Rolls-Royce's new Wraith Black Badge chases younger market

What in the world of sanity are we doing in Las Vegas, a steamy cauldron of weirdness and cosmetic enhancement and marriage chapels and mischief makers of all ages, and slot machines in airport arrival areas, and neons collectively flashing so cheerfully that they can be seen from space? This is a place of rarely matched shameless gaudiness and ungodliness', where the bizarre is absolutely normal.

Yet this is precisely where brand-sensitive Rolls-Royce has deliberately chosen to show off its new Wraith Black Badge model.

Transformative move

Yes, Rolls-Royce, historically redolent of cigar smoke and pinstripes and pile-carpeted boardrooms, of mainly old money clients, and, even whilst under the latter-day proprietorship of BMW, as defiantly British as the Grenadier Guards.

The new Black Badge variants of the Wraith (and the Ghost), were introduced earlier this year to a mix of acclaim and raised eyebrows at the Geneva motor show. "We were initially a little apprehensive about this transformative move for Rolls-Royce," says the brand's global spinner, the smoothly urbane but delightfully mischievous Richard Carter. "It's a disruptive car in our range, and there was some resistance from the old boys."

The word "disruptive" is aired often by the Rolls-Royce gents explaining this bold new pathway to edgier cars.

It's a disruptive car in our range, and there was some resistance from the old boys.

Richard Carter

Scroll through the gallery above to see inside the new Rolls. 

Young rollers

Already Rolls-Royce owners are getting younger, the average age down to 43 from 55 in just five years, an extraordinary downward projection suggests Carter, adding that the youngest Rolls-Royce buyer on record is a 26-year-old self-made Indian. He has two.

The average age will fall further with the Black Badge targeting younger, edgier and sometimes outrageous lads and ladies who might be in IT or fashion or music. Or perhaps entrepreneurs or smarties who've turned ideas and ambition into money. Lots of it.

These are goers and shakers in their high 20s, 30s and low 40s, jammy people with the wherewithal and inclination to self-reward. But they bluntly told Rolls-Royce a few years ago: "You have nothing for us. Give us something darker, edgier."

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So two years ago, Rolls-Royce assembled a band of key designers and engineers - enfants terrible - to create two new model alter-ego variants, more driver-focused and agile, to catch the eye of a very different, more extreme, breed of buyer.

Famous rebels

Inspiration was pulled from the likes of more rebellious old-time Rolls-Royce owners, like Yves Saint Laurent, who drove an all-black 1952 Wraith.

And Keith Moon, the subversive, mocking, irreverent Who drummer and one of the first members of the 27 Club. One of his Rolls-Royce toys may or may not have ended in a swimming pool.

Or the reclusive, brilliant aviator, clean freak and bra designer Howard Hughes, a Rolls-Royce enthusiast who lived in Vegas for a time. John Lennon, Muhammad Ali, the list goes on. 

Glamorous and daring, they lived fast, and worked and played hard. Disruptives all, we're assured.

Potent power

And, yes, the most powerful Rolls-Royce in history, the new fastback Wraith Black Badge coupe's kerbside presence is potent. At close to 5.3 metres in length, the four seater has a footprint larger than a Mercedes-Benz S500 L. Yet it is the smallest of the range (but still hefty, with unstinting rear headroom and legroom).

Entering the beautifully crafted cabin via forward-opening, aka suicide, doors (they close at the push of a button near the A pillar) and sliding past the trademark umbrellas stored in the door sills, you enter a world of the contemporary, more dramatic Rolls-Royce. Buyers have myriad choices extending to a handmade headlining laced with hundreds of fibre optic lights hinting at stars at night. Pick any constellation you want.

All the trimmings

Trims offerings range from the bold orange-red leather with black, or white with black, or any other combination demanded by your bespoke inclinations. And any exterior colour under the sun, though black seems to be an obvious choice. Confusingly, it's quite OK to order a white Black Badge Wraith model.

Much has been made too of a fascia trim of a delicate aluminium weave finished with carbon fibre. It looks wonderfully contemporary and industrial, yet blends effortlessly with the adjacent soft hide, the dainty analogue dash clock and the splashes of chrome throughout.

The vehicle entertainment system, based on the BMW iDrive, is a breeze to use.

The quality and clean power of the 1300W sound system is impressive too, with music either stored on the in-built hard drive or streamed directly from a music source.

Chief designer Giles Taylor proudly circles his creation as he points out some styling acmes; the "Flying Lady" is a breakthrough black, on a chrome base for contrast. The brightwork chrome extends to the side window surrounds, the tail-light surrounds and the door handles – "an iconic piece of jewellery". The 21-inch wheels, carbon fibre and alloy, are hardly subtle and Taylor emphasises the point with: "They are aggressive wheels, to be sure, but right for this car."

Power on

The performance highlight is an extra 70Nm of torque from the big 6.6-litre twin-turbocharged V12, which now has 870Nm of pulling performance to go with the 435kW of Goodwood grunt.

Not so long ago, Rolls-Royce people routinely evaded the age-old question of "how much power does it have?". Now the company is not so shy. The modern equivalent of "adequate" is enough to propel 2.44 tonnes of muscled-up Brit from rest to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds via a tweaked, sportier version of the satellite-aided eight-speed auto transmission that predicts the terrain ahead.

The front brakes have larger discs too, the speed-variable steering is sharper at higher speeds, and the air suspension adjusted for a firmer, more responsive driving experience.

Having told us what the Wraith Black badge is, Carter feels the need to explain what the Wraith Black Badge isn't.

"We don't think is a racing car. We don't think it is a sports car. We don't think it is a supercar."

Desert laps

And with that we're whisked off to SpeedVegas, a new racing circuit nearby, for some swift laps in the desert darkness.

Yes, it does feel big and heavy. But the accelerative surge, though short of ferocious, is impressive, and so too is the braking performance, which isn't accompanied by noticeable pitching. The tyres tailored for the Wraith gel nicely with the steering, with that 2.44 tonnes taking direction from the steering without protest.

Later, we take a drive from Vegas into the mountains snaking along some pleasant roads to a ski village called Mount Charleston. Wrapped in the hand-built Wraith, like a billionaire in his panic room, our progress is secure. And comfortably fast. Give the throttle a squeeze, and the craggy scenery disappears quickly, accompanied by a pleasing muted snarl.

Moreover, it does the job so fluently and smoothly. The ride quality, even with the steadier suspension, is stunning. The steering wheel is larger in diameter than I prefer, but it is commendably accurate, the dark-skinned Flying Lady leading the way. I feel marvellously, though merely temporarily, disruptive.

The bottom line

To arrive in Australia later in the year, the faster, moodier and more expressive Wraith Black Badge will be priced at $745,000 drive away, precisely $100,000 more than the standard Wraith.

So are Black Badge variants as sporty as Rolls-Royce will get?

"We could do something a little faster," concedes Carter before adding quickly, "but there are no plans to do so."

The details

Engine: twin-turbo 6592cc V12

Power: 465kW at 5600rpm

Torque: 870Nm at 1700-4500rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed auto

Steering: Hydraulic rack and pinion

Top speed: 250km/h governed

0-100km/h: 4.5 secs

Fuel use: combined 14.6L/100 (95 octane premium unleaded)

Kerb weight: 2440kg

Wheel size: front 8.5 in x 21 in /rear 9.5 in x 21 in

Tyre size: front 255/40 R21 102Y/rear 285/35 R21 105Y

Price: $745,000