Rolls-Royce Goes Back to Black

The luxury automaker hopes that its new Black Badge Wraith and Ghost editions will attract a new kind of buyer.

Once upon a time, it seemed the only personal attribute you needed to become a proud owner of a Rolls-Royce was a bank account the size of Bermuda.

That’s still the case when you’re required to hand-over at least $295,860 to drive away in the most-modest Roller, the four-door Ghost.

But if you aspire to Rolls-Royce’s newest offering, the 2017 Wraith Black Badge coupe and Black Badge Ghost sedan, with their bad-boy, all-black paint and blacked-out chrome-and-stainless trim, you need an altogether different set of personal traits.

According to Rolls-Royce CEO, Torsten Muller-Otvos, these are cars that will appeal to people who are “elusive and defiant”. People who are “risk takers and disruptors who break the rules and laugh in the face of convention.” People who are “driven by a restless spirit” and “play hard and change the world”.

Translate that into “the young, the rich and the hip wouldn’t be seen dead in a royal-blue-hued Wraith with mirror-finished wood trim and cream leather”.  They want, according to Rolls design chief, Giles Taylor, “to express a darker luxury sophistication”. I guess that means they want black.

And that’s definitely what this Black Badge edition offers. It starts with the 16 base coats of paint and seven coats of lacquer, with each layer hand-sanded and polished before the next coat is applied. Rolls calls the color, naturally, Black Badge Black and describes it as the most intense black ever seen on a production car.

Then, seemingly everything that was chrome or stainless, has been blacked-out. Front grille, grille surround, tailpipes, trunk lid shiny bits. Everything. Imagine a Stealth bomber on four wheels, and this is it.

Amazingly, it even applies to the famed Flying Lady emblem who has been magically transformed into Beyonce.

Those new wheels are pretty edgy too. Developed over four years by Rolls engineers, the rims feature 22 layers of carbon fiber and are attached to aircraft-grade aluminum hubs which are bonded to the rim using aerospace-strength titanium fasteners.

The interior has also been given the Black Badge treatment  with lots of carbon fiber composite trim and blacked-out chrome bits. Look up and the lovely starlight headliner is, you guessed it, all, black.

Thankfully there is a little substance to all this style. The mighty 6.6-liter V12 that powers the standard Wraith and Ghost models gets a subtle power increase – it’s up 40 horsepower to 603-hp while the 8-speed automatic shifts sooner and holds on to gears longer to give a sportier drive. Bigger front brake rotors – up in diameter by an inch – should deliver even more urgent stopping.

All this blacking doesn’t come cheap. For the highly-desirable Black Badge Wraith coupe, you’ll pay $350,000 compared to $309,000 for the standard car. For all those Silicon Valley “risk takers and disruptors” that shouldn’t be a problem.

But with Rolls-Royce having such a remarkable and creative Bespoke division at its Goodwood, England factory, I’m not sure I see the point of the Black Badge.

To me Rolls-Royce buyers crave something that is unique and bespoke to them, and are willing to pay for that exclusivity.

Imagine you are one of those rich, young risk-takers and disruptors and you pull-up outside the Soho House in West Hollywood and see an identical Black Badge Wraith in the valet parking line. And even worse, a Kardashian was stepping out of it. You’d be horrified.

To me, the Black Badge makes an excellent starting point. But if you really want to stand out from the crowd, break the rules and laugh in the face of convention, as Mr. Muller-Otvos suggests, you can do better by going Bespoke.

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