On Monday, I had to take a 2007 Bentley Flying Spur to the dealer to attend to some "computer diagnostic reliant" repairs. Those who know me and my passion for Rolls-Royces "Limited" and "Motors" cars will appreciate my passion for these cars and my parallel disappointment in post Vickers Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars. A brief synopsis being that the new generation cars are very Germanic and simply glorified Audis and BMWs. Not an attack on their technology, engineering and commercial profitability (which they appear to have achieved quite successfully) but for what is now the identity (or loss) of the famous marques.
I make no secret that I rarely have driven the "new" cars. Not by lack of opportunity but by simple disinterest. They just don't grab me, except the Phantom which I will perhaps talk about on another occasion.
So when I had to take the Flying Spur to the dealer it was pretty much of a chore thing. More about wasting 2 hours in Chicago traffic rather than it being something of a delight which most might consider the opportunity to be. The car was smooth, although the aftermarket 22" wheels took some of that away. Not only in the ride but simply "not smooth" in my overview of what such a car should look like. This aside, the Flying Spur is without question, a spritely car. Powerful indeed, and you cant help but be school boy impressed when you "give it to her" and hear the waste gate "Pssshhhh" released by the twin turbo system.
Looking around the car when driving left me with a mixed feeling of "oh, thats nice" to " why would you do that?" in some of the finishes. The knurling on the gearshift lever was very precise in its engineering feel and finish but the use of plastic in the statement traditional bulls-eye air vents left me questioning. Trim fit and some methods of securing which was evident only by, umm, it not fitting well so I could see, was very German and I was surprised to see it. The wood was less than impressive having adopted the German way" of gluing veneers to aluminium substrates. Already it was showing signs of discolouration at the edges where atmospheric elements had started to ingress the laser cut edges. Lost were my images of the Crewe "wood-room" with its worn brick walls and a cracked concrete floor littered with wood shavings, saw-dust and the smell of glues and different timbers - so nice that you would make a fortune if you could bottle the scent. The old codger in the horn rimmed glasses with the same lab coat he has had for 20 years splattered with glues and stains. All of this replaced with a vision of some CAD operated laser machine operating in a clinic styled climate controlled air-lock room. I remember back as recently as the 90s, standing in the wood room and having a Manchester accented wood worker in singlet and shorts (I dont think they had air back then) pulling out of the files a sample of veneer that was a "left over" from 1982 Corniche convertible. A perfect book match of course which left me struggling at finding any similar sign of artisan exactness in the Flying Spur I was now driving.
But all this said, I understand the need for efficiency and profitability and that's what these modern cars are all about. I guess if our corporate predecessors were doing it better, then the company wouldn't be owned by our German auto moguls of today. The price of progress, hey?
So I pull into the Bentley (and Rolls-Royce) car park and of course the first thing that strikes me is the profile of the new Rolls-Royce Royce Wraith.
I immediately recall that corny whisper "Wraaaaith" that I heard over and over upon the cars pre-release which made me cringe every time, and still does.
The second thought that crosses my mind is my dear friend and colleague, David who is very much into EVERYTHING Rolls-Royce. Unlike me, the die-hard old school guy, David likes to follow the new stuff (and does so well) in concert with our other Bentley Spotting colleagues regularly posting on the site with the same name.
I have to be honest, there was some pre-play going thru my head about the guys at the dealership getting all excited showing me the car and yet me yawning inside my head "pretending" to be excited. Sure enough, my welcome was very much that. A bussle over whether it was unlocked, keys being retrieved and questions whether I had seen one before. To which I replied with a false sense of enthusiasm that I think only I could detect.
Here is the video.
As a piece of auto technology, the car is impressive. How could anyone deny that. This one finished in "brushed aluminum" over a 2-tone blue combination that I would nostalgically describe as Caribbean and Seychelles with a rather stunning nautically themed "white" and navy blue accented interior. The interior wood with its "Charles Eames" look was a very stylish touch and in just the right quantity. Sometimes when a car manufacturer gets onto a good looking thing they over did it. Rolls-Royce themselves did it with the Spur some 25 years ago with those overindulgent burl walnut door panel inserts. There is no question the interior of the Wraith is inviting and I did want to sit in it.
Its features and functions were very impressive; heads up display, 360 degree video cameras, night vision camera. All very impressive although I couldnt help but think; "who is going to fix these things when they go awry?" The night vision can pick up "warm-bodies" up to 500 metres away and the heads up display, whose focal point is about equal to the Spirit of Ecstasy out front, allows you to adjust exactly where you want to see it; high, low, off to one-side etc. The system is so clever that it interacts with the cameras on the car that "image recognises" speed limit signs enroute and displays that next to your digital speed read out so you can compare and control. This was the salesman's explanation, at least. I actually think it would be the GPS providing the necessary telemetry but his explanation is more impressive.
Incidentally, the car has some interesting computing going on that works with the GPS to work out terrain and the optimum gear she should be running on for a given piece of road, curve, gradient and speed. All rather amazing stuff. But then, top of the line BMWs, Mercedes and no doubt Lexus have these goodies.
What impressed me more than anything was the "driving experience". I really was taken aback with the sheer smoothness and quiteness it maintained at slow speed over our pot-hole withered Chicago roads, as well as under power. 650 horses at that, which really were all very noticeable. But the smooth and quiet - oh how amazing. I was certainly impressed and as mentioned to David in a text immediately after the test drive, the car left with me an impression similar to that I had when I first drove a Silver Shadow II so many years ago.
It was different. Not only nice but "different". With all so many cars being the same in many ways these days, to describe a pleasant driving sensation as "different" is quite something. I remained enchanted.
The car had some let-downs in my opinion, still. The dash looked a little cheap for such an expensive behemoth. Which surprised me because, fro example, when I look at the speedometer on a current Phantom, I think it looks like a very well respected brand of instrument. Like the best barometer a meteorologist might want to have, for instance. The needle is sharp and you can see where it angles back into the centre of the instrument itself. On the Wraith, it looked very Asian-esk. Shiny and well-lit but something made in Hong-Kong, not Switzerland. Many of the switches and levers looked a bit like this to me also. Bright, responsive to the touch but just not quite right. I was having some flashes of the Flying Spur I was taking-in only an hour earlier. I then started wondering about the wood and how it was finished too.
If the speedometer in the Phantom is a measure of the rest of the car's superiority to the lesser Ghost platform, I think its time for me to go drive one of those soon. I know its without all the technological marvels of the Wraith but I think that might be a plus for me given my constant "how did they make that" and "how would you fix that" view point.
The Wraith? A thumbs up I must say but only to the extent that your are a squillionaire where you will buy it new, drive it for 3 years and then sell it to some enthusiastic morsel to deal with the endless techno-boffin ailments it will have that will eventually total the car 20 years hence forth.
Posted by Rodd Sala