Rare 2017 Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge Is a $400,000 Apparition
This rare Badge edition dons superhero garb, signals shifting via satellite, at a price fit for Bruce Wayne
So I’m driving this Rolls-Royce on the BQE, or the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and a pair of dudes blast up in an Infiniti G37 for a closer look. They’re suit-and-tie guys, and the passenger rolls down his window with a legitimate question for this Ghost Black Badge, at $400,000 and change: “What do I have to do to get a car like that?”
I half-shout something about just being a journalist, but this young go-getter is already thinking ahead: “Are you looking to buy any real estate?” We’re traveling in adjoining lanes at 60 mph. Mr. Infiniti is completely serious. Alas, I’m not in the market for a Brooklyn brownstone or Tribeca duplex, or any other $10 million property this man mistakenly assumes befits my station. I chuckle and offer a patronizing wave, as an actual Rolls owner might do, bury the throttle that awakens a 603-horsepower, twin-turbo V12, and dispatch their doddering carriage, with its peasant-y Nissan scent.
One thing seems certain: This cheeky salesman would never have hit me up if I had been driving a Mercedes S-Class, or the BMW 7-Series on which the Ghost is based. Those are regular cars for regular successful New Yorkers. This Rolls-Royce is something special; its very existence beyond the ability of many people—including a peasant-y journalist – to grasp. Better to not think too hard about how a $311,000 sedan can leave room for another $104,000 in options, from a $10,650 black paint job (geez, how much does red cost?); to a brilliant $9,175 “bespoke” audio system, which suggests that owners are trying on tweeters and being fitted for subwoofers. The Black Badge package itself added $45,000, and that doesn’t even include the aforementioned 16 coats of hand-polished ebony paint. The Ghost does look great in black.
111-year family tradition, now with room at the rich kid's table
That traditional Edwardian coat aside, we’ve applauded Rolls-Royce’s bid to emerge from its once-stuffy cocoon. Mindful of the need to cultivate younger generations of the elite, Rolls’ latest designs – including the Wraith coupe and Dawn convertible – are their freshest and most alluring in decades. New “Black Badge” editions of the Ghost and Wraith look to inject more dynamic performance and a touch of rock-and-roll (hip-hop stars also welcome), albeit at the level of an estate-dwelling Beatle or Stone, not some starveling indie band.
A Rolls-Royce ad imagines the ideal, a model who’s meant to evoke a Johnny Rotten type, but whose superior hygiene, curated clothes, haircut and jewelry instead recall the douchiest billionaire’s son in all of London.
Actual owners of the Black Badge sedan won’t bother with lifestyle fantasy, since they’re already living it. They’ll find a Ghost that glowers with blacked-out bodywork; extroverted two-toned interior treatments; firmed-up air springs and dampers; and 40 additional horsepower for its 6.6-liter V12, for a total of 603. Torque plateaus at a lofty 619 pound-feet, 40 more than the standard Ghost Series 2.
Many of the usual chromed bits are brushed in smoky mascara, from exhaust outlets to surrounds for the grille and the frosty, adaptive LED headlamps. The winged Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, which motors up and down either automatically or by command, is rendered in glossy black. Rolls says the 21-inch carbon-composite wheels took four years to develop, their style inspired by Sixties Italian supercars. They’re formed from 22 layers of carbon-fiber cloth, folded to create 44 strong layers that also make each rim visually distinct. Those rims are set in a black alloy hub made from aluminum and titanium. For all that technology, the wheels’ geometric, gear-like pattern struck me as too brash for this stately sedan, like something straight out of SEMA. Fortunately, this being a Rolls, buyers have plenty of optional rim styles to choose from.
It's what's inside that really counts
My own snooty personalization would also trade my model’s boring piano-black wood for a lighter, richer-grained hue, something in the birch or maple range. Or maybe the new “Technical Fiber”: The crew in Goodwood, England adopts a material used on stealth aircraft, hand-weaving fine threads of aluminum with carbon fiber, then applying six coats of lacquer and hand-polishing to a mirror finish. Its pattern recalls designer chain mail. And I don’t care if it’s a gimmick: The signature Starlight Headliner, which splashes a constellation of roughly 1,300 fiber-optic nodes over occupants’ literally dazzled heads, is a must-have; especially at a mere $5,200, compared with $12,000 and more on other Rollers I’ve driven.
My model’s black finishes contrasted with heavenly soft, bright blue leather and arctic white stitching. Tiffany-bright chrome flatters the door handles, trim and traditional vent pulls that recall organ stops. The $166,000 Mercedes-Maybach S550 and $195,000 Bentley Flying Spur are dream sedans, but even their cabins don’t soar to these sensory heights. Rolls tells us that five dozen craftsmen put in 450 hours of labor to hand-build each Ghost.
Of course, the Ghost’s high-rollers will often prefer the back seat. They’ll find ample legroom, reclining chairs with pillowy headrests, and foldout picnic tables in sumptuous wood and metal. A second, generously sized iDrive rotary knob lets backseat CEO’s micromanage music, phones, the nav system or dual entertainment screens. Push a button behind the rear roof pillar, and rear coach doors swing shut automatically. A pair of posh umbrellas, offered in a range of colors, slot into the front doors so a chauffeur can keep the boss dry.
Things that might seem an anachronism in other cars appear as fond tradition here. The slender cross section of the steering wheel encourages a light grip, and it twirls through its radius like a spoon through heavy cream. But modernity is also getting its due at Rolls-Royce, from night vision and other safety gizmos to a lightly disguised version of BMW’s now-excellent iDrive infotainment system.
A bit of Britain here, a touch of BMW there
That modernity now extends to the driving experience. Between its two-fisted turbo shove and hefty 6.6-liter displacement, the V12 hurtles the Rolls to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. It’s rocketing luxury liner whose nuclear reactor emits a beautifully distant hum from six decks below.
More surprising for the updated Ghost Series 2, with its BMW underpinnings, is how well it stays out of its own way for a 5,600-pound sedan. Between its firmed-up suspension and low-profile 21-inch tires, the Black Badge doesn’t waft over the road quite as magically as the larger Phantom. But cabin isolation is still remarkable, and the payback is superior body control and confidence. The Ghost barely lists in fast corners, and only silly speeds get the Rolls pushing off course and reminding you of its sheer mass. Another other reminder is fuel economy, which settled in around 13 mpg and draws a $2,700 guzzler tax, with its official thirst of 12/19 mpg in city and highway.
When I dipped the slender, column-mounted electronic stalk for the automatic transmission, the Rolls engaged Reverse or Drive with the barest tremble, rather than the “thunk” of most cars. The Black Badge also adopts the Wraith’s satellite-aided transmission that anticipates the road ahead and shifts based on GPS data. Since shifts are nearly imperceptible anyway, I can never tell if shifts are actually being directed from outer space, but it makes for good cocktail banter. I can attest that, compared with the standard Ghost, the Black Badge’s eight-speed hold gears longer for more urgency in flight.
Starry, starry night
A Presidents’ Day weekend also flew by in the Ghost, which turned every drive into a black-tie occasion, not matter what we were wearing. The Rolls wowed guests at a colleague’s birthday party in Brooklyn. It made a ridiculous splash at a crowded trailhead in Harriman State Park north of New York, where the looks on backpackers’ faces said it all: Who the fuck takes a Rolls-Royce hiking? (An outdoorsy zillionaire, that’s who). Our muddy shoes did come off before they could sully the Ghost’s $1,400 lambswool footpads, plush enough to bury toes like Elysian fields of fantasy.
At the close of this fine, unseasonably warm winter weekend, I ended up in back with a charming actress date, listening to tunes but blowing the chance to pop a bottle of champagne from the built-in chiller hidden behind the rear console. (Hey, I was driving). Central Park and night skies were a block away, but inside, the Starlight Headliner gleamed like the proscenium of a Broadway theater. We unfurled the picnic tables, reclined the seats and fired up the massagers. And for just one more moment we pretended this was real life, that we belonged in a Rolls-Royce.
Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home.