Driving luxury to the dark side
Mark Smyth ignored the rules and took to the Kyalami racetrack in a Rolls-Royce
When Tears for Fears penned the song Everybody Wants to Rule the World they probably did not have Donald Trump in mind. They were probably not thinking of poker-playing playboys or those who live life on the edge of the rules, possibly even beyond them.
That hit was the song that played as we were introduced to the new Rolls-Royce Black Badge. It is the luxury marque’s attempt to lure in those who live a little on the dark side, who bend the rules every now again. In the 1980s we might have called these people the risk takers, today we might refer to them as the disruptors.
Black Badge is a permanent new sub-brand for Rolls, which came about after the company engaged with its customers over what they wanted in the future.
"They showed a desire for something more edgy," says Brett Soso, regional director for the Middle East, Africa and South America. He expects to find a younger audience, people who are less concerned with the rules and probably a few who like to break them.
What it is not, says Soso, is an attempt to take on Bentley. That is a matter of opinion, because Bentley has always had a slightly more sporting pedigree and behind all the dark chrome and the fashionable interiors of the Black Badge Ghost and Wraith is a car that is said to be more powerful and more dynamic.
Which is why we did not find found ourselves driving it in the heart of Sandton or Bishopscourt but at the Kyalami racetrack. Yes seriously, we put a Roller on the track. (We were nannied of course, which meant sitting behind a pace car with a driver that promised to go faster but then didn’t). Still, you wouldn’t want the media scratching the paintwork before the customers who will actually shell out for the darker Spirit of Ecstasy get to drive them would you. Those customers will pay about R6,950,000 for the Ghost version or R7,450,000 for the Wraith. Interestingly, pricing on Rolls has actually come down a bit (it’s all relative of course), mainly thanks to improvements in the exchange rate.
"The Black Badge spirit manifests itself through carefully considered design elements which together express a darker luxury sophistication," says Giles Taylor, director of design at the company. "New material accents and tonalities are combined to accommodate the tastes of fast-moving customers who adopt a strident approach to life’s finer challenges."
Not surprisingly, one of these design elements is a black badge. The resplendent Spirit of Ecstasy has also been darkened to become what the company refers to as a "black vamp".
Other chrome elements have gone dark, and the wheels are made of a combination of aluminium and carbon fibre. Carbon fibre also features in the interior with a unique weave that is not available for regular models. Simply calling it carbon fibre is probably doing it a disservice. Rolls says it is "aerospace-grade aluminium-threaded carbon fibre composite surfacing", similar to that found on stealth aircraft.
It is a material that takes a great deal of effort to produce.
The same is true of the darkened chrome elements in the interior. It is not paint folks, no that would be too easy and just a little beneath the brand. Instead we are talking about a process called physical vapour deposition, which we are assured will guarantee that the colour will not fade with time.
The colour options for the interior trim are also new, with bold choices such as Tailored Purple or Cobalto Blue. There is also an infinity logo (not to be confused with Infiniti) that symbolises the attitude of challenging or ignoring the limits.
Mechanically, the models get some tweaks, including upgrading the 6.6l V12 in the Ghost version by 30kW to 450kW and torque by 60Nm to 840Nm. The engineers have not changed the power output in the Wraith but torque is up by 70Nm.
Other changes to the steering and suspension have been made to give the car more of a driver focus but without compromising on the level of ride comfort you expect from a Roller.
The car is no lightweight, of course, and it was impossible not to feel its weight in the corners. The driving position is more about cruising than about pushing hard through apexes, but it quickly became apparent that the Wraith Black Badge we drove on the circuit is far more competent than any owner is ever likely to give it credit for.
The tyres might have squealed and the body might have leaned but it hunkered down and got on with it, the eight-speed gearbox working hard to predict what you want to do next.
In fact, every element of the car was trying to predict the way I would handle the next turn. There is nothing so crass as a sport button. Instead the computer within tries to match your style and on deciding that we were on a racetrack it tightened everything up.
It was a very unreal experience, putting a Rolls-Royce through its paces on the track. It seems sort of wrong, as though you are rebelling, dare I say it, even being disruptive. Well that would be the point wouldn’t it?