Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge, touring the fall colors.
The various strengths of the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge tend to sneak up on you, even if the “base” car—if such a word can be applied to any Rolls—is itself an absolute sledgehammer of an SUV. Subtlety, strangely enough, is the operative word here.
Take the power. The massive 6.75-liter V12 engine’s output has been boosted 29 horsepower to 600. Representing a .04 percent increase, it’s hard to imagine that manifesting at the pedal. Yet it does, particularly with the new, more aggressive shift-mapping that shoots you to 60 mph with effortless authority, at 4.9 seconds.
The Cullinan's Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, darkened in the Black Badge trim.
Then there are the brakes, which are for the first time in any Rolls given the colored-caliper treatment, here in red. Of course, red won’t help you stop any faster, but the increased responsiveness and decreased pedal travel that the engineers infused in the system do—something that’s particularly key for such a massive freighter of a vehicle. You notice those things when you’re pushing through a morning of scenic byways in something of a hurry, as happened when I tested the SUV recently. The Cullinan always managed to reel itself in without any undignified panic-stops. Body roll, by the way, was noticeable, but startlingly good for a car with this kind geometry, thanks to some chassis and suspension tweaks for the Black Badge. On the highway, it proved typically Rolls-Royce in its sublimely muted ride experience, though it perked up under harder driving thanks to a more pointed exhaust note and the newly baked-in responsiveness edge.
So the performance, relative to a regular Cullinan, is intensified enough to make the car a bit more beastly, which plays well into the gestalt of the Black Badge. The trim level, which raises the starting price from $325,000 to $382,000, on the way to nearly $500,000 with all the boxes ticked, is, after all, intended to give the cars a darker and more menacing edge, so as to appeal to the younger crowd of exceptionally well-heeled trend-setters. A more tightly wound powertrain is essential.
Rolls-Royce Cullinan, with the Starlight Headliner
But Black Badge is also about the car’s visual vibe, and with the Cullinan, the darkened chrome trim treatment makes the car what it truly should be—a more serious creature, less a shiny bling machine. It looks more sophisticated, from both inside and out. The outside benefits not only from a deeper and more intense paint finish and the high-gloss black chrome—set off my conventionally polished bits including the vertical grille bars—but also new 22-inch forged-alloy wheels framing the red calipers. As if to solidify the exclusivity of the trim, a mysterious infinity symbol appears discretely throughout the car, signifying the “noir expression” of the Black Badge. Presumably that simply means it’s a deep, profound alteration. Frankly, I’m sorta feeling it. Individually, these details would count among the kinds of things the casual observer would only notice if there’s a “regular” Cullinan parked right next to it. But taken together, they completely change the Cullinan’s character, in a notably positive way.
Inside, the treatment continues with more blackened chrome bits, an infusion of carbon-fiber, and an optional new color combo called Forge Yellow—it’s definitely a bumble-bee look, so be ready for that. But the shaggy carpeting that lines the floor in yellow—or whatever color you spec—was delightfully cushy. It’s a rare kind of car that makes you actually want to drive barefoot, but the Cullinan is one, for certain.
But most notable is the inclusion of a newly enhanced variant of what ranks as one of the greatest options in the automotive universe: the Starlight Headliner. This fiber-optic system of tiny “stars” in the ceiling functions as the greatest of dome lights, tunable in brightness so that passengers can see each other below something that genuinely appears starlike. Appearing in other Rollers, in only now debuts in the Cullinan, which has been on the market since 2018. It’s better here, too—larger, thanks to the increased roof area, and now folding in eight digital “shooting stars” that flare up randomly and race across the sky.
Rolls-Royce Starlight Headliner, in the new Cullinan Black Badge
The Starlight Headliner may not be exactly in keeping with the Black Badge trim’s “darker and more menacing” vibe, but it’s such a beguiling feature that it gets a pass. I’d want it in any car, though few could really pull it off as well as a Rolls, and this one in particular. The Cullinan has been warmly received by customers and brand enthusiasts, but often cooly welcomed by critics, who cluck at its sometimes awkward proportions and unavoidable mass. But the Black Badge trim redeems its look with a grown-up treatment the car deserves.
Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament on the Rolls-Royce Cullinan
Starlight Headliner in the Roll-Royce Cullinan
Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge