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951 miles in the new Rolls Royce Wraith

  1. Yes, you’ve probably already read our online review of the Wraith. Hopefully you might also pick up the new magazine (on sale Wednesday) and read the feature. Now it’s time for something else Wraith-related: we drive it a long way.

    More specifically, from Berkshire to Vienna. In a day…

    Having loaned us the car for our magazine feature (did we mention that the magazine is currently on sale?), Rolls-Royce bosses asked for it back. Which was a bit disappointing. But they promised us that, provided we could make it for the start of the official launch in Vienna later that day, they’d shout us dinner.

    We like dinner. Cue 12 hours and 49 magnificent minutes at the wheel.

    Click forth and join us on the journey…

  2. Sunday 3.41am. Newbury, Berkshire:

    I’m driving to Vienna for dinner. This is not a lie. I have to be there by 8pm this evening. Vienna’s at the far end of Austria, roughly 1,000 miles away. I know this all sounds a bit Gatsby, but right now as I stumble around my kitchen in the darkness it doesn’t feel it. My alarm went off 20 minutes ago. I have to be at Folkestone by 5.50am. Sunday mornings don’t usually start like this.

    3.42am. Still in Newbury

    I managed not to wake a single neighbour. Not bad when summoning 12 cylinders and two turbos into life. I didn’t have to slam a door closed - it electrically winds itself in at the press of a button, just like the boot (it’s vast, proven to swallow five eight-year olds; my suit bag looked very lonely). Even the gravel crunched quietly.

    3.44am. Just outside Newbury

    The Spirit of Ecstacy is nosing through the dark - it’s honestly like having a guiding angel along for the ride. Better not charge her with driving duties, though. That might not end well.

    3.55am. Basingstoke, 15 miles done

    A quick thought strikes me: from here on it’s probably all going to be multi-laners. I might have already experienced the most interesting bit of road. And I was half asleep. Actually, I did notice something about the Wraith - it coped, didn’t slop or loll about, so far, so… effortless.

    5.19am. Folkestone, 125 miles done

    The fuel tank is smaller than I expected. Given there is less than a quarter left, I’d expected to get more than 65 litres in. You’d think this would be an issue and that I’ll be stopping every 200 miles. I suspect not. The trip computer is suggesting 22mpg so far.

  3. 5.36am. Eurotunnel

    I have a Flexiplus ticket, the chief advantage of which is access to the portacabin that doubles as a ‘lounge’. It’s closed.

    6.00am. Eurotunnel

    Lounge opens. I go inside. Then go back out. Rolls cabin has more space and superior seating. And doesn’t smell of cheap stale coffee.

    6.06am. Eurotunnel

    Called for the 6.28am sailing. Attempt to filter from Flexiplus lane into regular lane. No-one wants to let the Wraith in. People avoid my eye and appear surly. They forget that I’ll then be parked directly behind them on a train for half an hour and they’ll squirm uncomfortably. I’m not sure if their beef is with the Wraith itself or the Flexiplus ‘privilege’ lane. More the latter, I reckon, although the combination with the Rolls is a potent one.

  4. 6.15am. Eurotunnel

    I’ve never guided a bigger, wider car onto the double deck part of the train. I edge slowly through the carriages until I’m beckoned into position. Next to a toilet. This means the door, thicker than a bank vault’s, will only open a crack and I’m not about to do something as undignified as clamber over the Wraith’s centre console. I’m trapped. And since you have to keep your windows lowered, I’m easy prey for anyone who wants to come and talk to me about the car.

    6.17am. Eurotunnel

    People come to talk to me about the car. There are three strategies for dealing with this. The truth: ‘I work for Top Gear… etc’ which leads to a ten minute conversation on what Jeremy is really like and whether there’s a ‘special’ stop watch for the celebrity lap times. The lie: ‘I’m a dotcom millionaire, and like to drive myself aimlessly around the continent in a UK-registered-yet-left-hand-drive Rolls-Royce’. The easy way out: ‘I’m the delivery driver’. People are very friendly and really seem to genuinely admire the Wraith, although they’re a bit perplexed as to why a man who could so effortlessly afford a Wraith was so assiduously filing his fuel receipts.

    8.03am. France!

    11 hours and 57 minutes until I’m due in Vienna. Sun’s up and my steering wheel is now on the correct side. This alone makes me feel more at ease. Driving the Wraith around small country lanes over the weekend had been… well, camels and eyes of needles spring to mind. It’s not exactly a wieldy size.

    8.49am. Belgium!

    Already convinced our planet has never created a better trans-continental device.

    8.52am. Still Belgium

    I do some thinking. It’s the fingertippyness of the experience, the fact you need to put so little effort in. There are no gearchange paddles, the cabin isn’t a confusing mass of buttons or technology. Just look at the heating controls. Two simple rotary sliders, no need to fiddle with umpteen zones and a 0.5 degree temperature accuracy. It just instinctively gets it right. It’s Jeeves. And a man servant is the ultimate luxury, isn’t he? The only way this could be any more relaxing is if I was in the back seat and someone else was having to do the wheel-whirling and pedal-pressing.

  5. 8.58am. Approaching Jabbeke, Belgium

    In the spirit of the above statement I unearth some PG Wodehouse on my iPod. The pace, content and tone of Jonathan Cecil’s pitch-perfect reading is so well matched to this journey. The Wraith, it must be said, has an absolute belter of a sound system. Also, it’s very accepting of different styles of music - you’d imagine that some music just wouldn’t be in keeping with the car, but the Wraith has enough edge in its character to come across as more broad-minded than that. LCD Soundsystem and Depeche Mode sound amazing in here.

    9.58am. Brussels, 260 miles done

    Just realised I’ve neither heard nor felt a single gearchange in the last five hours. In fact the only way you can feel one is if you treat the throttle in an unseemly manner or select ‘low’ on the gear column which makes the engine work so much harder that it’s actually audible. The Wraith has no paddles as that wouldn’t be in keeping with the effortlessness of the experience. What it does have is SAT - Satellite Aided Transmission. This is utter genius. It uses the GPS mapping to look at the road ahead and decide what gear it needs to be in. It combines this with information from the engine management about your driving style and does the paddle-pulling for you. It’s uncanny and sublime. Only a sudden desire to kickdown on a motorway catches it out.

  6. 10.25am. More Belgium

    Having consumed a litre of orange juice and some leftover cold coffee, I need a comfort break. Nothing more than that, so I choose one of those lesser aires that do without fuel and shops and restaurants. Also toilets. The smell around the perimeter…

    10.59am. Germany!

    Glad to see the back of Belgium, it was boring. And smelly. In fact the whole route has little to recommend it. What is making this worth doing isn’t the scenery or the roads, but the car. The Wraith, this enveloping cocoon of luxury andpower, elevates this from a drive into an experience. It’s majestic.

    11.14am. Julich, slightly further into Germany

    Must have got giddy thinking about derestricted autobahns. Have missed a turning and am now not on an autobahn at all. Proper service is resumed five minutes later. But it’s also raining, so the derestriction doesn’t apply. No matter.

  7. 11.45am. Crossing the Rhine at Cologne

    Time to discuss footwear. A brogue would seem appropriate for driving the Wraith. Certainly not one of those dainty moccasin-y things that Ferrari drivers favour. But I have this thing about driving a long way. Aching heels. Just me? So, I have a solution and it is working a treat, in fact in years to come it might be the one thing I remember about this whole trip because it’s a brand new experience. No shoes. Now I’ve driven barefoot loads of times before, but never in a car with carpets an inch deep. I wriggle my toes in the shagpile. My feet nestle contentedly. I think they are officially the most comfortable bit of my body.

    11.46am. Cologne

    Is it possible to get shagpile armrests for my elbows?

    11.47am. Cologne

    Need to operate a pedal (the radar cruise control is no better here than in anything else). Find myself wondering if I could also have shagpile pedal covers. Or leather. That would suffice.

  8. 11.54. leaving Cologne

    It’s still raining. If this carries on until I need to stop I shall have to deploy my best gadget - the pop-out umbrellas mounted in the front wings.

  9. 12.16pm. A3 near Horhausen

    There is some wind noise. Has been since the very start if I’m honest. A rustle from the leading edge of the driver’s window just in from the mirror housing. Rolls had warned us that the seal was pre-production. You only notice it because there’s nothing else to disturb the peace. It’s like riding in the front end of a jumbo while wearing ear defenders. You’re aware of some background roar, but that’s about it.

    12.27pm. The A3

    The Wraith is an alleviating car. It rises above the things going on around and gives you a generous, magnanimous driving attitude. Driving on the road, the Wraith suggests to you, is not a race, so why the urgency? So you find yourself adopting this attitude and suddenly nothing is a trial, time ceases to have the meaning it has in other cars. I have the aim of getting to Vienna in 12 hours from Calais, but I’m not about to rush or hurry in order to achieve that. The Wraith and I will get there when we get there, enjoying the journey as we go.

    12.38pm. Somewhere north of Frankfurt

    After 340 miles on this tank and with the trip computer hinting at an average of 23.8mpg, the fuel warning pings. I still have 68 miles in the tank, but running out of fuel in the Wraith would be… unthinkable, so on this occasion I’m not going to indulge in my favourite pastime - fuel light chicken.

  10. 1.01pm. Medenbach, still north of Frankfurt, 493 miles covered

    I keep flip-flops in the footwell for occasions such as this. Completes the dotcom millionaire look nicely. Over the last 366 miles the Wraith has consumed 71.20 litres of unleaded that costs me 122.39 euros to replenish. The trip computer tells me it’s averaged 24.0mpg, while my calculations give a corrected figure of 23.3mpg. I’m blown away by that. A 624bhp car weighing 2,360kg doing 23mpg is exceptional. It only claims a combined figure of 20.2mpg, making it one of the very few cars I’ve driven that is capable of outstripping the claims. Still think a bigger fuel tank wouldn’t go amiss.

    1.06pm. Medenbach services lay-by

    Lukewarm slice of pizza for lunch. Yum. I imagine the average Wraith owner would be making for the nearest Michelin star about now. Bet there’s a way to show them in the satnav - have to say it’s the most complicated bit of equipment in here.

    1.15pm. Frankfurt airport

    I slip by the airport quietly on the A3, silently thankful not to be one of the hoards arriving to attend the Frankfurt Motorshow. That thought is rudely interrupted by a Corvette Z06, the best Corvette, rumbling up alongside theWraith and then erupting off into the distance in a haze of drama, pursued by a pair of Dutch chaps on wailing sports bikes. A minute later a black M3 comes howling up behind me. The motorway is busy, I’m stuck a respectful distance behind someone else, yet that doesn’t stop the fellow flicking his indicator and soon progress to flashing his headlights. Because I’m driving a Rolls-Royce I feel so aloof from this. There’s no thought of aggression. As with any Rolls-Royce, if you drove the Wraith in an anti-social manner you not only feel that the car wouldn’t approve, but that you’d be letting down the brand. That’s what you are when driving a Royce, a brand ambassador.

  11. 1.21pm. Aschaffenburg

    The Frankfurt city traffic dies off when the motorway swings south after Aschaffenburg. I am keen to see what the Wraith is like above 100mph. Now’s the time. There’s a deep hum from the engine bay and a feeling the sumptuous trim is pushing up, and suddenly we’re over 130mph. No loss of stability, no feeling that the Wraith is over-reaching itself, so I maintain the pace.

  12. 1.23pm. South east of Aschaffenburg

    The car is running beautifully but I’ve just noticed the Spirit of Ecstacy. She’s being batter by a 135mph hurricane. Leaving the lady in the airflow doesn’t seem very becoming. I press button 8 on the BMW-sourced console panel. Up pops screen and with one press I watch the Spirit of Ecstacy gracefully lower herself out of sight. I now feel like I do when I speed while the wife’s asleep.

    1.28pm. On the A3

    Making progress in this manner, I cruise up behind the black M3. He notices, and, when the traffic clears, clogs it as hard as he can. Running the Wraith up to a speed that Rolls would doubtless like described as ‘adequate’, and the British police would describe as ‘jail’, we both discover something. The Wraith is faster. And a lot less shouty about it. In fact this is the second time I’ve come up against such a useful fast car benchmark. On my way home from work on Friday night an M3 attempted to out-sprint the Wraith away from a low-speedroundabout. All he saw was the tailpipes, too. Now, given what I’ve already said about the Wraith not being an aggressive car, you might wonder what I’m doing. But we’re not being aggressive, the Wraith and I, nor competitive, nor trying to put them in their place, merely enjoying the occasion. Of course whether the other chap sees it the same way is another matter.

    1.32pm. More A3

    I reflect on the reflections in the rear window. The light trim and shallow glass angle does cause a few issues.

  13. 2.30pm. Nuremburg and around

    Germany is large, mostly forested and surprisingly busy. Those are the chief observations. And the ride isn’t flawless. Personally, I don’t think the run-flat tyres help, allowing an occasional sharp judder to penetrate. That’s about it though, otherwise it’s calm, unruffled, dignified progress. Right hand at quarter past, left resting on thigh, fingers there just in case. Feet are still loving the experience, music is accompanying and the seats are just dandy. I think I might like the seat base to be a little longer, but this isn’t one of those cars that has 28-way adjustable seats, ones that you fiddle with for hours and never quite get comfortable in. I think we have eight directions here. That’s plenty. No massage, but that’s not needed either if the basic seat is spot-on.

  14. 4.04pm. Kirchroth

    The call of nature again. I’d rather pee in a bush than risk another lay-by, so I find a quiet junction and head down a suitable-looking B-road. I love getting in and out of the Wraith. Well, the getting out anyway. You just step out forwards. Getting back in is more complex: you have to approach and twist through 180 degrees. Two things make that happily tolerable. The doors whirr shut electrically via a button if you want; and you get to see the inside of the doors as you approach the car. I think the door card, as it’s officially known, is the best detail on the whole car. It’s an uninterrupted piece of veneer, a real statement.

  15. 4.10pm. A small road near Kirchroth

    The roads are good hereabouts, giving me the chance to get a little more ambitious with the Wraith. Yes, it demands to be driven with dignity, but it’s also rather good fun. Not sporting in any way, but more accurate and decisive than I’d imagined. The grip limits aren’t terribly high, but drive it slow-in, faster-out and, thanks to that self-aware gearbox, it’ll make proper progress without ever feeling that it’s having to work hard. Surreptitious athleticism.

    4.15pm. Back on the autobahn

    It also has lovely, lovely steering. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the last word in feel or tactility. What it is, is wonderfully, deliciously appropriate. Perfectly in keeping with the car, light and twirly at low speed with a fabulously tactile leather rim that manages to accurately convey the attitude of the car. It’s a real highlight, all the more so because it’s so unexpected.

  16. 4.43pm. Deggendorf area

    I overtake a short wheelbase Quattro rally car on a trailer. It needed mentioning.

  17. 5.26pm. Austria! 788 miles done

    I buy the vignette (8.30 euros for ten days) and add petrol for the second and final time. Actually at this petrol station I don’t add the fuel - an attendant does it for me. Even more suitable. 21.7mpg on this tank. Not bad as it’s seen north of 140mph a couple of times and run steadily at well into three figures when possible. Which wasn’t that often actually - due more to traffic than limits. No more of that behaviour now though. This is the fifth of five countries. Yay etc. Actually, not yay. I’ve loved every second so far, I still feel fresh, I don’t have an ache, not even in my heels.

    5.53pm. Wels

    In these parts, Austria is more hilly than mountainous, allowing the motorway to sweep easily around the landscape in a manner that the Wraith laps up. It’s at its best here, imperious and majestic. All I am is a guiding hand, captain of the good ship Wraith.

    6.02pm. Linz

    Isolation, I need to discuss isolation with you. A sense of separation from the outside world is surely a key facet of any luxury car, but given the Wraith is, for a Rolls, low slung, I’m at eye-level with everyone. I also have this long pillar-less slab of glass down each side, so people can see in over my shoulder. I have been peered and gawped at a lot. You can sense the stares tickling your neck. So no, you don’t have the easy aloofness of a Range Rover. But what you do have is presence. The Wraith creates a bow wave that ripples out from the Spirit of Ecstacy. And she’s mounted such a long way down a bonnet that gently curves off like the edge of the horizon, that you have this sense of being set back from all the regular goings on. On top of that you have this sense of this mighty car looking after you.

  18. 6.58pm. Melk

    I seem to have happened across the only two members of the Austrian TVR club. The occupants of this pair of Tuscans must have spotted the significance of the occasion because they decide to escort me for a while, one in front, the other behind. I try to find the national anthem on my iPod. Fail. I settle for hoping that this was how Nikolai Smolensky got around when he owned TVR.

    7.22pm. The final approach into Vienna

    I call home to let the family know I’m nearly there. My wife tells me it’s the clearest Bluetooth call I’ve ever made.

  19. 7.36pm. Entering Vienna

    Darkness is falling. Vienna is a genuinely lovely city so I coast along in the slow lane glancing out at these amazing old buildings. When I look across the cabin, out the right-hand side window, my field of vision also encompasses the starlight roof - 1300 fibre-optic threads in the Wraith’s roof. It’s like I’m carrying around my very own picture frame - whatever I look at out the window is topped by a perfect view of the night sky. A couple of people have questioned whether it’s a bit tacky, but I don’t think so, because you’re only aware of it from within so it’s not outright ostentatious. You can dim and brighten it, turn it off completely, personally I love knowing it’s there and enjoying the soft light it bathes the cabin in. I’ve had it on the whole way.

    7.45pm. Central Vienna

    For the final mile I drop all the windows. I love the way the pillarless windows open up the sides of the car. I’m more exposed and a bit breezier, but it’s still 23 degrees out there and the evening crowds seem to love the spectacle as the Wraith rolls by. It’s almost magical in fact. I’m half tempted to keep driving, do a couple of victory laps of the city centre, take in the sights. But I haven’t got time and I suddenly realise how hungry I am.

  20. 7.51pm. Coburgbastei, Vienna

    I pull up outside the Palais Coburg Residenz. A man steps up to the car, but is happy to wait while I relax my head back and rub my eyes. I quickly realise that I’m not anything like as weary as I ought to be having got up so many hours ago and driven so many miles. Final statistics? 951 miles, 12 hours 49 minutes at the wheel, trip computer averages of 23.8mpg and 76.2mph. I’ve been completely beguiled by this car. I will savour this experience in the same way I have when I’ve driven a Zonda on the Stelvio.

    This has been an apt and appropriate thing to do in the Wraith, to drive to Vienna for dinner. It’s unnecessary, but really rather wonderful, so much richer and more satisfying than simply flying. This has been life-affirming and that has been almost completely down to the car. The Wraith proves that the massive trans-continental drive isn’t only still feasible, but also pleasurable - it’s been magnificent throughout. I have, since leaving Calais, been trying to think if there was another car in existence that I would rather have done this journey in. In the last 12 hours I haven’t been able to come up with a single one. And with that, I go in to dinner.

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