Motoring review: Rolls-Royce Wraith has a sporty swagger, but does this beast roar?

 

Price: £235,000
Engine: 6,592cc, V12 cylinders, twin turbochargers, 632bhp
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 155mph, 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, 20.2mpg, CO2 327g/km

If Rolls-Royce and Bentley were still different facets of the same company, as they were from 1931 until the beginning of this century, this car would probably not exist. For the Wraith is that unlikely creation: a sporting Rolls – an idea which treads quite heavily on Bentley's former domain.

By "sporting", I don't mean you would take a Wraith on a track day, nor indeed scoot along backroads early on a Sunday morning. But it does offer the possibility of very considerable pace, retaining its dignity and poise even when hurried through the mountain passes of Europe that are its imagined habitat. This is a Rolls-Royce GT, a Grand Tourer. And there really isn't anything else quite like it.

Not even a Bentley Continental GT? Well, that is the closest in concept, but it costs £100,000 less than the Wraith and is merely large, not vast. In the Wraith, a car launched to ghostly allusions of dark, silent power and a strong aura of, er, "noir", we have a car which weighs 2.36 tonnes, is more than 17ft long, and can reach 60mph in 4.4 seconds.

With a smoothly profiled but crisply edged body, as with the yet-larger Phantom Coupé, the two doors are hinged on their rear edge, which obliges entry bottom first. But, rather boldly, the radiator grille plays down the notion of a Greek temple that was once a Rolls motif, and is instead set into the surrounding bodywork with the slats recessed, as though air intakes for a jet engine.

As you settle behind a steering wheel with an unexpectedly thick rim, you can't help but admire the acreage of shining wood. It covers a substantial part of the doors with your choice of grain iridescently figured – though you might prefer the dashboard in shiny piano black, to set off the shiny or satin-finished metal fittings. This is broadly the interior of the Ghost saloon, from which – via a seven-inch chop in the wheelbase – the Wraith is derived, but here it is cosier, more intimate.

It's time to move the mighty beast… but is the engine actually running? It's hard to tell, there being neither a rev counter nor detectable sound. I aim the immense nose into traffic, wonder at the precise location of the extremities, and wait for the Wraith to "shrink around me", as large but responsive cars are supposed to do.

Its engine does have a voice when roused, actually – a deep, woofling beat more like a V8 than a V12. And once out on open roads, that shrinking feeling starts to emerge. This is a very accelerative motor car, and its speed-gathering happens in one glorious surge with almost no impression of automatic shifting through its eight gears. Those gearshifts are further refined by constant reference via satellite to a built-in map of the terrain, so the transmission predicts corners and gradients and chooses the optimum gear. Extraordinary.

Similarly extraordinary is that, once you've adjusted to the size, the Wraith proves entirely happy to be hustled through corners via its precise steering and tidy demeanour, while also soaking up most bumps and dips as if they truly were not there. The seats are fabulously comfortable, and the whole car feels perfectly planted on the idealised, blemish-free remake of the road you think you are seeing.

This is the grandest grand tourer in the world. Of course it's a ludicrous indulgence, but were I rich enough, I just might…

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