Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge review: A superyacht for the road
In 2017, luxury and technology are cheaper than ever. Even cars such as the new Nissan Leaf are available with autonomous driver aids, while executive saloons like the Mercedes E-Class come with more technology than we ever thought possible in a car, even a decade ago. That’s great for the consumer, of course, but for high-end brands such as Rolls-Royce, it’s an absolute nightmare.
With so much “cheap” tech around, how does Rolls-Royce maintain its high-end status, while still moving with the times? Enter the Ghost Black Badge, a luxury cruiser Rolls-Royce says still represents everything the brand stands for, but wraps up in an edgy modern package that will appeal to a younger audience. The question is: has it succeeded?
To find out, I drove a Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge for a week, and even stopped by Salon Privé – one of the biggest classic car and supercar shows in the world. Here’s my take.
It’s hard to describe something that’s always existed in the fabric of your memories. In the same way that you’d struggle to describe what Coca-Cola tastes like – as it just tastes like, well, Coca-Cola – the Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge looks like a Rolls-Royce, just like every other car the marque has produced.
But I’ll give it a try anyway.
The Ghost Black Badge is an incredible looking car, and it’s just as much a piece of stunning, moving architecture as it is a mode of transport. Other cars have bodywork that curves and folds to ease through the air, but there’s no such compromise with the Ghost.
From its flowing, squared bonnet that holds no regard for driver visibility, to the narrow, yet powerful, headlights, the Rolls-Royce Ghost is like one of those yachts a millionaire buys. It’s strong, imposing and powerful, and the whole look is emphasised by its huge grille, topped with the Spirit of Ecstasy.
But take another look at the front end of the car, and you’ll see the Ghost doesn’t follow the traditional Rolls-Royce template. It doesn’t have the classic square grille we’re used to – it’s slightly rounded off – and the same is true of the lights, too. They’re noticeably more streamlined than on Rollers of old. The Ghost is traditional Rolls-Royce, but with a Hollywood facelift.
Then there’s the Black Badge moniker, which brings a whole host of upgrades, both inside and outside the car. On the outside, the Ghost gets darkened, smoked chrome trim instead of the usual shiny stuff, and there’s more black and tinted glass, too. It might not appeal to traditionalists, but it makes the car a far moodier and aggressive proposition – exactly how I’d spec it.
Rolls-Royce introduced the Black Badge ethos to appeal to new money and to younger people who don’t necessarily want to be driven around, so there are changes to the driving experience too – but I’ll get to those later.
At Salon Privé, a show full of priceless classics and supercars as far as the eye can see, the Ghost still got more than its fair share of stares. And even though it wasn’t a classic Roller, it still seemed right at home in front of the stature of Blenheim Palace.
For the last few years, Audi has produced some of my favourite car interiors. They’re simple, clean and stylish and, up until now, I thought clutter was always a bad thing. Spending some time with the Rolls-Royce, however, has changed my opinion. Although it’s full of gleaming switchgear, it’s a fantastic space to be in.
There’s so much to talk about in the Ghost’s interior that it’s worth describing what you see and when. Unlike most cars I’ve driven recently, the driver’s dials are totally analogue but so ornate they’d look at home on a mantlepiece. Glance to your left, past the car’s analogue clock, and you’ll see the Rolls-Royce infotainment screen.
Below it is a plethora of polished chrome switches that control everything you’ll need. Look up and you’ll see a constellation of stars in the headliner. Look down and you’ll see the lambs-wool floor mats (they’re optional but you’d buy them, right?).
It’s pretty overwhelming and underlines Rolls-Royce’s reputation as a maker of luxury vehicles. And it’s not just about the glitz and the glamour, it’s all incredibly well-built and put together as well. From the fold-out tables in the back to the A/C controls and armrests, everything is crafted to an incredibly high level.
It’s a bit like one of those handcrafted drinks cabinets made from a mixture of bespoke, polished wood, glass and chrome. Only instead of stopping at a cabinet, they carried on and made an entire 2.5-ton car. Every switch, lever and hinge has the same solid, smooth and reassuring action – even the car’s privacy mirrors and glovebox ooze quality.
The Ghost I drove was finished in black, but its interior was a huge contrast, all clad in dazzling electric blue leather. It’s certainly a statement and when you open all the doors, it practically leaps into your retinas. Somehow, oddly, it’s not too much.
And although this is more of driver’s Rolls-Royce, it’s obscenely comfortable in the back. The Rolls-Royce stretches out to just over 5.4m in length and, after hopping in the rear seats, I’m of the mind that most of those metres are for legroom.
The level of luxury and comfort here is so high I didn’t want to get back in the driver’s seat, and with the TV on it’s like being in someone’s front room. As you’d expect, there are also massage settings, a built-in fridge and fold-out tables.
When you first see the Ghost’s infotainment screen, it might look familiar if you’ve driven a BMW recently, and that’s because it’s basically iDrive. Sure, it has a different skin and many more options, but deep down it’s the same system you’ll find in everything from a Mini Clubman to a BMW M3 or BMW i8. In most cars, that’d be a small thing to overlook, but a £315,000 Rolls-Royce isn’t most cars, is it?
Once you’re past BMW’s cut-and-paste approach, the Rolls-Royce infotainment system is pretty easy to use. Pairing a phone is simple, as is flicking through TV channels – which only works for the front passengers when the car is stationary – and overall it was fine.
Surprisingly, although navigation was straightforward, it didn’t have the same polished graphics or slickness I’ve been used to seeing in BMW, Volvo and Audi’s recent cars. Sure, it got me to where I needed to be and delivered audio and visual instructions promptly, but it felt and looked three to four years old.
As for the sound system? The Ghost’s Bespoke Audio System is right up there with the Burmester sound system in the Mercedes S-Class and the B&W package in the BMW 7 Series. Just like everything else the Rolls-Royce does, it’s clear the sound system has all the brunt and power you’ll ever need, plus it’s delivered in a refined and classy way. Of course, the Ghost comes with a CD player, too.
When necessary, the Ghost can pump out thick bass with a rumbling low-end, but it’s at home with snares, high-hats and vocals, too, and they’re all represented in fantastic detail, regardless of volume.
Parking assistance and semi-autonomous features
When I first collected the Ghost, my eyes were drawn to the 21in alloy wheels and just how huge the car was. Driving a 2.5-ton, 5.4m-long behemoth like the Ghost is daunting – and that’s before you find out each wheel costs a cool £2,500. That huge bonnet makes the whole parking process even more worrying, but thankfully there’s a range of technology that makes manoeuvring the car easy.
Annoyingly, the Ghost doesn’t feature autonomous parking or the top-down 360-degree camera view we’ve seen on other, much cheaper cars but it does have cameras around the car that make it easier to park. There’s a pair of them mounted above the front wheel arches and also a camera at the back of the car for reversing.
The Ghost Black Badge doesn’t have the level of autonomous technology we’re used to seeing on cars such as the E-Class or Audi A5 either, so if you want to be driven around, you’ll need to hire an old-fashioned chauffeur.
Having said that, the Roller does come with a useful set of driver aids. The car I drove was fitted with the Driving Assistance Package 3, which meant it had everything from a head-up display to adaptive cruise control with lane departure assists. Unfortunately, the Ghost doesn’t have lane-keeping, so you do need to steer it yourself.
The Ghost Black Badge is designed to be more of a driver’s car than the regular Ghost, but with the same magic-carpet-ride feel, and on the whole it works. Those acres of bonnet hide a huge 6.6-litre V12 engine and, because this Ghost is a Black Badge, it makes 595bhp and 840Nm of torque, 39hp and 60Nm up from the standard car.
Putting down more than 25% throttle makes the eight-speed gearbox act more aggressively, too. The Black Badge Ghost will hold gears for longer and shift down faster, letting you feel more of that V12’s enormous power. Elsewhere, suspension and steering changes make the car a little more agile.
The result is that the Ghost isn’t as sluggish as you’d think. There’s body roll, for sure, but it doesn’t feel like you’re driving 2.5 tons of car. What’s more, although the V12 is tuned for smooth power rather than speed, it seems to just coax the car along the road. This isn’t like an RS5, where a light touch of the gas launches you at the horizon, but because of the quietness and smooth ride, it’s easy to go faster than you intended.
The Ghost Black Badge is able to defy physics when accelerating, but things get very real when you begin to brake. Although Rolls-Royce has fitted upgraded brakes, it’s so deceptively fast – and just so heavy – that it doesn’t feel quite enough to slow it down. And when you’re driving something that costs the price of house you’d struggle to rent, that’s “worrying”.
I haven’t driven the standard Ghost to compare them back to back, but what I can say is the Black Badge Ghost has more than enough power for its size. And after you get past the price, it’s an enjoyable car to drive, too. It’s fast when it needs to be, agile enough when you’re pushing on and other cars seem to part and scatter for it like it’s a superyacht.
Driving the Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge is a memory that will remain with me forever. It’s by far the most luxurious car I’ve ever driven and at a starting price of around £223,368, and over £90,000 worth of extras, it’s the most expensive car I’ve driven, too. Rolls-Royce doesn’t publicly release the cost of the extras, so I can’t break that down any further, but if you’re paying this much, does it really matter anyway?
Weirdly, the Ghost doesn’t have a great deal of cutting-edge tech, but it wraps it in such quality and craftsmanship that’s it’s hard to care. The sat nav feels dated, and it’d be nice to have lane-keeping in addition to the adaptive cruise, but even with those flaws driving the Ghost is still an incredible thing. There’s just no other car on the road like it.
The Rolls-Royce Ghost Black Badge starts at £223,368.