It's a Rolls-Royce, Jim, but not as we know it. Say hello to the Darth Vader of Rollers (apologies to Star Trek/Star Wars fans for mixing these two metaphors). The Wraith Black Badge is billed as the most-engaging RR to date, serving up more grunt, agility and visual menace than any model wearing the Spirit of Ecstasy on its imperious snout.
Is the notion of fettling a Rolls-Royce for more poke and panache contradictory to the snooty British brand’s core values? The bigwigs at its Goodwood headquarters don’t think so, and they are backed up by research showing that demand exists for a niche model that targets younger, more flamboyant buyers – hence the existing number of dodgy makeovers by aftermarket customisers with more greed than taste.
The standard Wraith’s outputs of 632hp and 800Nm already placed it at the top of the RR potency pecking order, but for the bad-boy Black Badge, the latter quota has been hiked by 70 Newtons to ensure the 2.5-tonne coupé proceeds with an even greater sense of urgency.
Price, base / as tested Dh1.6m
Engine 6.6L twin-turbo V12
Gearbox Eight-speed auto
Power 632hp at 5,600rpm
Torque 870Nm at 1,700rpm
Fuel economy, combined 14.6L / 100km
Rolls-Royce quotes a 0-to-100kph split of 4.5 seconds, and the Black Badge feels every bit as quick in the real world, although its acceleration is unfurled with such velvety smoothness that it’s a bit like being in an Airbus A380 in take-off mode.
Throttle mapping has also been tweaked for sharper response than the standard model, and it’s quicker to downshift when you’re decelerating or braking, which is handy on twisty roads because there are no paddles for manual shifting (these are considered far too gauche for a Rolls-Royce).
Prod the twin-turbo motor with a stab on the gas and your ears are greeted by an entirely unfamiliar noise for a Rolls-Royce. Unlike mainstream Rollers, in which the sound of the V12 is muffled to a distant thrum, the Wraith has a distinct growl to it. In keeping with its more-dynamic job description (Rolls-Royce execs studiously avoid using the word “sporty” in relation to the car), the Wraith Black Badge also gains uprated air suspension that keeps it flatter under hard cornering.
Our test route includes a variety of mountainous roads in the harsh, rocky environs of Ras Al Khaimah, and the Wraith tackles it all with a lot more pace and poise than expected from a 5.3-metre-long behemoth that weighs as much as two Toyota Corolla hatchbacks. Push hard and you will ultimately encounter body roll and mild understeer, but the hefty Roller never gets ragged or untidy. Steering feel, too, is much meatier and feedback-laden than in the donor car.
Visual clues to the Black Badge’s identity include a (gasp) black Spirit of Ecstasy figurine on the prow, while the grille surround, boot-lid finisher, lower air inlet trim and exhaust pipe tips are finished in gloss-black rather than chrome. The RR badges have also been inverted to silver on black, in lieu of the standard car’s black on silver.
My test car’s cabin is swathed in a rather loud cobalt blue/black trim combo. Incidentally, the hide is sourced from Bavarian bulls. There’s no barbed wire or mosquitoes in these lofty Bavarian climes, so said bovines’ skin remains unmarked.
There’s no doubt many of those who buy the Black Badge will be doing so for no other reason than its anticipated rarity and show-off value. But rather than taking delivery of a superficially tarted-up vehicle, Wraith Black Badge buyers stand to own a car with genuine substance.
It’s a capable uber-luxury coupé, and quite enjoyable to drive – all 5.3 metres of it. And unlike the Ford Model T, it doesn’t just come in black.