The town of Banff, Alberta is no stranger to the monied set, but when three Rolls-Royces pull up on the main street to discharge a group of auto scribes, passers-by stop and stare, and pull out their phones for photos.
Most people rarely ever see one Rolls-Royce, never mind a trio of them, and that’s how the British automaker wants it to be. Even warp-speed supercars wouldn’t garner much attention if there was one on every corner, and the exclusivity of that Spirit of Ecstasy ornament and the vehicle she rides upon is a major part of the appeal. Across its three model lines, the company only builds about five to six thousand vehicles each year. The number isn’t limited by orders received, but by the unique touches each owner wants, which in turn determines how long each takes to build.
I’m here to drive the 2022 Black Badge Ghost, a new addition to the company’s offerings and based on the new-for-2021 Ghost sedan. It isn’t an option package, but considered a separate model on its own.
They share the same body and 6.7-litre V12 engine. But while the regular Ghost’s version puts out 563 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque, the Black Badge is tuned to 591 horses and 664 lb-ft. Both have all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering.
Both have an eight-speed automatic transmission, linked to satellite GPS so it can adjust its gears in advance should a hill be on the horizon. The car usually accelerates from a stop in second gear, simply because it’s smoother, but the Black Badge has a “low” button — on its surprisingly mundane black plastic shift-stalk handle — that starts in first gear for sportier performance. It also puts a rumble to the exhaust, but the cabin is so quiet that I strained to hear the difference.
First Drive: 2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost
Rolls-Royce redesigns hood ornament to be more aerodynamic
The chassis and handling are further redefined for sharper feel and performance. This was the first Rolls-Royce I’ve driven, so I didn’t have a benchmark, but behind the wheel you immediately understand the car’s appeal beyond its badge. The steering is sharp and precise, acceleration is effortless, and despite weighing more than 2,500 kilograms, it corners flat like a smaller sports sedan. The company representative described the car as “51 per cent image, and the rest is performance to back it up.”
Certainly there is image on this car, with visual cues to differentiate the Black Badge approach, starting with the grille and the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament in black chrome. Apparently enough owners were painting their chrome black that Rolls-Royce decided to offer it — but instead of paint, which could potentially chip or peel, the chrome is darkened with a chemical process. Mind you, that change wasn’t a split-second decision. The ornament — a woman who doesn’t have wings, but flowing sleeves — has been around since 1911. Because Rolls-Royce is all about tradition, the company’s board of directors first had to approve her transformation to the new shade.
The wheels are unique to the car, made of 22 layers of carbon fibre (not for weight savings, just for looks) attached to the aluminum hub with titanium fasteners, and with the standard spinning centre cap so the “RR” logo is always upright. For the first time on a Rolls, the brake calipers are a contrasting colour. Inside, the dash is finished with a diamond-weave of aluminum fibres, and the “shooting star” headliner that’s optional on other models, with pinpoints of light to resemble the night sky, is standard equipment. But no exterior colours are reserved for Black Badge, and you can choose from the company’s palette of some 44,000 factory-available shades.
Now this is a Rolls-Royce, so you can have pretty much whatever you want added if you’re willing to pay the price. Contrary to popular belief that the automaker won’t accept way-out-there requests, you can ask for just about anything — although if it’s outside the factory’s usual offerings, such as a non-stock leather dye that hasn’t been assessed to see if it could possibly weaken the seat structure, you’ll have to pay for the testing.
You can outfit your Black Badge with different wheels (on my tester the carbon-fibre ones were swapped for winter tires and wheels), or wood instead of aluminum weave, but you can’t go the other way and order any of the Black Badge-specific items on a regular Ghost. In Canada, the Ghost starts at $393,500 and the Black Badge at $460,400, and of course no one wants to spring for the upscale edition and then see an entry-level look-alike parked nearby.
Few other automobiles prepare you for the coddling you get in a Rolls-Royce. The doors open and close electrically, and silver-handled umbrellas are tucked into the doors. The seats massage your butt; you can chill your champagne in the on-board refrigerator; and rear-seat passengers each get a deployable screen to activate the car’s infotainment functions.
That cabin can be as opulent as you like. One couple even ordered theirs with the “stars” in the headliner configured into how the sky looked on the night they met. Say what you want, but that has to beat eternity rings or matching tattoos.
Black Badge is also available in the Cullinan SUV, but not in the extended-wheelbase Ghost, nor the larger Phantom sedan. Globally, about 30 per cent of Ghost buyers are opting for Black Badge, and the take rate is even higher for Cullinan. It’s that extra on a vehicle that’s already an extra on its own. I remember when people marvelled that a Rolls-Royce cost more than a house, although these days, the $552,050 for the version I drove falls well short of a starter home in Toronto. But it’ll still get the looks when you pull up on the main street of Banff, open those electric doors, and everyone stops short and simply has to see.