Rolls-Royce Wraith, a 624-hp fastback coupe, thunders into Geneva

Brett Berk
·Contributing Editor, Autos

Oligarchic automaker Rolls-Royce introduced an all new car in Geneva today, a muscular grand tourer. Though this vehicle is christened the Wraith, the appellation is not pronounced in the traditional manner, rayTH, but is rather intended to sound something like, Bentley Continental GT.

Tired of watching Crewe drive away with the profitable six-figure gran turismo market, Rolls has crafted its own handsome fastback in a similar mode. And it works quite beautifully. Though Rolls’ designs generally tend toward the assaultively upright, the Wraith’s appearance is much more Streamline Moderne, invoking the triumph of mechanical speed working in concert with nature, like a French locomotive.

The typically vertical grille has been recessed and relaxed, giving it the kind of jaunty, under-bite that James Mason might employ in playing a debonair villain. The pillarless profile has the elegant muscularity of a long distance runner (though the distended trunk cut at the base of the nearly horizontal rear windscreen looks a bit mini-mall laser surgeon.) Even the signature Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament has been canted eagerly five degrees, as if about to taunt Tantalus with a delicious drop of nectar.

The doors pivot from rear hinges, as if the Spirit herself was enveloping her cargo. Inside, four riders are surrounded by the usually perfect bombardment of polished natural materials—though in this case, the requisite wood arrives veneered into something called Canadel Paneling. This name has absolutely nothing to do with our neighbors to the north, signifying a treatment that is both breathtaking and peculiarly imposing.

Similarly spectacular is the optional Starlight Headliner — formerly available only on the range-topping Phantom— which hand-weaves 1,340 fibre optic pin-spots into the roof fabric. Also, the engine, a twin-turbocharged V-12, that huffs out more power (624 hp) than any previous Roller, enough to seamlessly waft this beast to 60 in 4.4 seconds. And the instruments’ blood-orange tipped needles, which presage a vital thrust more vascularly addictive than heroin.

On the technological battlefront, Rolls offers up an iPad-cum-Audi-esque touchpad interface that allows owners to pull, pinch, and scrawl. This not only prevents the plutocrats’ greasy (or bloody) fingerprints from sullying a touch-screen, it’s also ideal for inhabitants in Rolls’ second-largest market — China — where scrolling through the 4,000 characters required for functional literacy can be both time-consuming and distracting.

This specter also offers a voice-to-text and voice-to-email feature, which allows drivers to “write” messages by speaking them into a hidden microphone. It hosts a stereo with more, and louder, speakers than your last seven work conventions combined. It has a satellite-guided transmission that uses GPS info to predict your shift needs down the road. And it features an integrated hard drive that holds just slightly more music than the cheapest iPhone 5, which weighs at least 5,202 lbs less.

With this much weight, and a nearly equal number of accident avoidance and mitigation systems, the Wraith’s VVVIP drivers are basically guaranteed to survive any crash. We can’t make the same claim for those on the receiving end of this impact. Nobly, in case of a wreck, the Rolls-Royce Connect app automatically places an eCall to 911. It also makes a generous eDonation to the bank accounts of any survivors, so long as they renounce their right to pursue legal action. Which they’d better. Don’t they know who your lawyer is?

Rolls even broke ground in the impossibly staid category of the third brake lamp, with a prismatic light bar that is spectrally illuminated by only two LEDs. This design sadly won out over the original idea of integrating a genuine Jenny Holzer word-art piece in the center high-mounted stop lamp, which scrolled to read, STOP, PEASANT!

Priced somewhere between a decent house in suburban Minneapolis and a trip to Mars, the Wraith should be available this autumn. Though not to you.