For a number of decades up through the 1990s, Rolls-Royce and Bentley were built by the same company. Two different cars, from a common sedan body starting point.
Tradition stated that Rolls were the sedate, floating-on-a-cloud kind of cars (they never even published horsepower figures), whereas Bentleys were “driver’s car” by comparison. This was furthered in the 1980s when Bentley started offering a model called the Turbo R. It had a somewhat menacing look, blackwall tires instead of whitewalls, and a more potent V8 engine.
But today, Bentley is part of the Volkswagen Group, and their models have Audi chassis components and engines. And, Rolls-Royce is a product of BMW, even though the cars (like Bentleys) are still made in the United Kingdom. Think of these two upper-crust automobile brands as perfect blends of British craftsmanship and elegance along with German engineering underneath.
And with that, modern day Rolls-Royce models are getting more and more performance dialed in. After all, people who spend well into six figures for a car often want both luxury and performance.
The new two-door model from Rolls-Royce is called the Wraith, and it is, for all intents and purposes, a performance car with the famous RR logo up front. It’s not a true sports car, more of a sporting car. Buyers of Rolls-Royce automobiles often have a sports car from the likes of Ferrari or Aston Martin parked elsewhere in their garages.
Still, among other Rolls offerings like the Phantom and Ghost, the shorter Wraith with its swept roofline does seem quite the athletic automobile. It has the traditional vertical-bar grill plus the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament (which retracts into the body when the car is locked), so you know it is a Rolls-Royce. But jump on a twisting mountain road and hit the accelerator hard, and then you’re not so sure.
The chassis is BMW 7-Series (sorry for letting the cat out of the bag, but it’s not exactly a secret) with suspension that automatically adjusts while you move down the road. Microprocessors are wonderful things in this regard. The same car can be boulevard-smooth, then become more taut and athletic the instant the steering wheel is moved with purpose. The best of both worlds.
And even though this is a large, heavy car, your right foot can summon 624 horsepower from under the hood (or “bonnet” in British-speak), thanks to a twin-turbo V12. Here again, the English luxury car can thank its German cousin, BMW.
Power comes on strong, and the big Rolls coupe can leap forward in a big hurry. An 8-speed automatic transmission gets the gear-shifting done, precisely and without drama. Like the suspension, the powertrain can switch between its sedate personality and its hard-core one, depending on what the driver wants to do.
This is a super-luxury motorcar, and Rolls-Royce engineers and craftspeople sweat the little details. From the wheel center caps mounted on bearings to always keep the “RR” logos properly upright, to the optional Starlight headliner (fiber-optics give you the feeling of having the Milky Way right above your head as you drive at night), if you love luxury details, you’ll love this car.
And it sure ought to evoke some love for the dear price it commands. The window sticker starts at $284,900. Yes, starts at that amount. Options are all four-figure affairs, and some packages get into or well into five figures. In my test car, for example, the wood trim that was used throughout the interior (called Canadel – Macassar Ebony) adds $12,500 to the tab on its own. In other words, an entire new Nissan Versa or nice used Honda Accord.
But the people shopping for a car like this are not cross-shopping it with Nissan Versas or pre-owned Accords. They want luxury, and they want performance. Even if that luxury and performance cost $366,350 when all is said and done, as on the car I drove. For those buyers, the sporty Rolls-Royce has arrived.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz