Rolls-Royce Wraith ‘Black Badge’. FIRST DRIVE

After an in-depth look at Rolls-Royce’s new ‘bad boy’ in the Middle East, we jump behind the wheel of the Wraith Black Badge on its international debut in Las Vegas

Engine Power Torque 0-100kph Top speed Weight Basic price
V12, twin turbo, 6592cc 624bhp @ 5250rpm 870Nm (642lb ft) @ 1500-5000rpm 4.5secs 250kph 2360kg (264bhp/ton)  $365,000
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As I nurse a jetlag-battling cup of coffee, I’m being walked through some of the Black Badge’s key design areas by design director, Giles Taylor: “It’s demanding, it’s assertive, its ‘dark luxury’, as you can see by this, this and especially this, etc…” There’s no doubting Giles’ enthusiasm for a project he’s spent more than two years helping to develop at Goodwood amidst calls from ‘young gentlemen in a hurry’ (Rolls-Royce’s own words) for a less stately, more edgy model. Just looking at this handsome brute – sorry Giles, I’m referring to the car – demonstrate the extent to which the man has delivered.

And yet, as a Rolls-Royce fan, something’s nagging at me. The starting point of today’s test drive – Las Vegas – is about as un-Rolls-Royce as you can get. Is that a sign of things to come? Where exactly does ‘spirited driving’ fall in the company’s portfolio? Do on-going references to the ‘torpedo’ styled 10EX of 1925 signify a dramatic change of direction for the most illustrious British carmaker of them all? Ultimately, will the Black Badge Wraith we’re driving today still BE a Rolls-Royce?

All fears are immediately allayed as I drop into the leather seats for the first time.

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‘Daring’ or otherwise, getting in and out through those reverse-hinged doors is no less dramatic in the Wraith Black Badge than it has been on every other Rolls-Royce I’ve experienced. I get a similar buzz from the blue upholstery: James may whinge incessantly on the subject, but I personally find this colour combo flamboyant, yet elegant enough in-keeping with the double R badge on the steering wheel. It’s a Rolls-Royce Black Badge, it’s supposed to have edge, isn’t it?

“The starting point of today’s test drive – Las Vegas – is about as un-Rolls-Royce as you can get. Is that a sign of things to come?”

I’m also struck by that beautiful carbon fibre interior trim, in-laid with aluminium. Again, it’s ornate and slightly flashy, but it’s done with such grace that even this, most un-Rolls-Royce of concepts, fits that Black Badge mentality perfectly. Admittedly the bulbous and rather unsightly key fob does make me falter for a second, but it’s business as usual as the Stop/Start button – black, naturally – is given a quick stab, ‘firing’ the V12 into life.

There’s an opening, bassy warble – it’s far too subtle to be called a ‘roar’ – before those 12 cylinders drop almost immediately to a low, refined idle: even with the doors open, the engine note is barely audible, and only under heavy acceleration does this low V12 rumble waft into the cabin. The rest is silence, with neither road roar nor wind noise breaking past the perfect sound insulation as we roll down the Las Vegas strip and onto the main highway towards the Grand Canyon.

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Not concerning themselves with anything as ghastly as ‘lumbar support’ or the ‘ideal driving position’, the seats are fantastically comfortable, the springs continuing to drop for a few seconds after you land like a deep armchair. Nor, mercifully, has Rolls-Royce sullied with convention for a low seating position. The suspension meanwhile, much like the steering column, may have received a subtle tweak, but there’s no hint that the ride quality has been affected. It’s breathtakingly good, those enormous lightweight wheels floating gracefully over even the roughest of Nevada’s asphalt, only the most jarring of potholes proving inconvenient. I’m also struck by the superbly plush carpets in the footwell – to call them ‘matts’ would be an almost insulting disservice – which are so soft, I’m tempted to curl up in them and take a nap.

So far, so Rolls, with only the smallest hint of, urgh, ‘performance’ emanating from the carbon-fibre-esque dashboard. The centre console itself is admittedly a little button-heavy, and my current driving position means some of the buttons around the centre-mounted rotary dial are outside my field of vision. The switchgear itself though is so beautifully pleasing to look at and touch that this is easily forgiven (I’m particularly keen on the climate control dials that have been mounted horizontally into the dashboard). There’s no ‘driver-focused’ steering wheel either, the minimalist – and frankly massive – wheel boasting controls only for the radio and indicators. No paddle shifts to be found. I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief: the ‘edgy’ Black Badge is still, inherently and absolutely, a Rolls-Royce.

“Even with the doors open, the Black Badge’s engine note is barely audible, and only under heavy acceleration does a low V12 rumble waft into the cabin”

It’s not until we hit the ‘SpeedVegas’ circuit that the ‘dark edge’ of the Black Badge begins to peek through.

Be under no illusions, the Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge is no track car, the circuit being used only because it’s a handy place to find corners – something of a rarity in Nevada – and to really let that V12 off the reigns. Because, trust me, that twin-scroll turbocharged lump can shift.

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Off the line, and even with nearly 2.5 tonnes to shift, the pick-up is mighty. From standstill 624bhp and uprated 642lb ft of torque is delivered in one, colossal surge, evidenced by that lengthy nose lifting ever so slightly against the horizon. There is no hint of turbo lag as the rear tyres dig in, the initial wave continuing to build progressively across the rev range thanks to that enormous torque curve and swift, unruffled changes through the eight-speed gearbox. Triple figures consequently appear with almost metronomic precision, and yet at the same time, that rampant acceleration feels insistent rather than aggressive, smooth rather than violent: even a Black Rolls-Royce wouldn’t dream of being so ungainly.

Speed then is child’s play for the Black Badge, and even this can be given a shot in the arm. Press the ‘LOW’ button on the steering column-mounted spindle – RR refuses to use the word ‘Sport’ – and you’ll feel the revs rise, the transmission drop several cogs and the needle on the ‘throttle percentage’ dial (in place of a rev counter) quiver slightly. Acceleration thereafter is similarly linear but there is slightly – ever so slightly – more enthusiasm under that initial surge, enough to ruffle a hair or two further out of place without the need to stiffen the suspension springs.

“That rampant acceleration feels insistent rather than aggressive: even a Black Rolls-Royce wouldn’t dream of being so ungainly”

On-track and into the corners, some truly massive ventilated discs reign in these titanic bursts of speed superbly. It’s the enhanced agility through the corners though that really set the Black Badge apart from its Goodwood contemporaries. There’s lean, obviously – this is NOT a performance car – but the dampers are sufficiently firm to erode more body roll than you might expect without impairing that fabulous ride comfort. As a result, mid-corner balance and overall body control is actually quite impressive: the Black Badge Wraith won’t out-hustle a Caterham or even a Continental GT through the corners, but for a 2.5-ton Rolls-Royce, it’s remarkably composed.

Due kudos should also go to the front wheels, the grip from which offers impressive bite on turn-in and enormous traction out of the corners. Don’t get too carried away though: with no manual option, you’re still at the mercy of the GPS-aided automatic gearbox into the corners, and though the weight through the power steering is consistent, there’s precious little of it. After all, this is a system designed specifically to remove all effort at the helm for the driver’s comfort. Such a thing as ‘tangible feedback’ would be ridiculous…

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So, a performance model? Not even slightly. A spirited drive? Absolutely. That additional torque giving the Wraith’s already mountainous acceleration some much-welcomed punch, and a cornering agility more impressive than any Rolls-Royce before it. A dark character? Hmm, jury’s still out on that one, even if the revised, menacing look of the Wraith is really starting to grow on me.

But more importantly than that, is the Wraith Black Badge still a Rolls-Royce?

Yes. The V12 may be gutsier than before, the new look a half-step away from tradition and the improved handling veering slightly towards the sporting end of the spectrum, but there’s little mistaking that sumptuous ride quality, benchmark luxury and build quality, and that sense of occasion – even with a spot of noir polish – that only comes with Rolls-Royce ownership. Loyal customers of Britain’s most famous luxury carmaker can thus breathe a sigh of relief, and for those younger customers keen for a little more edge to their Spirit of Ecstasy, you might be surprised just what the Black Badge Wraith is capable of.

Enjoy our Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge test drive?

You can find more Rolls-Royce HERE, and more of our Car Reviews HERE

Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge
Engine: V12, twin turbo, 6592cc
Power: 624bhp @ 5250rpm
Torque: 870Nm (642lb ft) @ 1500-5000rpm
Weight (kerb): 2360kg
Power-to-weight: 264bhp/ton
0-100kph: 4.5secs
Top speed: 250kph
Basic price: $365,000

Categories: Car Review


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