Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge review: luxury SUV reveals a darker side
Let’s talk about carpets for a moment.
Never mind that the Rolls-Royce Cullinan you see pictured is a £300k, super-SUV with a 6.75-litre V12 and the road presence of a military parade, just about the first observation from anyone who sits in it is about how lovely the carpets are.
They are, indeed, lovely. A deep, cosy lambswool pile that your feet sink into until they almost disappear. It’s a small element but completely emblematic of the ethos of Rolls-Royce. From the sumptuous carpets to the starlight headliner and from the bonnet-mounted Spirit of Ecstasy to the “Viewing Suite” seats that slide out automatically from the boot floor, it is the pinnacle of luxury.
Of course, the marque has always been famous for its dedication to decadence but this car represents something of a departure. Firstly, it’s an SUV - the brand’s first in its 117-year history. And secondly it eschews the usual gleaming grille and shiny brightwork for a darker, more moody approach.
Black Badge is a relatively new concept for Rolls-Royce. A move to attract a younger, more subversive audience, its principles are boldness in design and performance. So the traditional chrome and wood finishes make way for gloss black detailing and modern materials.
Externally that means elements such as the Spirit of Ecstasy, Parthenon grille and wing badges are finished in gloss black, while behind the unique forged 22-inch alloys float bright red brake calipers.
Inside, it means that where “regular” Cullinans have a choice of wood veneers, the Black Badge uses a carbon fibre weave that is built up in layers to create a 3D effect and takes 21 days to craft.
Elsewhere materials are more traditional, with chrome and the finest leather adorning every surface. While other brands abandon physical controls, the Cullinan has a proper button, switch or lever for every function. Everything - from the organ stop vent controls to the powered “coach” doors and the fold-out picnic tables/TVs - operates with a smooth, silent elegance.
For those being driven in the Cullinan, two individual rear seats - with heating, ventilation and massage - are separated by a centre console. This houses controls for the rear entertainment centre as well as a wine chiller with Champagne flutes and a separate hidden decanter with crystal tumblers.
For those doing the driving, an armchair-like seat, commanding view of the world around and 591bhp under your right foot are the rewards.
Around the cabin - on the clock, armrests and illuminated tread plates - is the Black Badge’s distinctive infinity symbol - an indicator of the near-infinite levels of customisation the Cullinan Black Badge offers.
Take for example our car’s striking matte-effect Iced Military Green paint, which on paper sounds questionable but in the metal transforms the car’s shape, giving it added definition and masking its somewhat slab-like design.
If that’s a bit too in-your-face, there are 43,999 other standard finishes to choose from and if none of those is to your liking, Rolls-Royce will colour match your Cullinan to whatever hue you want.
Likewise for the dazzling starlight headliner. You can settle for the regular pattern but if you’re willing to wait you can have any constellation you like picked out in thousands of fibre optic lights.
Rolls-Royce calls the Cullinan the “most urban” statement of Black Badge yet. Given that this car is 5.34m long, 2.1m wide and weighs 2.7 tonnes, I imagine they mean it’s the size of a small town, rather than particularly at home in an urban setting. Still, when I was asked if I fancied driving the Cullinan from my base in rural Scotland to Rolls-Royce’s flagship showroom in the heart of Mayfair, I wasn’t going to say no.
My trip took me on a long and easy run down the M6 where the miles vanished beneath the Cullinan’s wheels as if floating on a magic carpet. I skirted Manchester and the Midland Hotel, where Mr Rolls and Mr Royce decided in 1904 to build the best cars in the world, before stopping near Crewe and the factory where those cars were built for more than 50 years.
The following day I continued south, revelling in the Cullinan’s continent-crushing abilities. Cocooned in the cabin you’re isolated from the coarseness of the outside world. Impeccable build quality and the camera-assisted Flagbearer suspension mean that noise pollution and bad road surfaces are things that happen to other people, filtered out long before they reach the Cullinan’s passengers.
Despite my apprehension, pitched into the snarling mess of traffic lights, roadworks and baffling junctions that is central London the Cullinan felt both comfortable and comforting. Sitting above the traffic, visibility is great and in tight environments the RR’s well balanced steering means it never feels unwieldy. What’s more, the soothing ambience helps preserve a cool head amid the chaos. By the time I swept round Berkeley Square amid the Ferraris, McLarens and Bentleys, I felt quite at home.
Twenty-four hours earlier and 400 miles north, the start of my journey had taken in some very different roads, including some of my favourite A roads, where the Cullinan confounded me with its dynamism. Yes, it’s huge and heavy but press the “Low” button on the slender gear selector, point the flying lady at the nearest corner and you’ll be surprised at just how deftly this behemoth can cover ground.
For the Black Badge, Rolls-Royce’s engineers have unlocked an extra 29bhp and 37lb ft from that monumental V12 and with all 591bhp deployed it will hit 60mph in 4.9 seconds. Thanks to the uprated self-levelling air suspension, all-wheel-drive and four-wheel steering it will carry remarkable pace through corners and change direction swiftly without ever threatening to spill your passengers’ Champagne.
That double identity is key to what makes Cullinan Black Badge so special. It goes without saying that Rolls-Royce is the epitome of automotive opulence but the Black Badge brings an added edge to the brand. Alongside the grandeur, the presence and the unparalleled luxury of the regular Cullinan it adds just a hint of a more youthful, rougher attitude through its alternative finishes and added layer of dynamism.
Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge
Price: £317,550; Engine: 6.75-litre, V12, twin-turbo, petrol; Power: 591bhp; Torque: 664lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive; Top speed: 155mph (limited); 0-60mph: 4.9 seconds; Economy: 18.7mpg; CO2 emissions: 343g/km