When it comes to ultra British luxury cars only one brand has managed to generate a unique appeal and a sense of grandeur that has come to define its iconic history. That brand of course, is none other than Rolls Royce, which has always managed to steal the show in its own unique way. It's most recent attention grabbing feat was a few years ago in 2016 when the brand unleashed a Rolls Royce Wraith Black Badge on the legendary Goodwood Festival of Speed. Placing sixth in the Supercar Run portion of the event, the Black Badge was a glimpse of something special, but with the average age of Rolls Royce buyers falling from 55 to 43 years of age the past few years, can the Black Badge truly appeal to well heeled younger clientele without sacrificing the basic elements that define it as a proper Rolls Royce motor car?
The exterior styling of the Black Badge builds upon the already stately DNA that defines the standard Wraith coupe. The front fascia of our tester is distinctively Rolls, with a bold front grille, retractable Spirit of Ecstasy ornament, and elegant headlights that transition to a stately coupe side profile that boasts the visually distinctive "coach doors". The rear is a bit more modest, but is rounded off with a handsome pair of taillights. However, the Black Badge is an example of what would happen if the Wraith was enrolled in villain school. Black trim is the color of choice here, with our tester being the darkest car (no we're not joking) that Rolls Royce has ever produced. This relatively obscure achievement is made possible by repeated hand polishing of all seven layers of paint, which allowed the Black Badge to maximize its sinister appeal especially in the Wisconsin sunshine.
To further enhance things, the typically bright chrome work gets darkened, with the grille work and other chrome accessories getting in on the act. The "RR" badge inverts its traditional color scheme, and arrives as a silver on black masterpiece, while the normally chrome Spirit of Ecstasy ornament transforms into a smoky black vamp that looks like a seductress on a street lamp filled cobblestone road at night. If black is not your thing, Rolls Royce will let you pick from its vast suite of colors (all 44,000 of them) ensuring that no color taste goes unfulfilled. If we were choosing though, we would gladly shelve the other 43,000 or so hues, and stick with the default black color scheme on our tester to achieve the maximum effect of the Black Badge’s distinct styling alterations.
The end result is a Rolls that shuns traditional stereotypes, which means those that partake wearing tweed coats and full on suits need not apply. Instead, Rolls is targeting “the risk-takers and disruptors who break the rules and laugh in the face of convention.” This roughly translates to younger buyers, and Rolls is eager to cite past owners that allegedly fit that unique mold, including aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, boxer Muhammad Ali, and Who drummer Keith Moon.
The interior of our tester also reflects Rolls Royce’s commitment to wowing the senses with Black Badge models featuring surfaces that are covered in a special carbon fiber that has been carefully woven with aluminum accents. The surface is then coated in six coats of lacquer which creates a distinctively styled piece of eye candy. The interior of our tester also embraced the color blue (Cobalto Blue to be exact) with the seats, door panels, and even the center dashboard being splashed with the lively hue. Speaking of the seats, they are comfortable and reasonably supportive, though buyers looking for more sporting thrones will have to go to either rival Bentley, or the local Lamborghini dealer for more bolstering. Fans of Carl Sagan will be pleased with the headliner, which is infused with LED lighting to create a mesmerizing star light appearance. Leg room in the Black Badge is very generous, as is headroom with the car encouraging occupants to stretch out and relax on long drives.
The button heavy instrument cluster is a bit daunting at first glance, but after a few moments you get used to it. BMW's I-Drive derived infotainment system is present here in the Wraith (itself a heavily modified BMW 7-Series,) and it allows owners to access a wide range of menus via a prominent rotary controller which is emblazoned with the trademark Spirit of Ecstasy logo. The system overall is very easy to use, and even comes with some features exclusive to the Rolls, including a function that allows the fore-mentioned lady to be raised or lowered, which replaces a button in older Rolls models. Visibility out front is good as is side visibility, but rear visibility does take a hit due to the Wraith's elegant coupe profile, which can make some passing maneuvers a bit intimidating.
Performance for the Black Badge comes from the familiar 6.6 liter twin-turbocharged V12 engine that powers all other Wraiths. Horsepower (a common arena for enhancement) is unchanged at 624 ponies which already makes it the most powerful Rolls ever produced. So where's the extra performance then? The answer lies in a most unusual place, torque, with Rolls engineers massaging an extra 52 lb-ft out of the motor for a grand total of 642 lb-ft. A new eight speed automatic is also on hand, but Black Badges get their own exclusive programming that allows the gears to be held longer in sport mode, as well as a new throttle map for sharper acceleration. Other goodies include slightly bigger front brakes, and a reprogrammed air suspension that helps reduce body roll while improving cornering reactions.
So have all these subtle changes produced a bona-fide Rolls Royce performance model? Not exactly, but it is a marked improvement. Rolls Royce declines to call the Black Badge a supercar, but instead, describe it as "the most powerful, fastest and most engaging to drive Rolls Royce that we have ever made." Identity crisis aside, the Black Badge does accelerate like Satan's brimstone powered chariot with the V12 delivering power in a smooth and deliberately linear manner. Rolls engineers even removed strategic bits of sound insulation to allow more of the engine note in the cabin, but it was only noticed under heavy acceleration. Otherwise, the engine remains whisper quiet in every day driving which allowed us to enjoy its bespoke sound system on the return leg of our trek.
Handling is also composed, but sharp corners do remind you that the Black Badge is still a 5,200 lb luxury coupe that likes to lean and dip like a dizzy sugar filled toddler in a old school funhouse. Take it out on less demanding roads, and the Black Badge morphs into a confident cruiser that is eager to soak up the miles, while rewarding occupants with smooth acceleration and butter smooth ride quality at the same time. That latter item is part of Rolls Royce's focus on providing a "magic carpet" like ride, and we wish some mainstream luxury offerings had this level of comfort and poise.
Pricing for the 2018 Rolls Royce Black Badge starts at $306,350 with our tester surpassing $350,000 thanks to its list of options. While this elite pricing ladder ensures that this car is out of reach for the majority of mortals (as well as knocking the McLaren 570GT out of the most expensive car tested category in the process,) the select few that can afford the cost of admission will be rewarded with a car that oozes character, and embodies a certain degree of elegance, sophistication, and boldness. Buyers looking to expand on the Black Badge motif can also add it to the larger Ghost sedan, as well as the Dawn convertible for slightly more variety, as well as having the perfect pieces of eye candy to dot their secret lair.