FLAWED GE­NIUS

Is Rolls-Royce suf­fer­ing from an iden­tity cri­sis, asks Neil Lyn­don

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

Alan Clark: thou should’st be liv­ing at this hour. That randy old rap­scal­lion and im­mor­tal di­arist of the Thatcher govern­ment would have been the per­fect com­pan­ion at last week’s launch in Vi­enna of the new Rolls-Royce Wraith. Clark adored cars and kept a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally idio­syn­cratic col­lec­tion – in­clud­ing a 1920 Rolls-Royce Sil­ver Ghost and a 1955 D-type Jaguar – that might in­flame mur­der­ous cov­etous­ness in a Bud­dhist monk. He would un­doubt­edly have come up with some pen­e­trat­ing and ed­u­cated ob­ser­va­tions about this leviathan with su­per­car-like per­for­mance which is the most pow­er­ful road-go­ing Rolls ever made. No­body who cares about cars could fail to be in­trigued by the Wraith’s out­ward ap­pear­ance. Its coupé out­line with a long fast­back tail know­ingly al­ludes to clas­sic fore­bears. Pin­in­fa­rina’s 1950 de­sign on a Sil­ver Dawn chas­sis for the Con­ti­nen­tal Coupé pre­fig­ured the Bent­ley of that name which is among the great­est cars ever made. You can cer­tainly see that in­spi­ra­tion in the long, de­clin­ing roofline of the Wraith’s pro­file. Look­ing at it square on from the back, a hint of Ta­tra’s stream­lined 603 can also be de­tected. Alan Clark might have en­joyed the teas­ing flir­ta­tious­ness of those sug­ges­tions but, with his weasel eye for pom­pos­ity, he would prob­a­bly have been scathing about the Wraith’s two rear­ward-open­ing doors that Rolls-Royce is pleased to call “Coach”. Each weigh­ing as much as a fridge, they open out­wards from the body by more than a yard. It’s im­pos­si­ble to reach them by hand from the front seats so they have to be pow­ered closed with a but­ton sit­u­ated by the wind­screen pil­lar. Sim­i­lar ex­cesses festoon the in­te­rior – not just the RR mono­grams in the head re­straints and the RR in­lays all around but, es­pe­cially, the ro­tary con­troller for aux­il­iary con­trols which im­per­son­ates Rolls-Royce’s fa­mous Spirit of Ec­stasy bon­net or­na­ment. Shouldn’t Rolls-Royce, of all car com­pa­nies, be cer­tain enough of its iden­tity that it doesn’t need to keep thrust­ing lo­gos un­der ev­ery­body’s nose? With its bespoke au­dio sys­tem which may be the best ever in a car, this Wraith is de­cid­edly of the mod­ern age; but it can’t cast off all pre­ten­sions to be a horse­less car­riage. The lamb’s wool floor mats are, as Clark would surely tes­tify, as fluffy as can be; but the open-grain “Canadel Pan­elling” – wood in­serts – that Rolls-Royce spokes­men showed off with pride seemed as anachro­nis­tic as a cal­cium car­bide lamp. Per­haps Rolls-Royce should con­sider spend­ing less on frou-frou flum­meries and a bit more on a fully func­tion­ing sat­nav sys­tem. Any­body who is go­ing to spend £237,111 (the base price for a Wraith) on a car might feel en­ti­tled to a sat­nav sys­tem that doesn’t say “turn left now” when it means “turn left in 50 yards” or “turn right” when it means “go straight ahead”. So irk­some was the Wraith’s sat­nav that it de­tracted from the plea­sures of driv­ing this ex­tra­or­di­nary car. On the mo­tor­way, the V12 Wraith wafts as glo­ri­ously as the Phan­tom on which it is based; but, as soon as it turned onto twisty moun­tain roads, it put on a show of high-per­for­mance mo­tor­ing which no Rolls-Royce has ever matched. Seventeen feet (5m) long and more than 6ft wide, with 5203lbs of dead­weight to heft, the Wraith doesn’t steer, turnin or brake as sharply as a sports car but it will outpace any­thing else on the road. The eight-speed trans­mis­sion is con­trolled through a GPS sys­tem which looks ahead at the road and changes gear au­to­mat­i­cally to match the ter­rain and the driver’s in­puts. Flab­ber­gast­ing as this sys­tem may be in its ac­cu­racy and sub­tlety, I wasn’t al­to­gether con­vinced its ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence was sharper than my own would have been in se­lect­ing the right gear if I’d had the choice. But, then, it has al­ways been the habit of a Rolls-Royce to flat­ter its owner. As Alan Clark might con­firm, if he were here.

Spir­ited: the Wraith is the most pow­er­ful road-go­ing Rolls-Royce ever

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