► Wraith Black Badge is the fastest Rolls yet
► Enhanced performance, modernised styling
► Aimed at a new, younger audience
Rolls-Royce freely admits it’s been a little nervous about this car’s launch. The Wraith Black Badge is not only a car that’s as close as Rolls-Royce plans to get to an outright performance model, it’s also one that must walk the potentially tricky tightrope of appealing to a new audience for the brand – without alienating its existing loyalists.
It’s a car born entirely from customer demand. Rolls-Royce says that in recent years a significant subset of youthful, new-money buyers have approached the company looking for a less stately, more edgy kind of Rolls. The Black Badge series is Goodwood’s response.
What exactly is the Black Badge series?
Rolls-Royce describes the series as a kind of alter-ego for the company, with Black Badge versions of its cars offering a bit more attitude than we’ve seen previously. Black Badge variants get bespoke noir-themed exterior and interior trim treatment, and subtle adjustments to both powertrain and chassis for a little performance substance to go with the styling.
The first models to get the badge are the Wraith coupe, tested here, and also the Ghost saloon, albeit in short-wheelbase form only. Rolls-Royce doesn’t plan to create a Black Badge variant of the larger Ghost, nor the Phantom replacement due in 2018, saying it will only apply the badge to models that can wear it most appropriately. It’s yet to officially confirm whether there’ll be a Black Badge version of the upcoming ‘Cullinan’ SUV.
Who are the Black Badge cars for?
‘Young men in a hurry,’ is how Rolls-Royce rather quaintly describes the BB’s target market of ambitious, hedonistic egotists (also Rolls-Royce’s words). Goodwood expects them to be younger than its traditional customer base, spanning late 20s to early 40s.
The average age of a Rolls buyer is now around 43, down from the 55 average of not so long ago. It’s in the company’s interest to attract younger customers – buyers tend to stay loyal to Roll-Royce and continue to buy more over time, so it’s sound business sense to get them hooked early.
Any colour you want as long as it’s black?
Not necessarily. You could order a BB in any colour, including white if you want, but all the cars here at the Las Vegas-based launch are darker than the jetlag-conquering coffee we’re sipping.
Much of the regular Wraith’s shiny chrome jewelry has been switched to a glossy black, including the trademark ‘Parthenon’ grille and the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot – reputedly the subject of much internal debate at Goodwood. The bright border for the side windows remains – the car would look a bit amorphous without it – but Rolls will supply it in black if customers ask for it.
Rolls-Royce’s management and designers have seen hordes of modified Phantoms and Wraiths with huge wheels, blacked-out windows and matt-black paint, some better executed than others. Clearly the demand is there for Rolls-Royces of that type, they surmised, and whatever aftermarket tuners can do, Goodwood’s design team can undoubtedly do better. Exhibit A being the Wraith BB’s composite wheels, made from 22 layers of carbonfibre with a ’70s-inspired square-spoke theme aluminium hub bonded to the rim.
There’s further scarily expensive composite work on show inside, with ‘technical weave’ dashboard panels blending eyelash-thin slivers of aluminium with carbonfibre. You can replace them with a more demure black finish if you like, but we doubt many customers will. This car is all about showing off, after all.
You mentioned some mechanical changes to go with the new cosmetics?
The Wraith’s twin-turbo 6.6-litre V12 has had its torque output increased by 52lb ft to a burly 642lb ft total, although its power output remains unchanged. With 624bhp on tap the Wraith is already the most powerful Rolls-Royce model produced thus far – a further power hike was deemed unnecessary.
A new automatic gearbox, which will eventually make its way into the rest of the Wraith range, has been fitted. As before, it’s an eight-speed auto, and in the Black Badge the transmission gets its own specific software mapping. Put the transmission in sport mode and it’ll hold gears for longer, downshift earlier and swap 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 the pedal towards the plush carpet, and takes away the deliberate delay built into the standard Wraith’s pullaway response – a legacy of Rolls’ traditional chauffeur-centric setups.
Likewise, the control software for the Wraith’s air suspension has been reconfigured to react faster to body movements, resisting roll more swiftly on turn-in to a corner. The already enormous front brake discs have been enlarged by an inch, not to supply extra performance, but reputedly more feel through the brake pedal. The Ghost Black Badge gets a similar set of adjustments, including a modest increase in power and some physical changes to its damper rates to go with the software tweaks.
So this is a go-faster Rolls-Royce performance model, then?
No. Well, sort of. But not exactly. Rolls-Royce declines to call the Black Badge a supercar, or even a performance car, but it does describe it as ‘the most powerful, fastest and most engaging to drive Rolls-Royce that we have ever made.’
Perhaps the most striking proof of the car’s weight-defying pace came earlier in 2016 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, when racing driver Justin Law smoked the Black Badge up the rain-hit hill in the fifth-fastest timed road car run of the weekend, leaving a stream of mid-engined sports cars in the Wraith’s considerable wake. See the car in action at Goodwood in the video below:
The BB’s chassis engineers beam with pride when they talk of how they’ve been able to adjust the character of the way the Wraith drives, saying they’ve been able to make it more stable and involving for the driver while losing little of its considerable comfort or forcing it to be something it’s not. Time to find out…
So, how does it drive?
For a near-2.5-tonne luxury car, incredibly well. We tried the Black Badge not only on the road, but also on the twisting ‘SpeedVegas’ circuit. Rolls-Royce isn’t under any illusions, it’s no track car – we were at the circuit because it’s a handy place with corners (they’re hard to come by around Las Vegas) and without traffic police (a bit easier to find).
On the circuit, you can sense the way the recalibrated air suspension software controls the Wraith’s considerable weight transfer more tightly than the regular car, and allows it to be placed with real precision in longer, faster corners. The nose doesn’t dive under braking in as exaggerated a way, and the brakes themselves have a reassuringly progressive, easily modulated feel – those bigger front discs do their job well.
The developers have deliberately allowed a little of the V12’s note into the cabin than before with a little strategic sound insulation removal (‘because it would be strange if we didn’t), but it only makes itself heard under heavy acceleration. The rest of the time it’s as refined as ever – and from the outside, near silent. It’s slightly bizarre seeing the Wraiths tear past the pits at great pace, only accompanied only by the whoosh of tyres on tarmac.
On the road, we escape the city for the heat of the desert (an unrecognisable camouflage-bound prototype flashes past on the opposite side of the road, no doubt on its way back from durability testing Death Valley) and head for Mount Charleston. The Wraith’s handling balance is equally impressive here, but it remains an easy-going, comfortable car to lope along in – just as it should be.
And of course, heading back into the city along the Las Vegas strip, a million lightbulbs reflecting in its glossy paintwork, the Black Badge feels very much at home. A car with attention seeking and conspicuous excess at its core in its natural habitat.
Is it a limited edition? How many will be made? And how much does all this badge baiting cost?
There’s no upper limit on Black Badge production, although it is more complex and time-consuming to make than a regular Wraith.
You’ll need to add £35,400 to the cost of a standard Wraith (if there is such a thing) to bag yourself a Black Badge version. Though most Rolls-Royce customers probably don’t think much about list prices.
Rolls-Royce may be apprehensive about the brand-appropriateness of this meaner-looking, faster-travelling Wraith, but its designers and engineers have fulfilled the customer-led brief very neatly. The chassis changes have made it as appealing to drive as it is to be driven in, without turning it into something it shouldn’t be. And though the trim tweaks will appear gauche to some eyes, they do give the car a character all of its own. And if you’re in the market for a car that costs more than a quarter of a million pounds, it’s character that seals the deal.
Much like Las Vegas, the Wraith Black Badge is overblown and unashamedly egocentric – but to some it’ll be irresistible.
Eight hundred hours and job’s a good ‘un: take a trip behind the doors of Rolls’ Goodwood factory in CAR’s Inside Rolls-Royce feature here