Rolls versus Bentley? Shouldn’t that be Rolls and Bentley? I still have trouble accepting these two as rival companies – or rather, branches of rival companies. I don’t think there is another case of one historic carmaker taking control of another, keeping the junior brand alive (just barely, at times) for decades, only to be bought off and split back up, through a cunning legal loophole, by two foreign giants.
In the end, all this complex corporate warfare brought us more variety in the rarefied world of luxury coupés, so I guess it was worth it. I remember the ‘90s, when all you could get were old-fashioned (even then) Corniches and their Continental clones for your hard-won lottery earnings. Now, you actually get a choice. The system works!
It’s not every day that you find these two estranged high-end Britishers in coupé form sixty-nining out in public like that, so we can make a direct comparison of these two beasts. In the Wraith corner, we have a twin turbo 623hp BMW V12, displacing 6592cc and pushing this 2.5 ton two-door from 0 to 60mph in 4.4 seconds and, if pushed yet further, all the way up to the 250kph limiter. Brisk, for a Rolls.
Continentally-speaking, though, things are a bit more complicated. One could be tempted by two VAG-made twin-turbo engines: either a modest 500hp 4-litre V8 or an adequate 616hp 6-litre W12. I’m not sure how one can tell the two apart, externally. The Bentley is about 150kg lighter and overall shorter than the Wraith, so one might expect even more impressive acceleration times. And thanks to an absence of limiter, both 8- and 12-cyl. Continentals could theoretically reach over 300kph.
Then, there’s the styling. That is much more subjective of course, but the Rolls-Royce’s square face does not blend that well with the rest of the car. The rear end works better, but it still looks a bit obese from this angle, and what chrome there is is laid on very, very thick. Though I’m not sure they actually add anything practically, the suicide doors at least give the Wraith a bit of a quirk, if nothing else. And it’s a true hardtop, so kudos for that.
The Bentley is a fastback hardtop too. And anything the Wraith does it can do better. And quicker. And… prettier? This generation of Continental looks better resolved than its predecessor and less fussy than the one than the one they are making now.
The Roller tries to deal with its mass by the cunning use of contrasting tones, which does help some. But that mug is just too abrupt for my taste, and it never did change much over the decade it spent in production, which has just stopped this year, apparently. So the Bentley wins in my view. Not that I would ever seriously contemplate owning anything of the sort, but, you know, just in case someone out there needs an idea for a Christmas present or something.
These two are very similar in many ways – brash, beefy, British as Queen Victoria (i.e. German at heart) and all that. But given that they were the Twiddle-dee and Twiddle-dum of luxury marques a couple of decades before, these Big British Coupés (let’s hear it for the BBC!) are actually quite different now. A rare case of a divorce unequivocally making the world a better place.