In terms of paint colours for cars, the wheel has turned full cycle; black has become the new black. The Black Badge edition of the current Rolls-Royce models is about as far from the ordinary identical production-line series cars that pace the streets as it is possible to get. And the Black Badge series cars don’t ‘pace’; they prowl.
The average age of Rolls-Royce customers is 43 years, down from 55 not many years ago. The Black Badge Wraith, a bold development by Rolls-Royce, is the result of making a decision on a tricky dilemma, which was how to appeal to a new younger generation of very wealthy clients without alienating the older loyal backbone of traditional customers.
The car was born entirely from customer demand. The company says that younger buyers over recent years have asked for a less traditional and more ‘edgy’ kind of Rolls-Royce. The Black Badge series is Goodwood’s response, and it is done in splendid style. The company declines to describe it as a supercar, and goes just far enough to modestly understate it as, ‘the most powerful, fastest and most engaging to drive Rolls-Royce that we have ever made.’
Taking the Black Badge Wraith on a weekend away to Ras Al Khaimah and overnighting at the Ritz-Carlton Wadi Resort provided the ideal variety of long straight highways and challengingly twisting mountain roads. The resort is a very private concealed oasis of luxury with individual chalets with very private pools served by a central facility. Set in the rolling terracotta dunes of Ras Al Khaimah, it provided the ideal launch point and magnificently relaxing return destination for the test drive.
It would appear, having put it through its paces in the local environment, that to respond to perceived demand successfully, Rolls Royce made the car faster (the fastest Rolls-Royce yet limited to 250 kph); noisier outside still an aggressive hiss but inside, with the assistance of a little judicious sound-insulation removal, the thrilling beat of a twin turbocharged 6.5 litre V12 is pleasingly audible under rapid acceleration but not intrusive), and sportier (with a new suspension set-up that gives feedback to the driver both through the steering wheel and most importantly, ‘the seat of the pants’.
The performance is the other notable feature. The Wraith’s twin-turbo 6.6-litre V12 has had its torque output increased by 52lb ft to 642lb ft total. The power output remains unchanged, as with 624bhp available the Wraith is already the most powerful Rolls-Royce model ever produced and further power, elegantly put, “was deemed unnecessary”.
Apart from 250 kph, the tweaked suspension with its better feedback keeps the 2440 kg steel and aluminium body very firmly and precisely on the road. The control software for the Wraith’s air suspension has been reconfigured to react faster to body movements, reacting swiftly to counter on a turn-in to a corner and allows the driver to place it with real precision in longer, faster corners. The already mighty front brake discs have been enlarged by 2.5cm, to supply extra feel through the brake pedal.
Rolls-Royce’s chassis engineers adjusted the character of the way the Wraith drives, making it more stable and involving for the driver while sacrificing nothing in the way of comfort.
The new eight-speed gearbox handles the power to the rear-wheel drive train. It will, say the company, eventually make its way into the rest of the Wraith range. In the Black Badge the transmission has its own unique software mapping. In sport mode (no, really, Sport Mode!) it holds the gears for longer, downshifts earlier and swaps ratios faster than normal. This mode works in conjunction with a new throttle map, which alters the timing and speed of gearshifts according to how hard the driver pushes on the accelerator.
The standing start of 4.5seconds to 100kph is not the fastest on the road, but very surprisingly it is comparable to the likes of the Lamborghini Gallardo (4.4 sec), Aston Martin Vanquish (4.5 sec) and the Audi A8 V8 Quattro (4.5sec)! In 2016 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, racing driver Justin Law blasted the Black Badge up the racetrack hill and turned in the fifth-fastest timed road car run of the weekend against some very frustrated mid-engined sports cars clattering about rather confusedly in its roiling wake.
Amazingly, we are still talking about Rolls-Royce here with all the luxury, exquisite finishing and bespoke styling that comes as absolutely standard with the marque. It is a truly magnificent response to the perceived demand and done with all the traditional panache you would expect. It is carried through even to the composite wheels, made from 22 layers of carbon-fibre with a 1970s-inspired square-spoke theme aluminium hub bonded to the rim, and a fascinating ‘technical weave’ for the dashboard panels that blends gossamer thin slivers of woven aluminium with carbon-fibre.
Currently the upgrade is only available for the Ghost and Wraith, with the black Spirit of Ecstasy ornament topping the black radiator grille promising a sportier experience.
The other dilemma that Rolls–Royce solved rather neatly is that, keeping to their central principal that they can provide almost anything the customer desires, the Black Badge series can come in any colour other than black!
Over forty thousand of them.
But then, that’s Rolls-Royce for you.