Wraith offers Rolls-Royce’s most dynamic driving experience

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Rolls-Royce says of Wraith’s exterior styling: “A high waistline combined with low roof line and raked cabin accelerate the eye rearwards while tension in its surfaces suggests a car set to move—quickly if necessary.” (Patrick Ponticel)

Rolls-Royce has always been about ultra-luxury, customization, and a “magic carpet” ride. Its newest model, the Wraith, doesn’t disappoint, and adds a dose of sportiness.

The person most responsible for translating the company’s wish to develop a more dynamic-looking and -feeling Rolls-Royce without betraying the brand’s trademarks characteristics fell to Phil Harnett, Wraith Product Manager.

An engineer by trade in his first non-engineering position, he spoke with Automotive Engineering as part of a media test drive program on the Wraith, which is Rolls-Royce’s fastest car ever. Asked how that engineering challenge was met, he responded:

“One of biggest challenges for Wraith is we’re creating a Rolls-Royce which is slightly more dynamic and has a newer direction where the car is more dynamic; it’s not necessarily sporty, but it’s more dynamic and it’s for a younger type of customer who expects more…The car’s got incredible performance from the engine, and it also drives very very well. But the trick was, and the most difficult thing is, how far do we push this… How do you take something which no other car manufacture can do, for example our magic-carpet ride, yet when you go into a corner the car stiffens up and doesn’t roll over and wallow back in the corner but remains precise, direct, and well-poised. That was a real challenge to find that exact balance.”

This editor found the balance in the two-door four-seat Wraith an unobjectionable one that stood out more for wonderful ride quality than anything. Harnett noted the chassis setup provided engineers with “an immense amounts of tuning capability” via four-corner electronically adjustable air suspension and anti-roll stability. Moreover, engineers completely redesigned the suspension control software from that of Ghost, the model on which Wraith is based. The air-strut damper settings can change every 2.5 ms.

Wraith engineers accomplished a great achievement in striking a balance that made cornering and handling during the test drive more than acceptable given what Rolls-Royce bills (accurately, we think) as a magic-carpet ride.

The front suspension is of double-wishbone type, and the rear multi-link. A center of gravity 50 mm (2.0 in) lower, a rear track 24 mm (0.9 in) wider, and a wheelbase 183 mm (7.2 in) shorter than Ghost gave Wraith a solid foundation on which to build on a more dynamic driving experience. After basic vehicle geometry came the tuning exercise for the self-adjusting-on-the-go suspension.

“You step into the car, close the door, take a deep breath, then…you take off and the car is constantly adjusting,” Harnett said. And it’s not just the suspension.

The ZF-supplied eight-speed transmission is an automatic, of course. With it, Wraith takes gear-changing a step further. In a luxury-car first, the Wraith unit “sees” curves and grades ahead and within milliseconds can shift gears to best carry out the driver’s intentions. GPS provides the “view” ahead for the “Satellite Aided Transmission” technology.

Harnett has a “personal attachment” to Wraith’s satellite-aided transmission technology. Before coming to Rolls Royce, he worked for the BMW Formula One team as systems and electronics engineer. There he made friends with some fellow engineers, and even after leaving he would get together with them occasionally. At lunch, one of the friends who had developed the quickshift gearbox for the F1 car talked about a new technology (satellite-aided transmission) he was working on.

A few months after starting at Rolls-Royce and seeing Wraith, he remembered the lunch conversation and offered his strong opinion to colleagues and superiors that satellite-aided transmission technology “is absolutely perfect [for Wraith] because what it does is makes the car a lot more dynamic for the kind of younger people who are driving Rolls-Royce…For me, it was a 100% match.”

Harnett noted that the technology is being readied for Ghost as well.

The “dynamic driving” story goes even further. A little more turbo boost as well as new intake and exhaust hardware resulted in the 6.6-L twin turbo V12 with direct gasoline injection supplying 624 hp (465 kW) and 590 lb·ft (800 N·m) from 1500 to 5500 rpm. The powerplant forcefully but smoothly propels the 6195-lb (2810-kg) U.S.-spec car from 0 to 60 (97 km/h) in 4.4 s.

From exterior-aesthetic and driving-performance viewpoints, Wraith hits the mark Rolls-Royce set. Many car reviewers have found minor (and to a large degree subjective) fault with Wraith's interior aesthetics and usability, as did this editor. But it’s hard to be too critical of a visor whose only fault is that it looks, feels, and functions like an ordinary one. Little else about the car overall comes off that way.

And for $284,900 (base MSRP), little else should.

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