The Rolls-Royce Wraith and Other Brit Luxury Cars Upend Tradition.
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Credit: Courtesy of Rolls Royce

The Rolls-Royce Wraith and Other Brit Luxury Cars Upend Tradition.

Automakers are constantly analyzing marketplace and consumer needs, and attempting to concoct new ways to deliver desirable vehicles to customers – especially if it means repurposing new or existing underpinnings in an intriguing way. Sometimes, the result is an…unexpected brand extension, like the Cadillac XLR (see "View More Photos"), General Motors' brief, two-seated attempt to build the Cadillac of Corvettes.

This year, the trend brings us the unveiling and/or delivery of three all-new cars from storied British carmakers, each of which multitasks off an existing platform, and challenges our usual perceptions of these luxury manufacturers.

Rolls-Royce is known for producing staid and silent sedans, more meant to be appreciated by chauffeur-driven owners from the back seat, rather than piloted. But it has just released the Wraith (pictured), a sporting two-door coupe built on the same platform as its handsome Ghost Sedan. The Wraith is the most powerful vehicle Rolls has ever built, and with a 624 horsepower V-12 engine and a satellite-aided transmission, a true driver's car. Even the classic "Spirit of Ecstasy" hood ornament has been canted back a few degrees to give her a more windblown appearance.

Meanwhile, Rolls' former sister carmaker, Bentley, which has a deep heritage in racing and has long been known as the sportier and slightly less stuffy of these two brands, has just brought out its new Flying Spur (see "View More Photos") sedan. This four-door is now decoupled, in name and in style, from the peppy two-door (and former namesake) on which it is based: the Continental GT. The big new sedan is more sedate and softer than the coupe, and is stretched out in the back to allow the owner to be driven, rather than do the driving. Spending time in the reclining, massaging, air-conditioned, Internet-enabled, flat-screened backseat will easily convince you of the merits of this position.

Even while competitors from Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, and Audi raked in sales with SUV-esque vehicles like the M-Class, X5, Cayenne, and Q5, Jaguar has remained a holdout in the sport/luxury pantheon, focusing solely on sedans and coupes. But the big cat brand has finally given in, and showed a lightweight, aluminum-intensive crossover concept, the C-X17 (see "View More Photos"), at the recent Frankfurt Auto Show. Its muscular exterior and richly elegant interior promises to stay true to the brand's heritage, while the platform on which it is based – which it will share with a new, smaller sports sedan aimed squarely at popular benchmarks like the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class – aim to take the marque, and its global vehicle sales numbers, in a new direction.