DRIVEN‘s intrepid editor-in-chief recently traveled to Austria to be one of the first in the world to drive the brand-new Rolls-Royce Wraith. Read on for the full account of this automotive adventure…

The engraved invitation arrived like a summons to Buckingham Palace—Rolls-Royce was launching its most powerful car ever and would I be so good as to join them at the Palais Coburg in Vienna for a couple of days to give it a go?

We were one of the first in the world to drive the brand-new Rolls-Royce

The brand-new Rolls-Royce Wraith, in case you’ve been sleeping under the proverbial rock, is a fastback coupe with a wicked but well-bred V12 624 hp engine capable of 0 to 60 mph in only 4.4 seconds.

Prior engagements? Discarded like so many first drafts of bad novels.

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One BA Club World booking later, I was sipping Saint-Estèphe at 38,000 feet and wishing sexy stewardesses had never gone out of style.

When you’re en route to a Rolls-Royce launch at a palace, it’s tempting to do something at least a little risqué.

Chauffeured in a Rolls to Vienna’s incredible Palais Coburg hotel

These occasions don’t come ’round very often after all.

However, propriety prevailed and they even let me enter the EU.

Upon arrival at Flughafen Wien, a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce Ghost awaited to waft me to the Palais Coburg, a neoclassical palace formerly owned by the royal House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, now an extremely impressive luxury hotel that ranks among the world’s very best.

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In other words, a suitable setting for the new Rolls to make its world debut.

The Wraith is the first all new Rolls-Royce model since 2010 and only the third new  vehicle to bear the storied name since BMW AG assumed control of the marque in 1998.

Rolls makes the most exclusive luxury cars on the planet

For much of the intervening period, Rolls has been reestablishing itself as a modern motorcar brand, makers of the most exclusive luxury cars on the planet with the least expensive model, the Ghost, commanding a cool quarter million.

The Wraith starts at $284,900 before bespoke options, of which there are many.

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Some rather good champagne awaited the minute we entered the splendid lobby of the Palais, but that paled in comparison with the spotlit two-tone Salamanca blue and Jubilee Silver Wraith parked dead center on the marble tiles.

The lines of Rolls-Royce Chief Designer Giles Taylor’s fastback are magnetic in their allure.

Making Rolls-Royce sexy but in a very refined manner

In a stroke of the pen, he has managed to make Rolls-Royce sexy—but in an extremely refined way.

It’s a masterful achievement, a vehicle that conveys the “hint of noir” Rolls aimed for but in all ways adhering to the code of a gentleman—never aggressive or forceful, capable of anything, impossible to rattle or unnerve.

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An air of quiet command with no need for raised voices or roaring engines; Daniel Craig’s rock-hard muscles under a bespoke suit from Savile Row.

By no means sentimental, but always courteous. Well-bred but well-built. Impeccable manners but plenty of power.

Rock-hard muscles under a bespoke suit from Savile Row

We could go on, and we will.

Effortless elegant in the classic sense, the Wraith is serene no matter what the situation.

In the same way that nothing could faze Cary Grant or rattle Bogart’s cool, the Wraith can take a slippery corner at 100 mph with a cool smile and a slight rippling of the bicep that’s all but imperceptible under the cashmere overcoat of its luxurious appointments.

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In short, the Wraith is the ultimate blend of bespoke craftsmanship, elevated engineering and the epitome of elegance.

It’s a car to be driven extremely fast when the occasion demands it, yet without so much as loosening your tie.

Elevated engineering, bespoke craftsmanship and total elegance

A sports car it is not.

Rolls remains committed to what it calls the “magic carpet ride,” and as such the Wraith does not offer anything as vulgar as paddle shifters that would require a gentlemen to perform silly finger calisthenics merely to arrive at his destination.

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Besides, doing so might divert his attention from the beautiful woman in the passenger seat, just as anything other than the Wraith’s unbelievably smooth acceleration might agitate both she and the grand cru champagne in the boot.

You mustn’t agitate the woman or the vintage champagne

Mr. Taylor and his colleagues elaborated upon these points and more at a stunning dinner prepared by Austria’s star chef Silvio Nickol in one of the Palais Coburg’s storied brick vaults, remains of the 16th-century fortress that once occupied the site.

Several inventive, delectable courses each paired perfectly with wines from the hotel’s legendary cellar, one of the world’s best, were served in a setting designed to resemble a magic forest on the grounds of a castle.

Rolls-Royce Wraith launch at Palais Coburg, Vienna, September 2013

And following the sophisticated feast, we repaired to yet another nook of the Palais’ vaults to an exclusive Dom Pérignon bar serving the world’s best champagne.

A single glass was all we consumed, however, with the promise of setting off into the Alps at the wheel of the Wraith the next morning an already intoxicating prospect.

A glass of Dom Pérignon following some world-class cuisine

Be assured that under no other circumstances would we give such beautiful champagne short shrift.

However, it would be a dereliction of duty to try and convey to you the exalted experience of driving the Wraith with anything other than a clear head.

Stay tuned for Part II…