verdict
The question is, is the Wraith a real driver's car? I’d have to argue that it is.
Is it a sports car? No, it certainly isn't. Best described as a GT car, as admittedly Rolls-Royce has marketed it, the Wraith is something you’ll still find rewarding to drive rather than be driven in despite it not being a fast-turning sports car.
The hardest judgement to make is whether it’s worth the inflated price tag. The fact of the matter is, someone who can truly afford a Wraith will have little concern about value whatsoever. Instead, the car becomes a show piece, and in many cases a representation of the owner.
Essentially, if you want to 'drive' a car that makes you feel special, there isn't much else you can buy that rivals it.
ROLLS-ROYCE WRAITH FACTS AND FIGURES
Price from: £235,416
Engine:Twin turbo 6.6 litre V12 48-valve petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed ZF GPS-aided automatic
0-60mph: 4.4 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy: 20.2mpg (claimed combined)
Emissions: 327g/km CO2
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 5269/1947/1507
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