by Frank A. Aukofer

If you happen to be staying at the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the Rhone River in Geneva, Switzerland (you know who you are), it’s not unusual to stand out front and watch any number of 2016 Rolls-Royce Wraith coupes glide by.

Go to Duluth, MN; Providence, RI; Bergen NJ, or even Washington, DC, and you’re not likely to see any. If there are Rolls-Royces tooling about in DC, they’re likely to be the locomotive-like Silver Ghost four-doors on Embassy Row and not the fastback 2016 Wraith. In the nation’s capital, the Wraith is rare as an elected US senator.

The Wraith is the Rolls-Royce vision of a sporting conveyance. It is derived from the Ghost Series II, though with two fewer doors, and is shorter by nearly a foot. Unlike the Ghost, it is designed to be driven by its Trump-wealthy owner, who otherwise employs a chauffeur for his or her other Rollsies.

P90115741_highRes_rolls-royce-wraithIt also comes only as a coupe, albeit with wide doors that open from the front, which once were called “suicide doors” before the advent of modern safety requirements. Early suicide doors could be accidentally opened at speed and turn a car into a spinning sailboat in the wind.

The Wraith’s doors close automatically with the touch of a button and lock as securely as a bank vault. But the tested $390,000 coupe doesn’t have a sunroof, instead offering LED stars in the headliner. An owner who wants open-air motoring likely also will own a Dawn convertible (base price $342,600).

Perhaps because of Great Britain’s fascination with the spirit world (who doesn’t know about Scrooge’s assailants in Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”?), Rolls-Royce traditionally has used otherworldly names like Phantom for cars with bespoke luxury and fanatical craftsmanship.

Rolls and competitor Bentley love the term “bespoke.” It is so very English and, in American lingo, simply means “customized.” For example, the tested Wraith had a beautiful bespoke powder blue paint job that cost an extra $10,425.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley, both storied British companies, used to be part of the same combine. But the luxury automotive business forced alien divestment and divorce. Bentley now is owned, engineered and manufactured by Volkswagen; Rolls-Royce is the pinnacle of Bavaria’s BMW.

P90115734_highRes_rolls-royce-wraithParts of the Wraith evoke BMW: the shifter, switches and the pushbutton start that requires two punches to shut down. Also, sun visors do not slide on their support rods and SXM reception is spotty.

Wraith is a name from back in the 1930s. It means almost the same thing as ghost, though ghost sometimes is defined as a demon. Interestingly, in this context, it is the Wraith’s more driver-oriented mien that is more demonic (if that could be said of any Rolls-Royce).

The Wraith looks nothing like any other Rolls ever. Designers reportedly said it was inspired by two Italian coupes: the 1955 Lancia Aurelia B20 and the 1967 Maserati Ghibli.

However, neither of those approaches the Wraith’s size. The contention here is that they felt constrained to credit chic Italian wheels when the real inspiration was the 1949 Buick Roadmaster Sedanette. The Buick was longer and wider than the Wraith: 17 feet 10 inches versus 17 feet 4 inches bumper to bumper, and 79.9 inches wide against the Wraith’s 76.7 inches.

P90115739_highRes_rolls-royce-wraithOf course, the 2016 Wraith is a tad more car and way more expensive than that Buick of 67 years ago. Still, forgive a bit of American chauvinism; the traditionalist Brits brag incessantly on behalf of their homies.

The Wraith impresses. But there’s nothing phony. Settle into the finest leather, wood and polished metal interior and get the feel of what seems like a gigantic steering wheel. It’s only 16 inches in diameter but seems like one of those classic arm busters of the 1920s.

Look out over the bulbous hood that stretches to the horizon and swings in a majestic arc as you leisurely pilot your ark around a corner. Step on the loud pedal and there’s a slight hesitation before the eight-speed automatic transmission sends the beginning of 624 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels from the massive 6.6-liter V-12 engine.

You can hammer 60 mph from rest in a whiff more than four seconds. But you don’t do that. You’re not some seven-year-itch in a Dodge Challenger Wildcat. Nope, this is all about knowing you can do it and knowing that every witness knows you can do it as well. With class.

P90115740_highRes_rolls-royce-wraithSpecifications

  • Model: 2016 Rolls-Royce Wraith two-door coupe.
  • Engine:6-liter V-12, twin turbochargers, 624 hp, 590 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 112/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,380 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 13/21/15 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $307,100.
  • Price as tested (including $1,700 gas guzzler tax): $390,320.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Rolls-Royce