Despite what you might think from its name, there's more to this Rolls-Royce Cullinan than some black paint and dark-chrome finish. Sure, the Black Badge treatment largely caters to folks who want all the lavishness of a six-figure SUV with a slightly more under-the-radar approach. But I'll actually argue that the best thing about this SUV isn't what you can see, it's what you can't.
- Has every luxury feature you could ever want
- Smooth, powerful V12 engine
- Great to drive, better to be driven in
- Black Badge styling is subtle and chic
- Clunky infotainment tech without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- I can't afford one
For starters, the 6.75-liter V12 engine gets a small but noticeable boost in power, thanks to an ECU reflash. The standard Cullinan puts out a not-insubstantial 563 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque, but the Black Badge ups that to 592 hp and 664 lb-ft. There's a sport drive setting, too -- activated by pressing the "Low" button on the gear stalk -- that improves throttle response and unlocks a more aggressive shift logic for the eight-speed automatic transmission.
It really works, too; the Black Badge Cullinan has some newfound pep in its step. You can feel the added power under acceleration, and I like how the transmission is more than willing to immediately drop a gear or two when I lay into the throttle. The Black Badge gets a new exhaust system, with a sort of aural playfulness you wouldn't expect from a brand that's normally so buttoned up. It'll catch you off guard at first, but I promise, those pops and burbles are coming from the Cullinan, not some other car.
With great power comes great responsibility, and Rolls-Royce fits the Black Badge Cullinan with a larger set of brake discs to bring everything to a stop in a hurry. Decreased pedal travel and an improved bite point make stopping this 6,000-pound behemoth less of an event, too. I'm not sure how I feel about the red-painted calipers here, which are apparently non-negotiable, but I have to believe Rolls-Royce is willing to bend the rules for buyers who throw enough money at the problem.
The Cullinan's air suspension gets a stiffer default setting for Black Badge duty, and while it does reduce body motions a teensy bit while cornering, I'm not going to try and convince you that this SUV is suddenly a canyon carver. The steering is light and effortless, and you can feel every one of the aforementioned 6,000 pounds when you chuck this big boy into a corner.
Happily, none of this added verve comes at the expense of overall ride quality. Black Badge or not, this is still a Rolls-freaking-Royce, and whether you're blasting down the highway or just toddling along in traffic through Beverly Hills, it's as smooth and comfortable and quiet and lovely as any car proudly carrying a Spirit of Ecstasy on its prow. Driver-assistance features like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist make an already serene experience even less stressful. Blissfully isolated from the world outside, the Cullinan truly makes you and your passengers feel like the wealthy aristocrats you are.
What else does the Black Badge spec get you? The Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, grille and some trim pieces are finished in high-gloss black chrome, and those big, red brake calipers are set behind a unique set of 22-inch wheels. Moving inside, Rolls-Royce's "technical fiber" trim comes standard -- think of it as 3D-look carbon fiber -- and you can order the SUV with a new Forge Yellow interior option, which this test car has. The rich, yellow hue on the leather seats and wool floor mats definitely isn't for everyone, but I kind of dig it. Just be sure to keep those mats clean.
The Black Badge also represents the first time Rolls-Royce is offering its starlight headliner in the Cullinan. Also available on the Ghost, and Wraith, this super-cool feature uses 1,344 fiber-optic lights embedded in the headliner to bring the night sky inside the car. There's a dimmer switch so you can raise or lower the intensity, and a "shooting star" effect works as you'd imagine, sending little zips of light from side to side. If that's not enough, Rolls-Royce will even custom-tailor the headliner so its design represents any portion of the night sky as it would've looked on a certain date or from a specific place. Yes, really. (For future press car ordering, Rolls-Royce, I'd like the sky as seen from Detroit, Michigan on Feb. 26, 1986.)
Everything else that's special about the Cullinan isn't unique to the Black Badge. The interior is exquisite to behold and all the materials feel fantastic. The switches and buttons have great tactility, and there's a satisfying weight to the action of the metal air vent plungers. The heated, massaging seats coddle you like nothing else out there. From the automatic door-close buttons to the heated, massaging seats to the chilled, crystal champagne flutes in the compartment between the rear thrones, the Cullinan is 100% Rolls-Royce opulence.
Easy as it is to get wrapped up in all that luxury, there are a couple of sore spots I need to address. The cargo area is smaller than you'd think, and the nifty slide-out tailgate seats on this tester (which are very cool, I assure you) take up quite a bit of space. The Cullinan's multimedia system presents its own set of headaches, too. It's essentially a reskinned version of BMW's older iDrive 6 tech, which is somewhat clunky to use, and lacks support for or . For a company so focused on easygoing motoring, this added bit of in-car stress is a downer.
Going the Black Badge route will set you back an extra $57,000 over the standard Cullinan's $325,000 asking price, and by the time you get it optioned just the way you like it, prepare to spend at least $425,000 or so, all-in. That's a lot of money for plebs like you and I, but remember, no one is stretching their budget to put a Cullinan in their driveway. For these folks, spending an extra $57K on the Black Badge is a no-brainer. And good for them, because it's a worthwhile upgrade that makes an already decadent SUV even better.