Five years ago, Rolls-Royce launched the Cullinan, their first-ever SUV, which quickly became a sensation among luxury car enthusiasts. The Cullinan was praised for its opulent features and impressive performance, becoming a new benchmark for high-end SUVs. The Brits from Goodwood have a distinguished record of manufacturing automobiles that skillfully balance aristocratic elegance and showy extravagance, creating rather imposing designs. The Cullinan is no different and has positioned itself gracefully in the history of the brand.
What is Black Badge?
In 2019, Rolls-Royce introduced their Black Badge Cullinan, a more powerful and exclusive version of the Cullinan. With the 2023 model year in my hands for a multi-day test, I had the opportunity to really dive into the Rolls-Royce experience and find out what this Cullinan was all about on the urban streets of Dubai.
The Cullinan has been an interesting game-changer in the luxury car industry, featuring the opulence and quality of a Rolls-Royce, but in a more practical and versatile package. The Cullinan was named after the largest diamond ever discovered, which now resides in the British Crown Jewels. With the Black Badge designation, the luxury brand positioned the SUV in the direction of a distinct group of clients. The brand refers to them as “men and women who take risks, break rules and build success on their own terms.
To attract these new, younger, more adventurous customers to the marque and the Cullinan, the people at Rolls-Royce decided to alter the base package of the vehicle and offer a unique design which encompasses details like the high-gloss black chrome Spirit of Ecstasy mascot and unique wheel designs. The ‘Double R’ badge on the front, flanks, and aft were inverted to become silver-on-black, while chrome surfaces such as the front grille surround, side frame finishers, boot handle, boot trim, lower air inlet finisher, and exhaust pipes were darkened.
The overall design of the Cullinan’s exterior hasn’t been praised by everyone, and that is simply because of its boxy, almost London taxi-like looks. At 5.3 meters long, 2.1 meters wide, and 1.8 meters tall, the Cullinan isn’t a small car. On the contrary, it is a serious machine on the road, which has an unmistakable presence due to its size. Rolls-Royce’s commanding design language has pushed the Cullinan beyond the boundaries of what can be universally considered tasteful, likely intentionally so.
Cabin of Luxury
Like the exterior, the interior also received specific upgrades that touched on the Black Badge theme. The cabin is a work of art when it comes to the use of specific materials and design features. The combination of high-quality leathers, metals, veneers, and other materials used offers a luxury feeling that no other SUV is able to showcase today.
The “coach” doors of the vehicle provide entry to the cabin but require some effort to open due to their weight. They feature clever hinges that securely hold them in position once you have stopped opening them. Built to provide absolute comfort and luxury to its occupants, the interior features lambswool floor mats alongside a Shooting Star Headliner, which peppers the inside of the roof with constellations, and the ability to close the doors with the press of a button. It all gives you a rather old-fashioned experience of motoring.
The seats in the Black Badge model are exceptionally comfortable, and they are upholstered in high-quality leather. The seats are also heated and ventilated, which is a great feature for those living in extreme climates like the UAE. The dashboard is dominated by a large infotainment screen. BMW’s iDrive system is displayed here, and it feels like the most up-to-date feature in the cabin. Even though it does what it should do, it is a version that is currently being phased out by the Germans, which doesn’t mean an immediate update for the Brits. That is not how Rolls-Royce works!
The attention to detail and the use of the finest materials are evident in every aspect of the cabin. The Black Badge model even comes with a number of upgrades over the standard Cullinan, including new interior trims and finishes, unique Black Badge leather seats, and a new Black Badge steering wheel. None of these upgrades are immediately eye-catchers, but they are more small touches distinguishing this model from the normal Cullinan, which has more chrome across the cabin.
At the rear, the trunk space is sufficient. The carmaker utilized a liftgate design that enabled them to incorporate an optional Viewing Suite into the cargo area. This suite comprises two seats wrapped in leather and a small table that can be popped out of the floor. The setup is lovely and is often referred to as the most expensive picnic table in the world, but for something you won’t use often, it also takes up quite a lot of space in the trunk.
The performance statement of the Cullinan comes in the form of a wonderful 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V12 engine, which produces 600 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque. This is an increase of 29 horsepower and 37 lb-ft of torque over the non-Black Badge Cullinan. The engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which delivers power to all four wheels. The Black Badge Cullinan can accelerate from 0 to 62 km/h in just 4.8 seconds, which is impressive for a vehicle that weighs over 6,000 pounds. The top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h.
In comparison to the base model, the Black Badge Cullinane features an updated suspension system, which includes stiffer springs and dampers, and a revised air suspension system. This results in a more controlled and sportier ride, without sacrificing the Rolls-Royce trademark. Interestingly, I had the chance to drive both the normal Cullinan and the Black Badge version back-to-back during my stay in the Arabian Emirate. Without touching too much on the design differences between both models, it was interesting to see the technical differences between them and how Rolls-Royce has subtly altered the base model to be more interesting for its younger and more adventurous clientele.
Without going into too much detail, the difference in performance between both cars isn’t huge and not impactful enough to immediately notice. The Black Badge model is also no quicker than a normal one. The steering in both is effortless yet responsive and has a smooth feel, while the gearbox shifts are practically indiscernible whether you’re driving at a leisurely pace or accelerating aggressively. It is mostly the sound of the vehicle and the level in which you hear and feel the drivetrain inside the cabin. In my opinion, the base Cullinan was even more silent inside the cabin than the Black Badge edition. The most noticeable difference was less wind and outside noise filtering through into the cabin of the base model. A surprising experience!
Designed for Today
In conclusion, the Rolls-Royce Black Badge Cullinan offers a unique driving experience, which requires you to initially reset your senses and tell your right foot to gracefully use the throttle and brake pedals while letting the mastodont glide over the streets. This kind of behavior will be rewarded by the Cullinan, which is made to support comfort, not sportiness. It’s not there to give you surprises; it delivers what you expect from such a big luxury SUV.
The attention to detail and use of the finest materials is evident in every aspect of the cabin. It lets you slow down, relax, and become mindful of the world passing by you and the choices you make behind the wheel. The driving position, while elevated, offers a relaxed and comfortable seating experience, setting it apart from its counterparts. The Cullinan fulfills its intended goals in a market with a younger clientele. It is a Rolls-Royce designed for the contemporary era.
The Black Badge model, however, is nothing other than a slight upgrade over the standard Cullinan model, offering a more aggressive and powerful appearance, unique interior trims and finishes, and a number of performance upgrades that aren’t really noticeable if you aren’t comparing both versions back-to-back. Both versions of the Cullinan offer you one of the most luxurious environments to occupy while in motion. However, I could see the fascination of owning the most powerful version in the model line-up. At that moment, the Black Badge is the choice you would have to make, else just stay with the standard model if the Cullinan is the package you desire.