GENEVA MOTOR SHOW – It's neither the fastest nor the most expensive car at the 2013 Salon, which opens to the press today (5 March) but the Roll-Royce Wraith is indubitably the classiest.
From its classically elegant, deeply recessed grille to the sweeping fastback roofline that echoes the gorgeous Bentley Continental of the 1950s, it exudes that special quality that come from the unashamed pursuit of excellence.
Nevertheless, its wide rear track underlines the fact that it's also the most powerful and dynamic Roll-Royce yet.
In the golden era of hand-built bespoke motoring, Roll-Royce sales staff would describe their cars' power as 'adequate'. Today they're a lot more upfront about it, quoting 465kW and 800Nm (available from just 1500rpm) for the Wraith's V12 engine, adequate indeed to take this huge car from standstill to 100km/h in 4.4 seconds.
The Wraith's suspension has also been tuned to minimise body roll and discreetly amplify feedback when cornering. Steering weight is heavier at high speeds and lighter at low speeds.
SEEING BEYOND WHAT THE DRIVER SEES
The eight-speed ZF satellite-aided automatic transmission is a world first, using GPS data to see beyond what the driver sees. It anticipates his next move based on location and current driving style, then selects the most appropriate gear for the terrain ahead - whether it be a blind corner on a mountain pass or an unexpectedly tight traffic circle, the Wraith is always in the right gear.
Coach doors (that means they open the 'wrong' way) reveal a sumptuous interior complete with softest leathers and sweeping expanses of wood called Canadel panelling, named after the bay in the South of France where Sir Henry Royce and his design and engineering teams spent their winters.
The Wraith also has the starlight headliner first seen in the Phantom, with 1340 fibre-optic lights hand-woven into the roof lining to give the impression of a glittering, starry night sky.
In some modern cars the technology can be a little overpowering; in a Rolls-Royce it is designed to assist the driver discreetly when called upon, but to return without fuss to the background when no longer required.
The Wraith comes with head-up display, adaptive headlights and a keyless boot - but there's also a new level of connectivity, almost like having an on-board valet.
Voice activation commands, for example, come with a one-touch call button on the steering wheel. You no longer have to programme a destination from a navigation menu; merely push the call button, ask for a destination such as “Navigate to Piccadilly in London” and route assistance begins immediately, on-screen and via audio guidance.
There's also a touch pad on the centre console that works like a smartphone, using 'pinch and pull' movements to scroll through on-screen functions; or it will read letters drawn on it with a fingertip rather than by scrolling through a series of available characters on-screen.
In Europe, the Wraith will priced from €245 000 (R2.9 million). First deliveries will be made to customers in the final quarter of 2013.