Rolls-Royce Black Badge (2017) First Drive

BlackBadge


If Rolls-Royce is the embodiment of opulence, stateliness and exclusivity in the motoring world, why would the esteemed British marque need products that are the equivalents of BMW's M cars and Mercedes-Benz's AMG derivatives? Well, if Rolls-Royce's behemoths are all about grace, space and pace, the Black Badge versions focus firmly on the lattermost. Think of them as the ideal cars for the Mark Zuckerbergs of our time.

Introducing a new Rolls-Royce on a racetrack sounds as strange as giving a child ice-cream for breakfast. Unorthodox as that may be, this is how we recently got acquainted with Rolls-Royce’s new Black Badge sub-brand. This new variant is very much “un-Rolls Royce-ish” in a traditional sense, at least compared with how we've perceived the brand for decades.

The moment the two “R’s” escape from anyone’s mouth, the vision of a dapper older gentleman comes to mind. Either that or a colonial grandfather of sorts, one with a huge dislike for the “lower classes”. But that’s the thing about this new era of Rolls, the Black Badge is so far removed from that figure, it will probably resonate more with the Elon Musks of the world. It’s the Spirit Of Ecstasy reimagined for a disrupter of industries. That's why it was so fitting to launch this range at the Kyalami racetrack, instead of the scenic vineyards of Franschhoek.

What is it?

So, what is this range all about? It’s a more performance-oriented version of the Wraith or Ghost (you can choose to have a Black Badge version of either car). The car is marketed as the Rolls Royce for risk takers and those who “dare to be different”. And, if you watch the promotional video for the Black Badge, the protagonist in the clip is definitely more of a Bruce Wayne than a Rich Uncle Pennybags (otherwise known as the mascot of the Monopoly board game).

What are the most pertinent gains over standard Ghosts and Wraiths? The power outputs are up on both derivatives, but most importantly, the maximum torque is way up! 

The exact figures are 465 kW and 870 Nm on the Wraith and 450 kW and 840 Nm on the Ghost. At this point you may be puzzled (I certainly was), because one never wonders how much power a Rolls Royce produces – in this case, a lot: all from a mighty 6.6-litre twin turbocharged V12 engine... The cars are also sharper in terms of suspension dynamics, making them feel nimbler than any cars of such heft should reasonably be, but I will elaborate on that shortly. Before we get there, we need to discuss aesthetics.

Drop dead gorgeous      

The sheer magnificence of the Black Badge derivatives is almost indescribable. The black paintwork on the body coupled with the gloss black 21-inch rims and chrome accents all around, make you stand in awe of these high priced items. Top it off with the reverse opening doors of the Wraith and you’ve got something that you wouldn’t  blame your partner for leaving you for someone who owned one.

Watch the Black Badge cars being showcased to clients in Miami:

The iconic Spirit Of Ecstasy is finished off in black chrome on the models. We only had Wraith’s to sample on the day, which was okay because the Ghost was there on display. Besides, if you’re going to take a Rolls on the track, the Wraith seems better suited for it, as it is the sportier of the two. Both Wraiths that were availed to us were identical in specification, the only difference being that the one I was assigned to drive had a red interior, whereas the other had blue.


The Black Badge's cabin mixes dark, plush leather and opulent trim with bright colours audaciously... 

A generous turn of speed, of course...

Two and a half tonnes – that is the approximate kerb weight of a sizeable SUV. It is also the approximate weight of the Wraith I was ushering into Kyalami's corners with considerable intent. Let me put this to bed now: a Rolls-Royce is not a track car. It’s a very large sedan/coupe and, as a driver, you're reminded of that fact in virtually every corner because body roll is ever-present. The steering wheel is also not designed to be manhandled like a sportscar's tiller. That being said, the Wraith Black Badge proved to be quite dynamic for its weight.

The faster you go, the more the car realises it needs to firm up its damping; the Rolls rapidly adapts to your driving style, as we discovered on our faster laps on the circuit. What is mind- boggling about the car is how the engine is very responsive, but in an entirely undramatic way. You barely hear it as the limousine barrels along.

All you feel is the constant surge of torque... and all you see is the rapid nearing of objects. Funny enough, while we waited for our turn and the cars flashed past us on the track, all you hear is the induction of air as the models swooped by. Watch this clip that shows the Black Badge in action at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed for a demonstration:

What is very apparent while commandeering the Wraith is the utter opulence of the cabin. It’s the equivalent of a chief executive’s office, or even fancier, inside the car. Everything feels expensive and over the top and you can’t help but feel privileged when ensconced behind the Rolls' tiller. And the car is truly spacious... Despite the fact that the Wraith has only two doors, there is enough space for anyone to stretch out their legs and then some. The Wraith is, however, not the Rolls Royce you get driven in, it’s the one you drive. If you’re seeking the former, the Ghost Black Badge is what you need to own. Due to its size, it retains the stateliness of a standard one, but looks much more...um...I think “gangster” is the word.

Summary

This new range of Rolls Royce reflects the brand's subtle shift in target market. Bentley has performance-oriented Speed and Superspeed derivatives, but the Black Badge range feels much more focused and, for lack of a better word, edgy. It is for the new age millionaire, one that wants to make a statement. Gone are the days of the brand making cars only for your wealthy grandfather. With great sums of money reaching younger people in the world we live in, the brand needs to be able to supply a product that resonates with that generation.

After sampling the Black Badge range and sitting in the Rolls' unashamedly lavish interior, I could see myself piloting one of these in another life. Perhaps as a rock star or something along those lines, because it’s definitely the Rock n Roll version of the Rolls-Royce brand. Just wait 'til I've made my first R7 million or so... "I'd definitely be in the market for one of these."

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