This was going to be a very different story.
It was going to be a story about the awesome experience I had a few weekends ago at the Red Bull Air Race in Indianapolis, where nearly 40,000 people showed up to watch daring aviators twist, turn and loop around the pylons at 300 miles per hour just a few hundred feet above terra firma.
It was going to be about watching Matthias Dolderer cruise to victory and sew up the season championship after his nearest competitor clipped a pylon, costing him any chance at the crown.
It was going to be about hanging out with pilots, first at the Cirrus Aircraft party where I got an up close look at their new Vision personal jet which just yesterday passed final FAA certification. And, then at an Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association member event held on the Yard of Bricks that celebrated the triumph that is general aviation in North America.
It was going to be about a first-class weekend in Indianapolis. A luxurious room at the Conrad hotel. A fantastic dinner at St. Elmo’s steakhouse. Being shuttled to and from the track in the back of a Rolls-Royce Ghost.
It was going to be about borrowing that Ghost and playing chauffeur for a little princess, (actually a friend’s daughter) at her 5th birthday party.
It was going to be about all those things and more.
But the best laid plans went out the window when I was given the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge. The world shifted on its axis and the focus of my life suddenly changed.
I’ve had the opportunity to drive a lot of great cars recently: I’ve been behind the wheel of cars from Bentley, Mercedes Maybach, McLaren, Ferrari, BMW, Lexus and more. Few journalists in North America have put more miles on Rollers over the past three years than I have. I’ve had the privilege of visiting their headquarters and touring the factory in Goodwood. I say this not to boast, but to provide context for what’s coming next.
I have greatly admired the Phantoms, Ghosts, Dawns and Wraiths I’ve driven. I’ve marveled at the craftsmanship. I’ve been soothed by their ride. I’ve basked in their comfort. I’ve been calmed by their near silent operation. But no matter how much I have enjoyed them, I have never loved one. As good as they are, as perfect and marvelous as they’ve all been, I wouldn’t, if I had the wherewithal (and let’s be clear, I don’t) own one. Not because they aren’t great cars. They’re just not the car for me.
I need a car with more edge. I need a car with more performance. I need a car that’s more focused on the driver. I need a car that makes no apologies, which is why now, I need the Wraith Black Badge. Which also means I’ll need a bigger paycheck.
Anyone have a hedge fund they need managed? I’ve got a few songs I’ve written that I’m sure will be monster hits if only I can get Taylor Swift to record them and I’d be happy to write many more. I could sell high-end real estate. I’m sure there are some nefarious enterprises I could undertake to pad my bank account.
Wraith Black Badge is worth changing your life over.
How did I come to this conclusion? It started when I was given the opportunity to shuttle the Wraith Black Badge from Indianapolis to Detroit after the race weekend and became very real when I asked a simple question, “When does it have to be back?”
It turned out the car didn’t need to be in Detroit until the end of day Tuesday, so my friend, co-conspirator, and contributor to this blog, Jiri Marousek and I set off from Indy on Monday morning with no plan other than to get to Detroit in time for his flight the next day. That meant we would have a good 36 hours with the car to understand how it differed from the standard (if there is such a thing) Wraith.
We headed north from Indianapolis on secondary roads to try to find some interesting places along the way for lunch, photographs, and just good driving. As you might have guessed northern Indiana has a dearth of interesting roads, so we picked the quickest non-interstate route toward Michigan which took us on U.S. 31 through South Bend where we’d stop for lunch and a quick tour of the Notre Dame campus where we’d seek absolution for our sins. Fortunately there was one interesting photo op when we thought we found the shortcut to our country’s southern border.
It was in these first few miles that we discovered what makes the Wraith Black Badge a special car. It all starts under the hood. The engine is the familiar 6.6 Liter V12, but it has been retuned to deliver more punch and more power. Put your foot to the floor from a standing start and you feel everyone of the additional lb.-ft. that increases the Wraith’s torque to 620 lb.-ft. And there’s a lot more in reserve thanks to a peak of 603 horsepower.
Those are huge numbers. As a result of the increased output, the 5,500 pound grand tourer can launch from 0-60 as quickly as an Alfa Romeo 4c. That, my friends, is quick. And it’s not just quick off the line. Rolls-Royce engineers have adjusted the 8-speed satellite-aided automatic transmission so that when you use more than 25% of the throttle, it holds shifts longer – going deeper into the power band giving you more a sense of a rush behind the wheel. It also downshifts more quickly, so when you’re braking into that tight corner, the engine is right where it needs to be when you reapply the throttle as you pass the apex.
On the straight roads of northern Indiana, what this means is you’re driving a car that’s much more comfortable going considerably faster than the speed limits allow. This is a car where the adaptive cruise control must be deployed to prevent you seeing triple digits in the head-up display. It’s so powerful, so smooth, so quiet, and so badass, you can’t help but drive it fast. Now, if you’re not worried about speeding tickets or the prospect of spending time in the Graybar hotel, put your foot in it and enjoy. This car will travel as fast as you’d like as far as you’d like with more comfort than you can ever imagine.
Inside you’ll find everything that makes a Rolls-Royce a Rolls-Royce: uncompromised quality, elegant simplicity, meticulous craftsmanship, and just a little bit of subversion. Yes, this car is both elegant and just slightly naughty, inside and out. The leather is laser cut and hand sewn so the fit is perfect. The seats offer the right amount of comfort and support with a massaging function that makes long trips a joy instead of a journey. The dash features a deep veneered fabric with metallic highlights woven into the pattern. The chrome is blacked out and just a little mysterious. The simplified iDrive system adapted from their parent BMW is as intuitive as any infotainment system I’ve used in the past 12 months and the bespoke audio system cranks out the tunes with incredible clarity and definition. This is one Rolls-Royce where Rock & Roll replaces Classical and The Clash is more appropriate than Chopin.
This car has something no recent Rolls does. Personality. Well, that’s not exactly fair. Ghost, Phantom, Wraith and Dawn have a reserved, British, stiff upper lip attitude that exudes superiority and with an air of pretension. Wraith Black Badge is edgier, darker, a bit roguish. It’s a cross between Rhett Butler and James Bond: sophisticated but dangerous.
The black on black on black exterior means the trademark parthenon grille finished in smoked chrome, while still present, isn’t as prominent. The Spirit of Ecstasy still rides atop the front fascia, but she’s more of a shadow than a beacon. This is what I call a double-take car. People walk by it not knowing exactly what it is. The fastback coupe confuses people. Most still envision Rolls-Royce cars only as three box sedans. So as people look, knowing they’re seeing something special but have to look again to realize it’s a Rolls. That’s not to say it’s understated. The 22-inch composite wheels, made from carbon fiber with aluminum accents, complete the murdered out theme.
After a lunch stop in South Bend, we crossed the border into Michigan and went searching for roads that featured both hills and curves. And this is where the Wraith Black Badge really separated itself from its brethren. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of riding with BMW factory driver Timo Glock in a Wraith around Circuit of the Americas. As we came up the hill on the front straight and turned left into the first corner, the car slewed to the right which prompted Timo to say, “Now I know why they call it a Rolls.” Something I left out of the video in deference to my gracious hosts.
The air suspension in the Black Badge has been completely recalibrated. Yes, it still delivers a magic carpet ride – smooth and luxurious – but apply the brakes hard or drive through a corner at 20 miles per hour over the suggested speed and this Wraith doesn’t dip, dive, float or roll. It’s digs in and pulls through with the confidence and control of a sports car. No, you won’t mistake it for an Alfa or Miata, but you can turn this car and drive it aggressively through even the twistiest bits. Would I prefer it were lighter? Yes, and hopefully when Rolls converts to aluminum architecture in its next generation of platforms, it will be. I’d love this car to lose about 700 pounds, but even at its current fighting weight, it’s flat out terrific.
It’s so good that when Tuesday arrived and we pulled up to the airport, I had thoughts of just dropping of Jiri and driving on, back to Madison. I’m pretty sure the folks from Rolls would know that something was amiss when the car wasn’t returned to the valet as promised, but can you blame me for wanting to be just a little bad after driving a car this good?
I didn’t think so.