By James Raia and Bruce Aldrich
Once cited among the world’s most recognizable brands and of unequaled reputation, Rolls-Royce not too long ago lost its spirit. Various models with fading, hand-written for sale signs were prominent in neighborhoods throughout the carmaker’s native England.
Often named after ghosts, Rolls-Royce became its namesake for an unimaginable reason. No one wanted one, even at near give-way prices. The car’s Flying Lady hood ornament, officially called the Spirit of Ecstasy, was heavily tarnished.
But in the decade since Torsten Müller-Ötvös assumed his chief executive officer responsibilities, Rolls-Royce has far surpassed its successes of yesteryear. The 2020 Rolls-Royce Wraith and Rolls-Royce Cullinan sport utility vehicle are among the reasons.
Sales are relative, particularly among uber luxury cars. Rolls-Royce sold 796 vehicles globally in 2005 and 5,152 in more than 50 countries in 2019. It marked the company’s finest year since the debut of the now-defunct original Rolls-Royce in 1906.
Rolls-Royce: Ghost in the machine
The Wraith, named after the Scottish word meaning the image of a ghost or spirit, debuted in 2013 as a 2014 model. It shares the name with the 1938 model by the original Rolls Royce company.
For 2020, the Wraith remains the company’s high-performance model. It features a twin-turbocharged, 6.6-liter V12 engine that produces 624 horsepower. When it debuted, the Wraith was the most powerful car the company had ever made. The coupe weighs 5,380 pounds and it retains its performance crown with serious, controlled speed.
The body style is a two-door, pillar-less coupe with iconic suicide doors. Side windows can roll down like in a convertible. The door handles are likely the largest ever installed in a car. They’re reminiscent of the handles on Uncle Jimmy’s meat locker and their girth suggests they weigh more than a Chevy Spark. Bank vault doors aren’t as thick.
Seating is another juxtaposition. It’s an opulent living room where the old world meets modern understated technology. The analog features are complemented by the digital age working in the background.
Every surface has a unique texture and color. The stitching and the hides are different. Rolls-Royce has all the top-scale necessities in the back, but it forgot a place for adult-sized legs, so the rear seats are only for the short and tiny.
A Rolls Royce’s performance is always at least matched by its beauty. The lines are a juxtaposition. Its battle-tank strength front flows into elegant curves at the rear of the beast.
Drive the car around town and it’s poised and unassuming — as if a Rolls-Royce can be understated. Feel the need to accelerate to merge into traffic at ease or maneuver around a pending situation, the Wraith’s power prevails. It advances from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds. On the open road, the Rolls has few equals as a luxury cruiser.
The car’s base price is $330,000 but how could there be another $131,250 in upgrades? Easy. The Black Badge trim, 21-inch carbon wheels to illuminate treadplates, costs $50,000. The Shooting Star headliner ($17,500), the vibrant Adriatic Blue exterior paint ($11,900) and Rolls-Royce audio system ($10,250) highlight the omnipresent bespoke accoutrements. And, yes, the signature $700 Teflon-coated hidden umbrella is included.
A gas guzzler tax ($2,600) for the Wraith’s putrid gas mileage (12 mpg city/18 mpg highway), its $2,750 destination and handling fee and lambswool foot mats ($1,575) contribute handsomely to the bankroll, which plateaus at $461,250.
Regardless, the Wraith is for drivers who thrive on the obsessions of driving. Steering is light and there’s enough torque from the magnificent V12 to shove your back deep into the handpicked leather. The car feels big because it is. You buy one because you can, without justification or guilt.