Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge review: Darker twist brings more dynamic character to luxury saloon

Marque’s efforts to attract a younger, edgier audience bring power and performance upgrades

The Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge you see here is not simply a car. No, according to the British luxury brand, it’s a lifestyle. It’s as much about who you are and how you want to be perceived as it is about hum-drum things like getting from A to B.

Rolls-Royce has always been about the finer things in life and about not being shy to show off your success. But in recent years the brand has recognised that not everybody is enamoured with the bright paint and shiny chrome of its traditional “old world” designs.

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Hence the arrival in 2016 of the Black Badge line as a means to attract a younger, less “traditional Rolls” customer.

It was envisaged as a darker, less ostentatious interpretation of the marque aimed at well-healed “risk-takers, rule breakers and subversives” who wanted a modern twist on traditional luxury. Initial estimates were that around 15% of new sales would be Black Badge cars.

Even before this Ghost arrived, Black Badge accounted for 40% of Rolls-Royce commissions and the average age of buyers had plummeted from late-50s to early-40s, proving that the brand was on to something.

It seems likely that with the new Ghost Black Badge that share is liable to increase further. This is the Rolls-Royce for the younger, more dynamic client and while other models have already received the Black Badge treatment the Ghost is the first to be built from the ground up with the concept in mind.

Like the less in-you-face Black Badge vision, the new Ghost was designed with what Rolls-Royce calls a “post opulent” approach. No less luxurious than before but reduced and simplified, with a cleaner design outside and in.

In the Ghost that manifests in bodywork designed with minimal embellishments, as few panel joins as possible and the tightest of shutlines. It has the lines of a Rolls-Royce, just fewer of them.

Applying the Black Badge philosophy to this, the famous chrome-plated Pantheon grille and Spirit of Ecstasy now have a smokey, subdued finish, and darkened body trim gives the car a lower, more assertive appearance. Bespoke 21-inch alloys made from folded carbon fibre and forged aluminium are unique to the Ghost and atop it all, the car is offered in the motor industry’s darkest black, which uses more than 45kg of paint and a hand-polished finish to create unrivalled depth.

Buyers can choose to add a personal touch with a hand-painted coachline in contrast to this forbidding finish, or choose from any other of the 44,000 “standard” paints Rolls-Royce offers.

Like the exterior, the Ghost’s cabin is a simpler affair than other Rolls-Royces. It is still sumptuous, with all the latest technology, the finest materials and plus seats that would shame most sitting rooms. But there are fewer controls and a cleaner layout, designed to be a haven from the bustle of modern life.

In keeping with the Black Badge vision the interior materials take on a more subdued hue, with a special finish dulling the usual shine of the physical controls. A black carbon weave replaces the traditional veneer around the cabin for a more sporting appearance offset, if you choose, by the vivid turquoise tones of the specially created Turchese Leather upholstery.

And there is still a place for some showmanship. The iconic Starlight headliner remains, as does the Ghost’s unique illuminated fascia, with the Black Badge lemniscate logo backlit among an array of LED stars.

However, Black Badge is about more than just visual changes. It’s also about offering a more dynamic experience behind the wheel in keeping with the more dynamic profile of its intended customers.

To that end the 6.75-litre V12 has been retuned to offer an extra 29bhp and 37lb ft - taking the Ghost to a more than respectable 592bhp and 664lb ft. That means this 2.5-tonne luxury saloon will reach 60mph from standstill in 4.5 seconds - a trick demonstrated on a high-speed run down an empty runway where even a wet surface and a lead foot couldn’t provoke the all-wheel-drive to lose traction. It doesn’t feel ferocious in the way a 600bhp supercar does but it surges forwards with a pace that suggests it’s not really interested in the laws of physics.

Even at full throttle the Ghost engine never does anything so unseemly as shout but in high-performance “low” mode the Black Badge has a distinctly more aggressive rumble from the exhaust, like you’re being propelled along on a wave of rolling thunder.

Rolls-Royce positions the Ghost as its car for drivers as well as those who are driven, and the Black Badge is more driver-focused still.

The adaptive suspension has been beefed up with bigger airbags to keep the car flat and the transmission and throttle reprogrammed for better response and faster shifts.

Nonetheless, this isn’t a small car and it never feels “nimble”. There is, however, a certain agility provided by the uprated suspension and four-wheel-steering, which helps tuck the back end of the car around and sweep through twistier sections of road with a neatness that belies its 5.5m length.

The Planar suspension with its clever secondary damper filters out most road imperfections, allowing the car to almost float along even when you’re pressing on and the active anti-roll bars stop the car from pitching severely, even under extreme provocation.

Yet, despite all its dynamic promise, the Ghost Black Badge is more about wafting along in its unrivalled composure and refinement.

You can certainly waft at a pace that will surprise onlookers but there’s as much pleasure to be had in cruising peacefully as there is in testing the limits of the Ghost’s reworked chassis.

Of course, you can do that in any Rolls-Royce but what makes the Black Badge different is that it takes the unparalleled refinement and comfort that has made the brand famous for more than a century and packages it in a distinctly different way. The shadowy design elements and modern materials are well chosen to entice buyers who want a very 21st century take on luxury.  So, yes, a car but also a lifestyle choice.

Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge

Price: POA; Engine: 6.75-litre, V12, twin-turbo, petrol; Power: 592bhp; Torque: 664lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 155mph; 0-60mph: 4.5-seconds Economy: 17.9-18.6 mpg; CO2 emissions: 347-359g/km