Rolls-Royce does not do sporty. Period. Charles Rolls might have raced his cars way back in the day but the Rolls-Royce of today just does not do sporty. There’s nothing as unseemly as a ‘Sport’ button on a Rolls. The steering wheel remains thin-rimmed and rather large in diameter. You get woods and leathers, not aluminium and carbonfibre. All you hear of the all-mighty V12 is a faint bit of woofling. There’s no one-make Rolls-Royce racing series. No one, ever, put a roll-cage in one. Everything about a Rolls is geared towards opulence; for wafting across continents in unparalleled luxury.
Except here’s a Rolls that is… now how do I put this delicately… sporty. Bitchin’ as the rappers who buy Rollers and slap on big-ass dubs would, more appropriately, put it. You see Rolls-Royce were tired of their customers murdering their beautifully wrought cars so they decided to do something about it. Enter the Black Badge bespoke program. Available on the Wraith and Ghost (albeit only in short wheelbase form) the Black Badge edition cars are for “disruptors (their words, not mine) untrammelled by social convention”. A Rolls for “young men in a hurry” – late twenties to early forties, would you believe! – who grind in hip-hop videos and star in reality shows (my words, not theirs). A Black Badge Wraith is a pimped out Wraith, tastefully and elegantly pimped out, never mind the obvious contradictions in what I’m saying.
Any colour as long as it is black
Not really. Such is the breadth of Rolls-Royce’s bespoke program that you can have your Black Badge in any colour, even matched to the favourite nail polish of the lady friend currently in favour. But it looks best in black, totally wicked if I might say so.
As the name suggests all the chrome bits are blacked out. The Spirit of Ecstasy on the hood is blacked out. The Parthenon-like grille is blacked out. The exhaust tips are blacked out. The chrome surrounds for the side windows aren’t blacked out, that just wouldn’t look good, but if you insist RR will black that out for you. And the wheels too are blacked out. Well not exactly blacked out, that’d be too easy. They took two years to develop the wheels for the Black Badge editions: the main structure is made of 22 layers of carbonfibre folded over to make for 44 layers. On to it goes the square-spoke hub made of aluminium, attached to the rim with 25 titanium bolts. And it measures a whopping 21 inches in size. As for the black paint, as you’d expect, this is no ordinary black paint. It has 16 base coats and seven coats of clear, each layer hand polished before the next is applied. Such is the mirror finish you can pick your teeth in its reflection.
On the inside too you can do whatever you want with it but Rolls recommends the Cobalto Blue leather, mated to the black Starlight headliner (want the constellation of your birth sign to sparkle on the roof liner? No problem!). I didn’t bother asking about book-matched wood veneers because that has made way for a heavily lacquered carbonfibre finish on the dash with eye-lash thin threads of aluminium woven into it. A Rolls with carbonfibre and aluminium in it? Next they’ll do a Sport mode too!
The Sport button
Well it isn’t labelled Sport, neither is there a button on the dash to disable ESP (though you can after trawling through the menus) but the Low mode for the transmission makes the Black Badge Wraith more “assertive”.
Before that though, the numbers The Wraith retains the ginormous, twin-turbocharged 6.6-litre V12 and the power remains the same at a mighty 624bhp but the torque goes up by 70Nm to an incredible 870Nm. To handle the extra torque the 8-speed ZF transmission has been bolstered with stronger clutches and in keeping with the sportier intent it hangs on to gears longer and changes ratios quicker. The Low mode also calls up a more aggressive (read sporty) shift logic while the new performance-focussed throttle mapping takes engine revs all the way up to 6000rpm if the accelerator is depressed more than 80 per cent. There’s also a more assertive pull away, taking away the deliberate delay built into the standard Wraith’s response, a legacy of chauffeur-centric setups. The transmission also retains the novel feature where it reads the road via the sat-nav and selects an appropriate gear. So for instance if a corner is coming up, the gearbox will hold on to the gear and not upshift. If you’re joining a motorway it will select a lower gear, putting you in the meat of the torque curve saving you the jolt of kicking down.
Sports suspension? Again, no! Rolls-Royce does not do sporty! The Wraith is neither lowered nor gets stiffer springs. It retains the double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear but the control software has been reworked to react faster to body movements and better resist roll when turning in. Even the brakes are larger, up by an inch, but that’s more to do with delivering better brake feel through the pedal.
It all makes for the sportiest Rolls-Royce ever, or as they like to put it “the most engaging.” Which is why we headed for the mountains on the border of the UAE and Oman, on a road that we drove a bunch of Maseratis last month and marvelled at the sparse traffic and even sparser speed cameras. Except it rained the day we landed in Dubai and the approach to the road was washed out. Cue much groaning and much motorway driving in a convoy keeping an eye out for speed cameras. What did that reveal? Bonkers acceleration. Despite weighing 2435 kilos, the Wraith accelerates to 100kmph in 4.5 seconds – for perspective that’s quicker than a Porsche 911 Carrera. But what’s even more astonishing is how easily, how unhurriedly it does it. Press Low mode on the transmission and there’s more engine noise in the cabin, strategic deletion of sound insulation making the V12 a little more audible under hard acceleration. But there’s no drama. The sensation is so understated it feels like you’re doing walking speeds until you have to haul on the stoppers at the sight of a speed camera. I can also tell you the brakes have very good feel and the suspension dives a fair bit under heavy braking.
Despite the software rejigging, the Wraith retains the pillowy ride quality that you expect of a Rolls-Royce. It still wafts. There are very few cars in the world that deliver a plusher, more magical ride, and all of them wear Rolls-Royce badges.
Post lunch at the appropriately lavish Ritz Carlton in Ras al-Khaimah we break away from the ‘lifestyle’ journalist pack and go hunting for a few corners. We find six. What I can tell you is there’s an incredible amount of grip – the Continental tyres while same in size as a regular Wraith are of a stickier compound, the steering is slightly more weighty and there’s so much torque that it makes the rear squat and squirm on hard corner exits. Roll is impressively controlled but impossible to fully control and when hustled into corners there is a significant amount of heave-ho. And there’s no confusing the slight heft in the steering for anything approaching feel. That said the Wraith Black Badge is hilarious when hustled; with so much torque it’s impossible not to have a boatload of fun. There’s a surprising amount of precision from the helm. It’ll even smoke its rear tyres once you figure out how to disable ESP within the menus.
A sports car then?
No, the Black Badge Wraith isn’t a sports car. It isn’t a supercar. It isn’t a performance car. There are no shift paddles for the automatic gearbox nor a proper tachometer, neither of them being deemed “appropriate” additions to a Rolls-Royce. But this is as close to a performance Rolls as you will ever get, a Rolls with a touch of evo in it. More to the point, the Black Badge resonates with the target audience in a way a standard Rolls never would. Not that I am Rolls’ target audience but I fall in the same age demographic and since I desperately seem to want one, the Black Badge Wraith is clearly a success.
A Rolls that delivers on The Thrill of Driving? Stranger things have happened.