Rolls-Royce is one of the world’s most exclusive carmakers, catering to some of the world’s most exclusive car buyers. That means when Rolls-Royce does anything — including secrecy — the carmaker does it very well indeed.
A call came asking if I was free in the middle of October to drive something secret under cover of darkness, and that to know more, I’d need to sign a complicated document. I signed, and was told the reason for the veil: The Rolls-Royce Ghost sedan, which starts at more than $300,000, would be getting Rolls-Royce’s famous “Black Badge” treatment, and few outside of Rolls-Royce knows about its existence.
Black Badges come with (unsurprisingly) black badges, a black Spirit of Ecstasy hood emblem, more power, sharper handling, and more. They’re popular, too, making up approximately 30% of Rolls-Royce’s global sales mix.
Soon after the call, a $330,000 Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV appeared outside of my house to take me to a small airfield and drop me at what looked like a Bond Villain’s lair. The décor was deliberate; it’s a Black Badge environment. These cars are for a younger audience that wants more excitement with its luxury and enjoys being at the edge of style.
I arrived at my destination the night of the event and hangar doors swung open to reveal a pitch-black runway, no moonlight to help thanks to typical British cloud cover. I was ushered to a Ghost — black over black with a double black pinstripe — and told by a brave shotgun-riding instructor to drive into the nothingness in front of us.
He guided me to the foot of the airfield’s runway for the sole purpose of showing off how powerful the Black Badge truly is. Green and red smart cones were, bar the Ghost’s impressive headlights, my only guide into the night. If there’s a better way to show off a 591-horsepower twin-turbocharged V12 without the fear of prying eyes, I’d like to see it.
I pinned the gas until the green runway lights gave way to red, telling me to slam the other pedal. The all-wheel-drive Ghost sailed forward — and later, lurched to a stop — in the darkness.
Black Badge cars give drivers a little more aural stimulation than most Rolls-Royces, which insulate the cabin from the sounds of the outside world and the car itself. Where usually there would be silence, a rich, low engine note permeates through the cabin — the V12 giving my ears a gentle accompaniment to what it’s doing to the rest of my senses (bar, obviously, taste).
Each gear shift was imperceptible, and any imperfection in the road was spotted by the Ghost’s built in cameras, telling its high-tech suspension to iron them out. Never has 130 mph felt smoother.
In a second speed run, I was instructed to press the “LOW” button on the gear shifter — the closest you’ll get to a sport button in the Ghost. Mashing the gas as deep into the carpet, the Ghost felt far more alive, more aggressive, with extra noise making its way inside and every gear shift softly propelling the car onward.
It wasn’t as smooth as before, but it was definitely more fun.
We gently slalomed to show off the Ghost’s rear steer and made 70-mph lane changes, where the car crabbed smoothly from one lane to the other. It changes direction more nimbly than something that big should.
After the speed and agility runs, I was told to drive to an undisclosed location a couple of hours away. Darkness enveloping the tiny country lanes, no one would see Rolls-Royce’s latest metal sneaking along. And because the motor is so quiet, they certainly wouldn’t hear it.
What Rolls does so well is ensure driving is effortless. The steering is so light that you can turn with a finger, the gas so responsive that a gentle ankle flick will add enough power to dispatch anything in front.
GPS-guided transmission means the car knows which gear suits the road conditions around you. The cabin is as quiet, barely a hint of road noise ruining a bubble of perfect calm. You can throw the Ghost down a twisty road and enjoy its surprising capability, or let it silently chauffeur you around. It does both exceptionally.
After threading the car through some of the UK’s narrower lanes, I got to the second super-secret destination: a Winnebago in a country park. I was told to get out of the driver’s seat and jump in the back, as I was to be chauffeured to London’s Soho. The black Spirit of Ecstasy was retracted to hide the car’s true nature from prying camera phones.
For the full luxury experience, a bottle of champagne was cooling in the Ghost’s rear-seat refrigerator to further soften the ride to Soho. Armrest-mounted champagne flute holders are installed to ensure no spillage occurred en route.
In London, I was deposited at the kind of hotel a Black Badge driver would frequent — one with low lights, an in-house tattoo artist, and the kind of food that most can only dream of.
The Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge showed me a rarefied world: a mix of high energy; unfussed, beautiful savagery; and low stress.
All worlds in one, albeit for the privileged few.