Both are aiming for the meat of the market occupied by the Bentley Continental GT : a car so successful and profitable that it almost single-handedly relaunched the $100,000 to $150,000 market for two-door, four-seat dream coupes.
While the Conti GT V-8 S is now far more nimble but just as rapid as before, the styling of the Bentley is looking quite tired and unappealing for the sharpest and most fashion-forward shoppers.
In the ultra-chic world of luxury cars, yachts and homes on three continents - old styling and previous ownership of the Bentley means these buyers are ready to move forward.
These two swish shapes are both absolutely fresh designs that introduce advanced styling concepts for both the RR and Merc brands. If well received, the cues seen here will have a strong influence on the next-generation vehicle designs from these storied luxury marques.
As sedan-based two-door coupes, they both essentially start at the same place as the Bentley did when remodeling the VW Phaeton.
Updated 10/24/2013: This article now features the latest photography from Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz
Click past the jump for a side-by-side battle of these two exotics from all angles.
The Design Challenge: Beautiful Luxury Coupes Are Rare
A large luxury coupe is inherently a silly idea. All of the handling woes of a sedan, but none of the back doors or understated appeal. So these two cars both had a big challenge on their plate.
Each clean-sheet design needed to correct major previous issues if these coupes were to make any dent in the Bentley sales chart.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe Concept - Design ’Baggage’
This is a tough shape to make beautiful. One glimpse or memory of the CL-Class coupes will tell you that the car was a shapeless, obese blob of a machine for old finance hotshots to drive once a week. It was ugly from the front, the back, the sides, even with your eyes closed, you still knew the CL was hideous.
The S-Class Coupe concept’s design is remarkable because it successfully integrates many of the new front-drive and soft nose themes from the CLA-Class, but in this gigantic coupe.
Rolls-Royce Wraith- Design ’Baggage’
Even the Wraith’s big brother, the Phantom Coupe, is not exactly sleek either, so big internal strategies have prioritized beauty almost ahead of all other concerns.
After all, people who buy a car like this often have many other cars in the garage already, or can certainly take their pick from the market of Porsche’s, Lamborghini’s, Aston’s and more.
Personal Luxury Coupes - Design Priorities:
- Rolls-Royce : needs the car to be totally unique from Ghost and Phantom, or it will simply look like another of Simon Cowell’s fleet.
- The S-Class Coupe: needs to be stunning and modern to replace Maybach, and if it is to earn any respect or sales versus the segment-leading sedan versions. This car cannot look like another black S500 airport shuttle for the Ritz-Carlton crowd - it must be poster- and drool-worthy. Something that instantly puts the E-Class Coupe down far lower in the range, but also tying together the coupe range from Mercedes-Benz.
TopSpeed Design Showdown - Nose
The noses of each of these models bring the best aspects of each’s brand identity to play. For Mercedes, that is the giant star emblem in the center of a CLA-style grille shape.
Strongly canted forward in the style of the 1980s BMW 635CSi, the nose graphic is also marked by some interesting aerodynamic details ahead of the wide swath of air intake vents.
The S-Class Coupe adds interesting satin graphite rectangles in concentric rings around the central star grille. These details are largely invisible, but do help the S-Class Coupe to really glint and shimmer in direct sunlight. The air vent trims also help to limit excess air pressure under the hood when traveling at autobahn speeds.
The other detail about the S-Class Coupe that really sets it apart from the Roller is the extremely low hood-line and plunging front fenders. This design seems to take the concept of a short luxury car front overhang, and cranks the volume up to maximum.
Ahead of the front wheels, the fender dives downward immediately, becoming the headlight shape and then flowing smoothly into the lower chin spoilers. A shorter-than-expected hood, a bit of a front overhang problem, and tight dash-to-axe ration also reinforces the vaguely front-drive-looking proportions of this Mercedes-Benz from the front three-quart angle - at least when compared to the mile-long hood on the Wraith.
The Wraith and the S-Class Coupe have similar windshield angles, but the Wraith brings far more emphasis to its long engine compartment with broad dash-to-axle measurement. The rear-hinged coach doors reinforce this stance, as the front edges of the giant doors are scalloped into the front fender.
The Wraith brings a far higher shoulder line and perceived roof height as well. The tall hood and badge mounting point is visibly at least three inches above the Merc’s hood edge, and this sets the tone for the imposing wheels and still-striking Parthenon grille shape.
The look of a slightly reclined grille housing is shared with the ghost, as is the unusual contrast of polished and chrome trims in the grille surround. This grille still seems too loud and vulgar, even for the Simon Cowells of the world. A matte grey finish might completely change the Wraith’s look from up front.
As it is, the Wraith is handicapped by too much sharing with the Ghost and the Phantom. The rectangular main headlight beams of the Ghost are now slightly rounded, but overall the high hood, pointing front fender-tops and lackluster LED execution leaves the Wraith behind the S-Class Coupe up front.
Nose Style Winner: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe Concept
TopSpeed Design Showdown - Side Profile
The profile is where the S-Class Coupe really ditches the unpleasant previous pillar and roofline arc. As nice as it probably looked on paper, the awkward CL roofline never looked right on the road.
Pillar-less doors and no B-pillar were nice trademark features, but the roof above those doors was thicker than a phone book. The overall appearance left the CL looking top-heavy in the 1990s, and just gross in the 2000s.
The floppy trunk surfacing and arcing rear window glass are totally revamped for the S-Class Coupe, and the results are barely recognizable versus the old fat-cat express CL600.
S-Class Coupe Roof-line Detail
The Wraith’s roofline is quite interesting for such a large car. As seen on the recent Cadillac Flagship renderings, the benefits proportional of a long and chiseled fastback coupe shape are very impressive. The appearance works best with the Wraith’s enormous hood and generally colossal dimensions all around, but it still manages to be much more delicate-looking than even the Phantom Drophead Coupe.
This was previously an unpopular design choice because it creates gigantic blind spots for the driver, but the latest active safety technology and full camera parking assistance means the pillars can be as dramatic as possible.
The contrast brushed-alloy panel for the ‘tophat’ of the Wraith is something the designers really liked, and was touted by the execs at launch as something buyers will be encouraged to order.
Looking far better in electric blue versus the casket bronze of the show car, the Wraith wins the profile battle by a mile.
Profile Style Winner: TIE!
Wraith Profile Detail
TopSpeed Design Showdown - Tail
The rear ends of these coupes are a critical part of the overall style package, especially because they are some of the fastest and coolest cars on the roads. Other drivers will spend much more time seeing these coupe’s LED lights as they roar into the distance in front of all the other traffic.
The Wraith’s tail aspect in this studio image is enjoyable, but the brown hue is still quite distracting. Brown is a trendy color, but the Wraith car was made for brighter hues that would typically look odd on a big Phantom.
Tail Style Winner: Wraith
Interior Style Winner: Wraith
TopSpeed Design Showdown - Conclusion
Design and styling are a bit of a fashionable topic, which works well on the heels of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in NYC.
Talking about design and beauty can instantly make a guy feel a bit like Derek Zoolander before his big walk-off versus Hansel. Even so, there is much to learn from the appeal of these two big coupes, which are each not only improved 1,000 percent versus their sedan counterparts, but they are also each objectively very new, unique and desirable.
This is rare from the double R brand, but less so from Mercedes-Benz in the past decade. After being mauled by BMW’s rapid styling evolution in the early 2000s, Merc really got serious about advancing its design merits and opened fully staffed design hubs in California and Asia, to complement and ideally balance out the engineering-led approach that usually runs the design departments in Germany.
TopSpeed Design Showdown Winner - 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith
The Rolls-Royce Wraith wins this matchup, but the appeal of each car is quite an impressive design achievement.
For Mercedes-Benz, the forthcoming production S-Class Coupe model looks set to finally shake off the old stodginess from its coupe dreams.
- Wraith able to blend formality with a dynamic shape that looks sporty
- S-Class Coupe looks far lower, leaner and meaner than even S63 AMG
- Both of the cabins are simply stunning as well
- Wraith front fenders and hood seem too much like Phantom
- S-Class Coupe just a concept car, so expect slightly smaller wheels and rear wing mirrors on 2015 production model
- Both of these coupes make the Cadillac Elmiraj seem a bit cheap and nasty in comparison, which is surprising because it is stunning in isolation