Take a load off in a race-ready Rolls-Royce

The Ghost Black Badge has luxury and power in abundance, but it’s not without its flaws

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With all the noise surrounding the debut of Rolls-Royce's first SUV, the Cullinan, you could be forgiven for thinking that the grand old British carmaker had abandoned all other models in a frantic race to sew up the super-luxury segment of the off-road market. Not so.

Indeed, upping that level of ­comparative anonymity, the Ghost is perhaps the least appreciated of the RR range, falling as it does between billionaire limousine the Phantom and the two-door velocity of the Wraith, and without the charismatic charm of the drop-top Dawn. In sporty Black Badge guise, however, the Ghost is quite the performer and has plenty to remind you of its high net worth.

Make no mistake, this is a swift car, regardless of its length and breadth – the twin-turbo, 6.6-litre V12 lends your rear wheels a mite over 600hp and it will breeze from 0 to 100kph in less than 4.8 seconds. A sports ­exhaust package helps the burbling note just about penetrate your ­cosseted cabin.

Another idea nixed by my time in a Roller of non-Cullinan persuasion is that the Black Badge designation unequivocally follows the colour-based thinking pioneered by Henry Ford's Model T. It doesn't absolutely have to be black, as demonstrated by the pleasing ­maroon "magma red" external shades of my bespoke test car.

The entire point of a Rolls is to take a weight off, both mentally and physically. Heck, if you're driving it yourself, that is one level of stress above what most owners of four-door Rollers ordinarily experience. But whether you are sitting in the front or rear armchairs, from the second you nestle your feet in the charmingly fluffy lamb's-wool carpets – soon to be soiled by the Emirates' endless supplies of sand, no doubt – you feel your shoulders loosen and your status ascend. Massage seats aid that ­sensation. This isn't a car that you own; this car owns you.

This is a brand that specialises in making your ride a painless, ­comfortable joy, so it follows that even the seat-belt and 120kph warning tones aurally resemble the opening bars of a pastoral folk song, rather than the brain-breaking chimes that other motorists are often assaulted with at such junctures.

Not that the interior is without fault. For example, unlocking the doors from the inside is not as simple as it really should be, curiously, while the 360-degree ­camera is less reassuring in a Dh1.85 million motor than similar technology found in cars that cost a tenth of the price. You don't want to scrape or bash up bodywork addenda that invariably costs more than most people earn in a month.

Unlike the Dawn or the Phantom, however, there is less of a feeling that your bonnet is in another time zone, and with the aid of a golden-toned Spirit of Ecstasy marking the top of my Ghost’s grille, you always feel comfortable with spacial awareness while on the move.

Other minor grumbles? You forced to play a brief game of hide and seek if required to locate the slightly squirrelled-­away USB slot – hidden beneath the wireless phone charger in the central storage space. There is also a somewhat flimsy insert in the central console that, when I wedge my phone in a little too tightly, comes away in my hand. It doesn't break and slots back in easily, but it isn't the sort of seamless quality you expect from a Rolls-Royce.

This is possibly perfectionism, though, and the Ghost’s styling will keep your eyes sufficiently busy to distract you from such comparatively minor travails. For one, there is no getting around the fact that the rear suicide doors remain effortlessly cool – hinges at the opposite end add an idiosyncratic layer of class. And while the black Black Badges emit a definite sense of menace that a dark-red paint job cannot rival, the noir grille and sumptuous 21-inch rims lend subtler hints that this is a Roller fit for racing and relaxation.

While testing the Ghost, I also have the opportunity to take a close look at the first bespoke Cullinan to be delivered by Abu Dhabi Motors. The visual impressiveness surpasses even the Ghost with this level of hand-selected trim, albeit perhaps not in my first-choice colour. Twilight purple is an acquired taste.

The last time I piloted a Rolls-Royce in Abu Dhabi – a baby-blue Dawn, no lessI tested its ­pulling power by attempting to valet it at Emirates Palace, hoping that its ­gravitas would automatically earn a space in front of the entrance to the gold-laden seven-star hotel. That exercise was comically hamstrung by driving into the middle of a delegation of visiting officials, having ignored ­directions to self-park. This time, there are no such problems while visiting a ­smattering of properties with two fewer stars on the door. Self-­effacing chuckles still abound at one such ­establishment, though, when I pop the bubble of (fake) aristocracy at arrival by accidentally hitting the windscreen wipers instead of moving the steering-wheel-­mounted gear level in to park. You can't teach class, it would seem.

That said, you can definitely buy it: and the Ghost Black Badge ­possesses all the requisite specifications to propel you to that important board meeting – whether you are wafting there with plenty of time or ­dashing against the clock. Having taken the Black Badge models on track at Yas Marina Circuit previously, I can confirm that it also won't embarrass you on track days, should you be so inclined. Upper-class status symbols are rarely this rapid.


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