More than any other nameplate, Rolls-Royce promises the best the automotive industry has to offer. There is no doubt the Rolls-Royce Ghost is among the finest sedans you can buy—top honors goes to its larger sibling, the Phantom—but driving the new-for-2022 Black Badge version has us asking an uncomfortable question: Is this really the best Rolls-Royce could do?
Ghosting The Black Badge Treatment
A quick backgrounder on Black Badge: Introduced in 2016, it is primarily a styling exercise most notable for its darkened brightwork, particularly the trademark Rolls-Royce grille and Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament. Black Badge has been an inordinate success for Rolls-Royce, and for 2022 the new-shape Ghost joins the Cullinan, Dawn, and Wraith in offering its own ($43,850) Black Badge package. The kit includes lightweight wheels with carbon-fiber barrels and a beautifully intricate aluminum inlay on the black Bolivar wood trim, as well as more power and a stiffer chassis calibration.
For the record, we love the visuals. The blacked-out chrome looks so good that you wonder why anyone would even consider a Rolls with old-fashioned brightwork. Our $519,000-as-optioned test car was done up in two-tone black and charcoal gray, but we think the murdered-out motif looks equally good when contrasted with bright primary paint colors. Not that it matters what we of the unwashed masses think—Rollers are usually custom-ordered, -colored, and -trimmed to suit the desires of their HNWI buyers—or "clients," as Rolls prefers to call these moneyed individuals. These are not folks who buy off the rack.
Not All Improvements Are Improvements
But MotorTrend is a car publication, and driving dynamics are our specialty—and as dreamy as the Black Badge Ghost looks, the way it goes down the road gives us some pause. After some time behind the wheel in San Diego, we found the Black Badge setup neither transforms the Ghost into something completely different, nor does it feel quite right for a Rolls-Royce. If we were paying half-a-mil for one of these bespoke babies, that wouldn't make us happy.
Let's cover the changes, then we'll talk about how they impact the Ghost's driving experience. There's a power bump for the 6.7-liter twin-turbo V-12; Black Badge models produce 592 horsepower and 664 lb-ft, up 29 horsepower and 37 lb-ft from the regular (what Rolls-Royce now refers to as "Silver Badge") Ghost. The transmission is tuned to shift quicker when the throttle is nearly wide open. Chassis changes comprise a tightening of the steering, firmer air spring tuning and roll control, and a stiffer feel and reduced travel for the brake pedal. These are all software changes, by the way; the mechanical components are identical.
More Power—But Will You Notice?
We'll start with the powertrain. The Silver Badge Ghost is already quick—we've clocked it from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds—and we don't know that the Black Badge car's extra power will be detectable by the unaided human posterior. We estimate it could pick up a tenth of a second in our instrumented testing, but that could just as easily be lost when we round off the numbers. No matter; given the choice, we will always, always, always take more power, no matter how incremental the objective performance changes.
As for the quicker shifts, we could barely detect the difference. That's because the shifts only sharpen up near full throttle, and because on public roads you can only WOT a Ghost for a few seconds before getting into expensive-ticket territory. In other words, this is not exactly a benefit you get to enjoy on a regular basis.
Better Brakes And Less Roll…
The chassis changes were far more noticeable. The brake does have a slightly stronger bite, and yet it is still gentle, never abrupt. The steering is noticeably heavier, though not objectionably so—the Silver Badge Ghost's steering is just about one-finger-light, and we welcomed the extra heft in the Black Badge's wheel. That said, with no change to the Ghost's tires or physical steering gear, the heavier steering highlights the Ghost's lack of feedback from the front wheels.
Body roll is also noticeably reduced, though it's worth noting that for all its mass and its goose-down-soft ride, the Silver Badge Ghost doesn't lean much either; in the Black Badge car, little shrinks to naught. It's a worthwhile improvement; for those who like the feedback that body lean provides, it might be missed.
… But It's The Ride That's The Problem
The ride quality gave us the most pause. The Black Badge Ghost still floats like a '70s-era Cadillac over big bumps, but now there's a near-constant vibration, the soft pitter-patter of not-quite-perfect pavement getting passed up to the seats. In a Rolls Royce, it's … well, it's weird, that's what it is. The magic of the Silver Badge Ghost is that it gives the sensation that all roads are paved with glass. The Black Badge car loses that ability to smooth out the surface beneath its tires, and with it dulls that Rolls-Royce enchantment.
All this might be acceptable if it transformed the Ghost into a world-class handler, something akin to the Bentley Flying Spur Speed—which, to be honest, is what we hoped for. But it doesn't. The Silver Badge Ghost is stable and secure in high-speed turns, though rather clumsy on smaller, tighter roads. The Black Badge car is nominally better, but still feels awkward and out of place, as if it's trying to run in dress shoes that are too tight.
After several miles both speedy and serene in the Black Badge Ghost, we switched over to a Silver Badge car. Light and isolated, its driving characteristics felt much more in line with the car as a whole. It's a wafter, not a runner.
Don't Like How The Black Badge Ghost Drives? Too Bad
Our admittedly relatively minor complaints might be less justified if you could switch these stiffer settings on and off at will, but that's not possible. Rolls-Royce makes much of the fact there is no Sport button. "Your right foot is the sport button," company reps said to us. But it isn't, because nothing you do with the accelerator affects the chassis settings. Opt for the Black Badge and you, the client, are stuck with a ride that is—well, if not exactly rough, then at least unbecoming of a Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce will give you any shade of paint you desire, any color of leather, any interior trim you like. But if you want the Black Badge model, you cannot opt out of the Black Badge chassis changes. It's strange that such a constraint is forced upon buyers by a marque that is all about furnishing its clients with bespoke automobiles.
In case you get the wrong idea here, the fact is the Black Badge Ghost is nothing like a poor-driving car. Far from it, and it's still very much a Rolls, stately and dignified. It's simply trying to be something it isn't.
What Should Rolls-Royce Have Done With The Black Badge Ghost?
What makes this frustrating is that the answer to the question we posed—is this the best Rolls-Royce could do?—has to be "no." Why didn't it do a properly cohesive chassis revision, upgrading the hardware as well as the software, and giving the Black Badge Ghost a driving experience that is more cohesive and communicative? Let's not forget people pay nearly $44,000 for this upgrade, and while we're sure darkened chrome bits and carbon-fiber wheel barrels are expensive, surely there must be some change left over for hardware upgrades.
Rolls-Royce has the might of the BMW organization behind it, a company not exactly lacking in chassis-tuning expertise. If it really wanted to, we have no doubt Rolls could have made a Bentley Flying Spur Speed beater without dulling its Rolls-Royce-ness. Instead, it made but a few software changes.
At the very least, Rolls could have fitted a Sport button to turn these so-called dynamic improvements off—or, if we're going to blue-sky a little, maybe even select them individually. Doesn't it strike you as interesting that a $33,500 Hyundai Veloster N has adaptive suspension, steering, powertrain, and exhaust with full custom programming, and a $43,850 option package applied to a six-figure car does not?
We can't argue with the success of the Black Badge models, which now comprise 37 percent of Rolls-Royce sales worldwide and bring younger buyers into the fold. And the company might argue that our opinion of the Black Badge chassis changes doesn't matter, as most buyers choose Black Badge models for the way they look more than the way they drive.
Still, could anyone from the Rolls-Royce chassis engineering team look a client in the eye and say—truthfully—that for for half a million dollars, this is absolutely the best it could do? The Black Badge Ghost's driving experience is flawed, not bad. That Rolls-Royce could do better means paying customers deserve better.