First Drive: 2018 Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge

Carmel, CA – A general rule of thumb for automotive gauges goes as such: the farther the needle swings to the right, the more stuff happens – revs, speed, noise, fun… peril. But there’s a wonderfully anachronistic dial in the Rolls-Royce gauge cluster labeled Power Reserve that turns this whole notion on its head. It harks back to the days when Rolls-Royce didn’t publish horsepower figures – when they stoically, and possibly ironically, stated the urge from their engines was “adequate.” The Power Reserve’s needle rests to the far right at 100 percent, and it swings farther to the left as you tap into the Roller’s… um, reserves. Of which the 2018 Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge has plenty.

...the Wraith Black Badge is a formidable weapon...

And I may or may not have pinned the Wraith’s Power Reserve needle at 0 percent on a lonely stretch of California’s Pacific Coast Highway. For that brief moment, the twin-turbo 6.6L V12 had a full head of steam, sending all 624 horses and 642 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. The Wraith Black Badge is the fastest and most powerful Rolls-Royce ever built, and when introduced for the 2017 model year (along with the Ghost Black Badge), it marked a diverging tangent for the world’s most famous purveyor of super-luxury automobiles.

Black Badge for Black Sheep of the Nouveau Riche

In no uncertain terms, Rolls-Royce was broadcasting to the nouveau riche that it was getting its freak on. With Black Badge, stuffy was out and badass was in. According to Torsten Müller-Ötvös, who has been at the helm of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars since 2010, “Black Badge appeals to those people who are elusive and defiant, the risk takers and disrupters who break the rules and laugh in the face of convention.”

Cited amongst inspirational personnel are Howard Hughes, Sir Malcolm Campbell, Yves Saint Laurent, Charles Rolls, Muhammad Ali and Who drummer Keith Moon (who never had a driver’s license).

So what does it take to turn the swoopy Wraith all nasty? First and foremost, an additional $53,865 over the Wraith’s starting price of $365,370.

Let’s start with the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy (Flying Lady) figurine. Here she is rendered in shiny black, which in the words of Giles Taylor, director of design at R-R, “mutates her into a high-gloss black vamp, proudly scything through the nighttime city-scape.” Additionally, all the normal chrome bits turn black, and while most Black Badge cars are indeed black, this one is painted in a spectacular Salamanca Blue, its hand polished finish deep enough to sink a schooner.

Unique to the Black Badge are light-weight carbon-fibre 21-inch wheels with forged aluminum hubs.

Interior Still Sumptuous, but Different

Don’t look for any of the traditional wood veneer in here. Black Badge cars are fitted with aerospace-grade aluminum-threaded carbon fibre composite surfacing. Threads of aircraft grade aluminum just 0.014mm in diameter are painstakingly woven together before being bonded with carbon fibre. Other bespoke touches include blackened air vents and a unique clock with orange-tipped hands.

 

The supple leather upholstery (from select high-altitude German bulls - no bugs or fences up there) combines with Cobalto Blue in the Wraith to add some zing. The average Rolls-Royce patron layers on roughly twenty percent of the car’s base cost in bespoke content, and this tester fell in line. One of the most popular items is the Starlight Headliner which has 1340 fibre-optic constellation points overhead. Were I to exist in the R-R pecuniary snack bracket, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend the extra $17,995 for this delightful feature. Figure on about double that if you want a specific night sky - like the date and city of your birth.

Looking at the cost sheet, this Black Badge had an additional $26,000 in interior cosmetic upgrades that included lambswool floor mats ($1681), RR monogrammed headrests ($1510), primary interior colour Selby Grey ($10,744), door contrast feature ($2080), seat piping in Cobalto Blue ($3334), top stitch IP ($855) and cryptically labeled “bespoke interior” at $5985. The Rolls-Royce Bespoke Audio runs about $11,000.

As BMW is the savoir and steward of Rolls-Royce, the tech comes from Germany. The infotainment is a thinly-veiled BMW iDrive and the optional Driver Assistance 3 ($8920) adds active cruise control, night vision, a head-up display, high-beam assistance, and a lane departure warning system.

Upgrades More Than Cosmetic

Black Badge is not only about looking the part. Rolls-Royce has imbued the Wraith with revised air suspensions, bigger front brakes, more aggressive transmission mapping and more torque from the mighty 6.6L twin-turbo V12. The Wraith’s horse-count remains at 624 but torque is up 52 lb-ft to a seismic 642 lb-ft. So indeed, the Wraith Black Badge is a formidable weapon, and when working that Power Reserve gauge, its standard sport exhaust kicks out a gutsy growl.

Transmission duties are handled by the ubiquitous and excellent 8-speed ZF auto, here tied into real-time GPS info, which enables it to pre-select the correct gear for the upcoming road topography.

Rolls-Royce may have juiced up the adaptive double-wishbone front, multi-link rear suspension for better body control, but the Wraith remains first and foremost a Rolls-Royce, and that means an uncannily quiet cabin and supremely smooth ride.

The difference being, you can lean into the Wraith Black Badge and it will play along – as much as its 1,724 kg and XXL proportions will allow. At reasonable speeds along the Pacific Coast Highway, you could almost call the Black Badge agile, and certainly very quick to dispense with more proletariat conveyances. Dipping into the throttle has the Flying Lady tipping up a degree or two (and possibly grinning) while the Wraith picks up its skirts and surges ahead on a wave of torque. Acceleration is not overly dramatic, but unrelenting.

Craftsmanship is in the Details

In any Rolls-Royce, it’s the craftsmanship and obsessive attention to detail that renders one wide-eyed, and justifies its stratospheric pricing. There are stories that must be known, like the herd of pampered German bulls who supply the perfect hides, the 200 craftsmen who populate the R-R woodworking shop, the three days it takes to hand fabricate the Starlight Headliner, and so it goes.

At rest, the counterweighted R-R logo in the centre of each wheel is perfectly upright, in the event your glance passes that way. Within the front fenders are monogrammed umbrellas – and you don’t want to be leaving these at the restaurant.

On the other hand, a fast and circuitous blast back to your dinner spot in a Wraith Black Badge is quite possibly the most fun you can have in a Rolls-Royce – from a driver’s perspective, of course.

Black equals performance edge 5/2/2018 4:00:00 PM