A Test Drive in the $350,000 2017 Rolls-Royce Black Badge

Credit: Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce’s Black Badge lineup was influenced by the unlikeliest of muses — late, great, larger-than-life Rolls owners who had a penchant for rabble rousing. Think Keith Moon, the original Who drummer known for tossing TVs out of hotel windows; Yves Saint-Laurent, who shocked the fashion world by creating a tuxedo for women; Mohammed Ali, whose political defiance made him a symbol for the anti-establishment; Howard Hughes, the eccentric billionaire recluse; and of course, Charles Rolls himself, a swashbuckling racer and aviator who became Great Britain’s first aviation casualty when he crashed his Wright Flier. True to its influences, this vehicle doesn't carry the usual stuffiness you might associate with the 110 year-old brand. We took it to the road — and then the track — to find out just what it's made of.

All-Black Everything

Black Badge cars wear a series of modifications intended to give a discreetly aggressive streak to Rolls-Royce’s otherwise cushy Wraith coupes and Ghost sedans. As the name suggests, lots of typically shiny bits like the wheels, badging, and the Spirit of Ecstasy hood figurine are blacked out. For the first time in Rolls-Royce history, the wheels use a hybrid of aluminum and 44 layers of carbon fiber, improving both handling and ride quality while lending a more modern look. But Black Badges aren’t about the fully murdered out treatment. “We didn’t want to just dip the entire car in black,” says head designer Giles Taylor. “That would have been too easy.”

Key pieces of polished metal set off the chiaroscuro theme, like the stainless trim between the front and rear windows, the door handles, and parts of the grille. The paint retains its staggeringly deep 16-layer finish, but the model’s moniker is a tad misleading: you can order your Black Badge in any color you like. Ask for Rolls to black out any of the selectively stainless parts, however, and you’ll be declined. Masculine touches on the inside within include a technique borrowed from stealth fighters that combines thinner-than-hair strands of carbon fiber and aircraft grade aluminum for a fine mesh pattern embedded into the dashboard. The surface takes six coats of lacquer before it’s hand-polished to a peerless finish.

Mechanical tweaks also make the Black Badge drive more meanly. Though the hulking 6.6-liter twin turbocharged V12 engine produces the same 604 horsepower, Rolls-Royce engineers squeezed out an extra 45 lb-ft of torque, bringing the grand total to 620 lb-ft. Coupled with changes to the transmission that enable higher revs, quicker shifts, and more eager downshifts (along with bigger brakes), the Black Badge is engineered to accelerate more eagerly and stop more assertively. Also aiding the buttoned-down feeling is stiffer suspension and more responsive steering, which goes a long way making the 2.5-ton coupe feel nimbler.

The Roller and the Racetrack

“We’ve never done a car like this before,” Global Communications Director Richard Carter told us before our test drive, adding that, “to be frank, it’s a bit of a test.” The admission came at a penthouse suite in the Wynn resort on the same Vegas Strip spot where Black Badge poster boy Howard Hughes holed up at the Desert Inn before buying the joint.

By 8 p.m. (when the temps dipped to a balmy 91 degrees), we found ourselves at Speed Vegas, a new racetrack just outside of the city. On the still-cooling tarmac, a fleet of Black Badge Wraiths stood, awaiting our flogging; headlights on, engines humming almost imperceptibly.

Sitting snug in the Wraith’s opulent cabin at a racetrack feels a bit odd. Despite the sparse exterior landscape and hot desert air, the Rolls is a sanctuary of elegantly proportioned wood and leather. Overhead, a “starlight headliner” mimics the nighttime firmament with an array of tiny fiber optic pinpoints. Seriously fancy stuff for a track.

Emerging from the pits, the Black Badge Wraith accelerates into darkness like a silent freight train: headstrong, unwavering, and eerily noiseless. Moving through Speed Vegas’s mile and a half of tarmac reveals a crisp and responsive side to this dark steed. Though the steering wheel is relatively light, all four wheels feel more connected to the driver, communicating their relationship to the road without the off-the-rack Wraith’s layer of cushy insulation. Even at the track, there’s nothing jarring about Black Badge; rather, it’s laced with a very subtle edge of tightness in contrast to Rolls’s typically pillowy softness.

On the Road

Seat time on mountainous roads the following day reveal more about the Wraith’s everyday drivability. While that sense of whooshy alacrity feels counterintuitive on the racetrack, it’s downright decadent on the road. The Black Badge can accelerate to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds—quicker than a Porsche 911 Carrera — but it feels completely effortless and drama-free in the process. Likewise, triple-digit speeds appear seemingly instantaneously, but the sensation is so understated it feels like you’re crawling at parking-lot speeds. Sorry officer, I had no idea I blasting past sports cars in my obnoxiously expensive coupe.

With its look-at-me flamboyance and precious metal presence, the $350,000 Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge certainly isn’t for everyone. But for the sliver of population seeking to add a touch of attitude to their posh driving experience, the Black Badge is gilded with just the right amount of darkness.