FIRST DRIVE: Rolls Royce Cullinan Black Badge — An Exercise in Excess

Rolls Royce, Test Drives | November 24th, 2019 by 3
Rolls Royce Cullinan Black Badge  830x553

I’m not a rich man. I never have been. So the idea of luxurious excess seems a bit ridiculous to me. As it does to the rest of the 99-percent. As a normal working-class man, I’ve never had the means to experience an abundance of riches, so such things have always felt foreign, and even a bit wasteful, to me. However, after experiencing them in the all-new Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge, I’ve seen the warm, luxurious light. I get it. I want it. I need it.

Following my day with BMW, at its Spartanburg, South Carolina plant, Rolls-Royce had a select few of us journalist hang back while the rest flew home. The reason for our extended stay was that we were selected to drive the all-new Cullinan Black Badge, a car that had only been privately unveiled to us the night before and which had never yet been driven by anyone outside of Rolls-Royce. So we obviously felt quite special, almost as if we were among the world’s chosen elite.

The Unveiling

rolls royce Black Badge Cullinan 21 830x553

Let’s rewind a bit, though. The night prior to our drive, in typical Rolls-Royce fashion, the new Cullinan Black Badge was unveiled outside, at night, with a light show and smoke machines. Two of the new Cullinans, the only two registered to drive on the road in fact, were driven out onto a lawn, through strobe lights and smoke, to show off their new features.

Being mostly working-class folk, we looked at the overly opulent Rolls’ through rolled eyes and sarcastic smirks. We then looked at each other and giggled as Rolls showed off the Black Badge’s new shooting star feature in its Starlight headliner — which creates random shooting stars using its thousands of pin-hole LEDs. However, once we sat inside them, saw the almost magical headliner, we were all convinced. More than that, though, we wanted to drive them. That was what the following day was for.

The Drive

Rolls Royce Cullinan Black Badge 3 830x467

My day of driving actually began in a Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge, a car that’d I’d already driven a few years back. Rolls-Royce only had two Cullinan Black Badge SUVs to drive and ten journalists, so they needed a few support vehicles. The Wraith being one of them. Snaking an almost three-ton luxury GT car through some of North Carolina’s most stunning, twisty roads might not seem like fun but it actually was. I had a blast hustling the big brute through the mountains, far more so than I thought I would.

However, I could feel the heft and size of the thing. So I was a bit skeptical about the even larger, heavier Cullinan Black Badge, a drive that would soon follow. When you think of twisty mountain roads, sports cars typically come to mind. Not half-million-dollar luxury SUVs. Having said that, the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge charmed me on those stunning roads more than I ever thought it could.

First, What Makes it a Black Badge?

The new Cullinan Black Badge is the Cullinan for the more youthful, more stylish, more daring Rolls-Royce customer. As with all of the brand’s Black Badge models, the new Cullinan has darkened accents throughout the car, including, but not limited to, its window trim, grille surround and even the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy.

As for the latter, Rolls-Royce realized that simply painting the Spirit of Ecstasy wasn’t good enough. Any sort of finish can fade over time and can even potentially become chipped from being stuck on the hood of a moving car for years. Those sorts of imperfections are simply unacceptable on such a beautiful and iconic symbol of Rolls-Royce. So instead, the craftspeople in Goodwood decided to put the Spirit of Ecstasy through a chemical darkening treatment. This way, the actual metal itself is darkened, without the need of an additional finish.

Seeing that darkened Spirit of Ecstasy proudly leading the way atop the Cullinan’s massive hood, which seemed as if it went on forever, immediately made me realize I was piloting something special. There’s something incredibly theatrical about seeing that legendary hood ornament stuck way out in front, like the Figurehead of an ancient warship. Which is appropriate, considering the Cullinan weighs about as much as one.

Is Black Badge More Than Just Style?

But despite that massive weight, it handles as if its underpinnings are made from sorcery. The the Black Badge Cullinan is slightly sharper, slightly more dynamic than its more standard sibling (Rolls-Royce unofficially calls standard Rollers “Silver Badge”). I won’t call it sporty, for fear of being hanged in the Tower of London, but the Cullinan is capable enough to handle a relatively curvy road. However, it’s never not effortlessly comfortable. There’s a supple solidity to the way the Rolls-Royce Cullinan drives that even the additional aggression of the Black Badge package can’t take away.

You can feel all of the Cullinan’s heft but never in a bad way. The astounding silence of the Cullinan’s cabin also helps to create an incredibly calm environment and its suspension soaks up bumps as if its shocks and are filled with liquid Vibranium. So while it feels heavy and solid, it’s also quite pliant and relaxed. Like a bank vault wrapped in a cloud.

And that’s how the Cullinan needs to be driven. Don’t try and hustle it, don’t try and make it something it’s not. It’s not a Range Rover SVR or a BMW X7 M50i. Hell, it’s not even a Bentley Bentayga. Instead, it’s something entirely different. While swift and more capable than you might imagine, one needs to be patient when driving it quickly. Turn the wide-diameter, spindle-thin steering wheel and the nose will bite but it does so like a yacht-like calmness; there’s a bit of hesitation but if you allow it that time, it will grip the road quite well.

Once the front end changes direction, let weight shift and the body settle. Let it roll a bit and it will settle down on its suspension, providing all the needed grip to then get back on the power and let its monster engine and all-wheel drive system pull you out. Be sure to get off the throttle and onto the brakes quickly though, otherwise you’ll find yourself in quite a bit of trouble. Its opulence and capability help hide its mass but physics cannot be denied forever and those brakes, while impressive, need some time to haul down its moon-like curb weight. Especially when the monster engine under hood can get the big Cullinan up to speed very quickly.

Powering the Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge is a slightly revised version of the standard Cullinan’s 6.75 liter twin-turbocharged V12. In Black Badge spec, it makes a whopping 600 PS (591 hp) and 664 lb-ft of torque. So despite weighing as much as a medium-sized asteroid, the Cullinan is surprisingly quick. Which makes managing its weight all that much more important.

However, once you get the hang of it, once you learn how to properly drive it, the Cullinan Black Badge is a lovely car. I found myself genuinely enjoying it on a twisty road, something I never thought I’d say about a three-ton SUV. But there’s a grace to the way the Cullinan Black Badge moves, a sophisticated athleticism that makes it wonderful to drive, even quickly.

How’s the Inside

But that’s just the beginning of the charm that comes with the Cullinan Black Badge. Its cabin is, as is the case with any Rolls-Royce, nothing short of fabulous. The leather is from another world, with a richness and suppleness that will shame even the most expensive of BMW or Mercedes-Benz. It made the ALPINA B7, I drove the day prior, a car I adore, seem like a rental Corolla. The switchgear feels like metal because it is metal and everything you can touch has a lovely weight to it, making it feel expensive.

Being a Cullinan Black Badge, it has a few interesting new interior bits. The shooting star headliner is among the more interesting ones. There are also little “infinity” symbols throughout the cabin, which is a Black Badge identifier. There’s also a lovely carbon fiber weave, which has been specially developed by Rolls-Royce to create a three-dimensional, repeatable pattern throughout.

Typically, I don’t like carbon fiber in a car like a Rolls-Royce. Carbon fiber is cool but it’s essentially just fancy plastic. The only three major materials that should be inside a Rolls-Royce are leather, wood and metal. Plastic, no matter how fancy, shouldn’t be in there. Having said that, the stuff inside the Cullinan Black Badge is quite nice.

The shooting star headliner is also genuinely sensational. It seems like a silly thing at first, to have little LED shooting stars above your head while you drive. It seems trivial and even sort of cheesy. Until you see it. It’s awesome and fantastic in a way that made me feel like a child-like sense of wonder in the best ways possible.

If You Can Afford It…

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge isn’t for me. It probably isn’t for you. The car I tested had a price tag north of $440,000. That’s three times more than I spent on my first condo. However, as the old saying goes, if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it. And for those who actually can afford the Cullinan Black Badge, they’ll love it.

There really isn’t a proper competitor for it, that’s why. People who buy the Cullinan Black Badge aren’t cross-shopping it with a Bentley Bentayga or a Lamborghini Urus. Those cars are more about driving and capability. Instead, the Cullinan is for the customer who drives a Range Rover Autobiography but wants more luxury. And can afford it.

For those who can afford it, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge offers style, wonder and effortless luxury in a way that’s almost ridiculous to normal folks like me. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s an exercise in luxurious excess. It’s something more. Something special.

NEWSLETTER