Behind the wheel: Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge
We take a ride to the dark side aboard Rolls-Royce’s Black Badge Ghost.
Are cars male or female? Conventions have changed since the late 19th century, when people first rode around in horseless carriages, but well into the 1950s—and probably much later—automobiles were always considered to belong to the fairer sex. For example, when Emil Jellinek, the business partner of Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, was looking for a trademark for the duo’s cars in 1902, it was no coincidence that he preferred his daughter’s name, Mercedes, to his sons’ Adolph or Fernand. Nothing else would have been unthinkable: cars were considered boats, traditionally dedicated to a goddess or matriarch, and invariably loved by the men who sailed them. So a car was a woman.
Think of the gorgeous Talbot-Lago 150 Teardrop Coupe, Ferraro GTO or Jaguar E-Type, none of which could ever be considered masculine. Also think of the prettiest Rolls-Royce that springs to mind – maybe it’s the late ’40s-mid ’50s Silver Dawn Drophead Coupe, with its lush front wings, hectic rear end, wheel spats and sweeping tail, that is so graceful billows like a ball gown. There’s no way this car is a man – unless of course it’s taking part in the kind of drag race organized by RuPaul.
But here’s the riddle. Today I drive a car with the same RR badging and a winged female figure above the subtly lit Parthenon-inspired front grille, but this car just can’t be considered feminine. In fact, it’s a Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost, and while mechanically it’s only slightly different from the latest version of the company’s “entry-level” sedan, pretty much everything is jet black. I say “fairly” because a pair of waist-level turquoise coachlines run its length, coordinated by the colored disc brake calipers lurking behind 21-inch carbon-aluminum wheels. Otherwise, even the glossy work, including the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot that pops out of the hood when it’s ignited, has been given the full noir treatment. If a 17-foot car that tips the scales at nearly 2.5 tons can ever be considered stealthy, I think it is.
The concept behind the Black Badge pack, which is also available on the Wraith coupe, Dawn convertible and Cullinan luxury utility vehicle, is simple. Throughout the company’s long history, Rolls-Royce have been associated with an older and narrower demographic, made up of royalty, aristocrats, plutocrats and aging movie stars. Black Badge was designed to reverse that perception and attract a new and younger clientele – people just as wealthy as the company’s traditional customers, but likely to be attracted to a more quirky and, as the company puts it, “more urgent” personality. In other words, they’re tech moguls, footballers, supermodels, rock stars, and rappers (and yes, there’s even a dangerous hint of gangsta in this brand within a brand), owners who handle the driving duties themselves rather than calling on James, to do it for her.
The strategy has obviously worked: Since the introduction of Rolls’ darker “alter ego” in 2016, its popularity has grown so much that it was last responsible for around 27 percent of all sales; Crucially, it has also helped bring the average age of customers down to a relatively young 43. And lest you get the impression Black Badges have to be black, the company says its customers can “choose any of the brand’s 44,000 colors to create their own unique hue.”
Of course, for all its attitude, the Ghost I drive is a Rolls-Royce through and through, with all the cutting-edge technology and refined luxury that goes with it. Beneath its massive bonnet lies a 6.75-litre, twin-turbocharged V12 that produces a sluggish 592bhp – 29bhp more than the regular non-Black Ghost – while peak torque is boosted slightly to an even punchier 900Nm overall is available at engine speeds just above idle. All that grunt is sent to all four wheels (each of which is steerable for increased agility) via a sophisticated eight-speed automatic transmission whose software optimizes performance by crunching information from satellites and cameras – as does the active air suspension’s Planar, terrain-anticipating system, that irons out bumps in the road perfectly. To match the car’s bad-boy demeanor, the damping itself is set a little harder than regular Ghosts, and given the ‘low’ setting of the gearbox – Rolls obviously can’t bring itself to use the word ‘sport’ – when engaged, it stiffens even more, as does the otherwise feather-light steering.
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This story first appeared on Prestige Online Hong Kong.