2017 Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge First Drive
An edgier Rolls-Royce for an edgier owner
He says, "You're young and edgy, you have tattoos, you live an alternative lifestyle, you're successful." As head of communications for Rolls-Royce, Richard Carter, and I eat dinner at SW Steakhouse inside the posh Wynn hotel on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, he tries to convince me that I'm exactly the type of person Black Badge hopes to attract. As much as I want to believe him—after drinking Perrier poolside, walking along the bottom of the Grand Canyon, dancing during a helicopter ride, and driving a 2017 Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge—I say, "But I'm not rich enough to own a Wraith." He laughs and agrees.
What is Black Badge?
When Rolls-Royce launched Black Badge earlier this year, CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös said the bespoke program aimed to entice "elusive and defiant risk-takers who break the rules and laugh in the face of convention," who are "dark and restless … glamorous and daring … uncompromising and unapologetic … untrammelled by social convention." I translated that to: "We at Rolls-Royce are tired of toiling over our cars just to have Floyd Mayweather, David Beckham, or any of the ungodly members of the evidently infinite Kardashian clan slap chrome dubs on their Wraith, get chauffeured to some West Hollywood club, and pull up in front of buzzing crowds of paparazzi who plaster the tackily tainted car across social media and make the fine folks at Goodwood look like they don't know what they're doing."
Rolls-Royce started its presentation about the Wraith Black Badge by showing a dozen photos of murdered-out Rolls-Royces from around the world. Some owners wrapped their Wraiths in matte-black vinyl and slammed the suspension, while others apparently rattle-canned their cars with Rust-Oleum's basic black, and each looked atrociously gaudy. I understand why younger, avant-garde Rolls-Royce owners want to modify their cars—typical Rolls-Royces, while absolutely elegant and well-crafted, come off as conservative, traditional, and stuffy—but I sympathize with Rolls-Royce on this one, because the owners blacking out Wraiths and Ghosts aren't doing it right. Which is why Rolls-Royce came up the Black Badge program, to give a "disruptive" group of owners what they want while putting to rest its scruples.
Pictures of boxer Muhammad Ali, fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, and Keith Moon, the original drummer for The Who, flashed on the screen as director of design for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Giles Taylor, talked about humanity's esoteric visionaries and troublemakers who helped inspire the Black Badge treatment. The Spirit of Ecstasy is done up in dark chrome, as are the grille surround, lower air intakes, and exhaust finishers. The main hubs of the wheels are constructed out of carbon fiber before artistic, five-spoke aluminum faces are bolted on with titanium fasteners. Taylor said the black paint Rolls-Royce suggests for a Black Badge has 16 base coats and seven coats of clear, each layer hand-polished before the next is put down. Inside, a black starlight headliner sits above a special Cobalto Blue leather interior, also suggested for the Wraith Black Badge, and a number of surfaces are covered in heavily lacquered carbon-fiber trim that has eyelash-thin threads of aluminum woven through it.
A pair of engineers took Taylor's place to talk about the powertrain and chassis upgrades done to the Wraith Black Badge. Power from the Wraith's twin-turbocharged 6.6-liter V-12 stays the same at 623 hp, but torque is increased by 30 lb-ft to 642 lb-ft. An inch has been added to the diameter of the front brake rotors, and pressing "Low" on the Wraith's shift stalk changes the car's character, making it more assertive. "Low" mode showcases more aggressive shift logic for the eight-speed automatic transmission, which has better clutches, hangs onto gears longer, and changes ratios quicker than the standard transmission. The Wraith Black Badge also has performance-focused throttle mapping; for example, if the throttle is more than 80 percent open, the engine will rev all the way to 6,000 rpm before shifting.
This slew of subtle changes might not seem all that serious, but it is for Rolls-Royce. This is the first time in the automaker's recent history that performance and attitude trump opulence and elegance. "It's what we've got to do," said Carter, noting that the ego-driven men buying the Wraith Black Badge—no women have placed orders for a Black Badge yet—want a youthful, expressive Rolls-Royce with boldness befitting of their lifestyle.
Flying Up and Over Mountains
After the presentation, I climbed into a helicopter and flew to the base of the Grand Canyon for lunch before flying to Paiute Golf Resort north of Vegas, where a 2017 Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge waited for me. With deep, rich black paint and a white leather interior, it looked like Cruella De Vil's dream car. I sat behind the thin-rimmed steering wheel and pressed the button near the A-pillar that automatically closes the yard-long, reverse-hinged door. I pressed the ignition button, expecting some sort of rumble from the exhaust, but the V-12 woke up quietly and quickly settled into a humming idle. After using the navigation screen to preview a snaking route through Red Rock Canyon National Park and up to the crest of Charleston Peak, I put the Wraith in "Low" mode and set off, immediately noticing the extra steering heft that engineers worked into Black Badge models.
On a highway littered with state police, I set cruise control and scrolled through the playlist Rolls-Royce put together for the drive. AC/DC, Iggy and The Stooges, Motörhead, The Doors, The Kinks, and The Velvet Underground—not exactly what you'd expect to hear in a Rolls-Royce, but it felt sort of right in the Black Badge. With the windows down and the volume topped out, I turned the Wraith left onto Lee Canyon Road and started to climb some 7,000 feet in elevation. The engine wound up smoothly toward its redline, the transmission snapped between gears with the immediacy of a sports car, and the big brakes bit down wickedly hard when I came to a series of mild chicanes. The car stayed flat, the chassis composed and balanced, as the Wraith transitioned left to right and back, obviously more confident than the base car. But at the first hairpin the Wraith reminded me that despite its angry appearance and mildly improved performance, it's still a 5,200-pound luxury coupe that leans and dips like a drunk in a funhouse. I came to a straight bit of road, stopped, cycled through the car's menus to turn off stability control, and roasted the wide rear tires. I got out of the car near the top of Charleston Peak, saw a pair of thick, still-smoking black stripes, laughed, and breathed in cool mountain air before heading back toward the Strip.
Back At the Steakhouse
At dinner Carter asks what I think of the Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge, and this is what I say: Rolls-Royce could've easily put together a simple paint-and-trim package that blacked out every inch of the Wraith, and the package would've probably sold extremely well, so why not do just that? Because Black Badge is as much for Rolls-Royce as it is for a new generation of Rolls-Royce owners. It works the wants of potential buyers into existing products without completely treading on Rolls-Royce's traditions. The treatment may not be enough for some buyers, who will seek out aftermarket shops to darken the few bits of chrome left on the Wraith or add more power to its already potent engine, but Black Badge should better resonate with young, successful, alternative individuals who enjoy shaking up established norms than, say, a standard Wraith would. Black Badge gives the Rolls-Royce Wraith serious cojones, and since I—exactly the type of person Black Badge hopes to attract—sort of want one, it seems Black Badge is a success.
2017 Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge Specifications
|Price:||$306,350/$350,000 (base/as tested) (est)|
|Engine:||6.6L twin-turbocharged 48-valve V-12/624 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 642 lb-ft @ 1,500-5,500 rpm|
|Layout:||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA Mileage:||13/21 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||207.4 x 76.7 x 59.3 in|
|0-60 MPH:||4.4 sec|
|Top Speed:||155 mph|