A mind-blowing sports car

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The Rolls-Royce Wraith has a V12, 624-horsepower twin-turbo engine and a top speed of 155mph. It has an eight-speed automatic transmission and 15mpg city/highway combined fuel efficiency. Photo by Rolls Royce

MY LITTLE BROTHER plays on a professional basketball team in Belgium. Well, “little” is a relative term. Abe is 6ft 7in (201cm) and 210lbs (95kg): The perfect size for a power forward, but not, as it happens, for most of the finer automobiles available today.

Imagine the particular bend in his hips, the twist in his neck, as he steps into the McLaren 650S (only 6in off the ground) or the Lamborghini Huracan (5in). There’s not a lot of leeway. And in something ostensibly built for four — say, a Ferrari California T, — don’t even think about offering him the back seat.

So it was especially appropriate that he was the one sprawled in back of the Rolls-Royce Wraith I drove to Philadelphia earlier this year. Stretched out like a Great Dane in front of a fireplace, he was the happiest I’d seen him on a road trip.

I’ll be direct: Buy the Wraith if you want a mind-blowing sports car that happens to be a Rolls-Royce.

Just know that at Rolls-Royce, “sporty” means a V12, 624-horsepower twin-turbo engine pushing a 5,500-pound, 17-foot-long car. Power-operated doors and a massive trunk come standard. In other words, this is not your typical sports car.

The Wraith is Rolls’s first modern coupe. It’s named after a previous 1938 model, a name meant to evoke “an almost imperceptible force” of agility and potency, chief executive officer (CEO) Torsten Müller-Ötvös told me at its launch party in Detroit last year. He said it is meant for “younger drivers” who would otherwise consider a Ferrari or Maserati.

Its distinguished profile is dominated by the arch of an aristocratic grill, long front hood, and erect windshield. It’s faster and more powerful, not to mention 7in shorter and easier to manoeuvre than its US$263,000 (RM879,604) Ghost counterpart. Which is some feat considering its size — thank the steel monocoque body that reduces exterior dimensions but maximises interior space.

Müller-Ötvös went further to describe Wraith as “the ultimate gentleman’s grand turismo”, and for good reason: Its eight-speed automatic transmission will hit 60mph (96kph) in 4.4 seconds — faster than the Porsche 911 Carrera. It has a top speed of 155mph.

Engineers have tuned the suspension so finely that it adjusts the steering weight to feel heavier at high speeds and lighter at low speeds. (The car noticeably rises and falls in accordance with your speed.) The effect is that you are in total driving control at all times. At back-alley speeds — quick but not sprinting — you’re a British special agent out-manoeuvring everyone. At anything over 70mph, you dominate the road like a conquering king.

The reason for this excellence, and the reason why other cars aren’t as excellent, is largely two-fold.

One: Wraith has a double-wishbone front suspension and rear suspension that work in tandem with an exceptional electronic variable damping system. Smooth, silent, and unrelenting. That’s how it feels to drive this car.

Two: Wraith has a proprietary satellite-aided transmission system that uses GPS mapping to chart the road ahead and then shift accordingly. The system pre-empts the car’s every move, eliminating inefficient shifting (apparently even automatic transmission vehicles make mistakes). I’m pretty sure the system works way better than those “regular” transmissions in the Phantom and Ghost — this was the smoothest-shifting car I’ve ever driven.

I’m telling you so much about suspension because I want to impress just how extraordinary the car is as a driving machine, not just as a plaything with a champagne refrigerator.

Eighteen-speaker Naim surround sound and night-vision driving with infrared cameras and thermal imaging are de rigueur. Rolls is so picky about appearances that it included a rotary touchpad rather than a touchscreen in order to avoid “unsightly smudges” on the 10-inch TV screen. I should also mention that this car is low-key. I’ve gotten many more woops and cell phone photos in the Jaguar F Type and Audi RS7. It’s how the lines flow: The high waist of the car set just under that low roof and raked cabin force the eye to skim over the front of the car quickly toward the back. It just slips out of your gaze. The frameless coach doors and the sloping fast-back top line further augment its inherent grace.

The thing is that people don’t notice it like an Aston Martin; they don’t hear it from the distance like they do the Ferrari California T. But when you roll up, they’re curious.

Wood, leather, steel, light: these are the elements that make up the car’s universe.

Get inside and notice three things right away: How solidly built the wood-panelled reverse-opening doors are and how lightly they swing closed; the blonde lambswool floor mats so thick you could lose your phone in them; and the starlight headliner offered for the first time in a Rolls other than the US$403,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom.

The interior feels like those six-figure powerboats George Clooney must drive around Lake Como. Blood-orange needles on the dashboard gauges are elegantly striking; wood smooth as marble is polished by hand in England.

I have been to the Goodwood factory and seen first-hand the humidity controlled rooms where exotic woods in warm amber, chestnut, ebony are carefully stacked on tall shelves until the woodworkers there find the exact right match for them.

The term “starlight headliner” sounds a little cheesy, but the effect is as beautifully stunning as its price (US$12,925). It uses 1,400 tiny individual fibre optic lamps handwoven into the roof lining to achieve the effect of the night sky. The car I drove had the lights arranged in the exact placement of the stars above Goodwood, but you can request any constellation you want.

More than 90% of Phantoms include customised elements and the Wraith of no different. When you can very literally commission this car to be whatever you want, it’s nearly impossible to come up with complaints. This is a car to love. — Bloomberg

Rolls-RoyceLeft: Wraith is Rolls’ first modern coupe and the most athletic, visually and powerfully, of any of its offerings. Photo by Rolls-Royce
Right: Rolls design director Giles Taylor says the look of the Wraith is aligned closer to the Lancia Aurelia coupe and Maserati Ghibli (the original from 1967) than to its modern competitors. Photo by Rolls-Royce

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 10, 2014.