Sir Henry Royce famously stated that the best that exists should be taken and made better. So imagine my feelings as I wait for a Rolls-Royce Wraith, the latest offering from the Goodwood plant, to arrive at my house for five days of promised luxurious motoring. I have driven all manner of (whisper it softly, expensive) vehicles for Halcyon magazine but this is to be my first Rolls-Royce.
‘I don’t really do reviews of turning circles, power-to-weight ratios, or the like,’ I confessed to James Warren, the communications manager at Rolls-Royce. ‘Just how it drives.’ ‘That’s alright,’ came the blithe reply from a man supremely confident in the product he was entrusting to my maladroitness for a forthcoming motoring jaunt. ‘It’s meant to be used, driven, enjoyed. Have fun.’
Well, it would appear that there is no experience like a Rolls-Royce experience. Coffee in hand I opened my front door early only to see a slab-sided truck blocking out most of the light. In order to preserve her polish and coachwork the Wraith had come wrapped up like an early Christmas present. Some gentle coaxing and she blinked her way down the ramp and into the day’s early rays.
A swift farewell to the kind gentleman who had delivered this spectacle and it was to be straight out onto the road to get acquainted. Having reminded myself to open the rear-hinged coach doors in the correct manner so as not to embarrass myself in front of awestruck neighbours, I gently eased the car around.
A quick note should be made at this point. I live in a converted barn with half a mile of unmetalled road for a driveway. Depending on the prevailing weather conditions it can get rather bumpy. In a low-slung Italian sports car it’s enough to reach for the phone number of your friendly neighbourhood chiropractor. So how would the Wraith deal with this very first challenge?
Superbly. There is no other word for it.
I had heard much about the celebrated ‘wafting’ as a descriptive of how a Rolls-Royce drives but, unless you have experienced it firsthand, nothing comes close. That lumpy, bumpy driveway was never a challenge although I am not sure whether the suspension was simply that good or whether, because the Wraith weighs in at 2.36 tonnes, she actually levelled out all the undulations.
The 19th-century English poet and playwright Robert Browning, in his collection of poetry, Men and Women, has his eponymous hero Andrea del Sarto utter the line: ‘Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?’ I’m fairly sure that Rolls-Royce would beg to differ, but surely Browning’s heaven has been reached with the Wraith? I have never driven anything so gloriously entertaining in so many different ways.
It is important to observe that the Wraith is not a sports car. She can certainly be driven in a sporty manner with the eight-speed gearbox intuitively sensing the road ahead through the satellite aided transmission wizardry to ensure you are in the correct gear at all times and over all topography.
But a pure-bred sports car wants to shout about it and there is just no way that a Rolls-Royce would ever do something quite so vulgar.
Instead, the Wraith is the ultimate gentleman’s gran turismo coupé. From the moment you press the start button and that powerful 6.6-litre V12 burbles mellifluously into life you just know that this is going to be one of those contradictory experiences that only a true GT gives you. One where there’s a gargantuan amount of power but, through witchcraft, that power is only delivered at just the right moment in just the right quantity, irrespective of your driving ability.
She is truly huge at first glance (and second). But once you are cocooned inside, swaddled in bull-hide leather and book-matched, open-grained wood, senses numbed by the super-insulated, double-skinned bulkhead, four people can sit in total comfort and be unaware of the world passing them by outside. If it weren’t for the sensation of movement by looking through the windows it would be easy to believe you were stationary.
There are so few auditory references that you could be in your own armchair in front of the fire with a glass of scotch in hand. There is almost a sensation that Richard Wagner composed the engine with restrained Mephistophelean fury while Henry Purcell fitted the cabin in baroque splendour. Even the centre console binnacle was apparently constructed in one complete piece so as to eliminate unwanted squeaks and rattles. It is a mark of the marque that an estimated 75% of all Rolls-Royces ever made are still on the road in 2015.
Driving the Wraith has the feel of being waited on by a private butler. There is plenty of theatre, but no drama; everything is there exactly when you want it and how you need it and sir is always right. It is a sensation that actually allows you to slow down and appreciate the drive where, so often in modern life, we want to get to the end point before we have even set off.
The ultimate compliment I can give is that my wife, once she realised that I was not going to let her drive this beautiful vehicle, settled back into the smell of the saddlery and fell asleep for two hours. That never happens.
And was it perfection or was there a wrinkly lozenge wrapper in there for me?
Well, the quilted carpet under my feet by the pedals kept catching the heels of my shoes. But, to quote the admirable Warren once again: ‘Oh don’t worry about that, we’d change it for you.’
This is a car for the lady or gentleman who already has the Phantom or the Ghost and wants to sit in the front for a change. Goodness knows, when it comes to driving either of those two I just hope I don’t like them quite as much – I’m not sure I’m ready for that particular Faustian bargain.