Cullinan – the Rolls-Royce Stealth Battleship
The bosses at Goodwood prefer to describe the new Rolls-Royce Black Badge as their most dynamic and engaging model ever made. I call it out for what it is – hard-core, with way more grunt under the bonnet, complete with graphic menace and blacked-out bling. Even the Spirit of Ecstasy at the tip of the commanding snout is now a shadowy coal-coloured figure.
It’s a car born entirely from customer demand.
Anxious to reinforce its appeal with a younger demographic, Rolls-Royce has pimped out their already edgy SUV. Goodwood have produced an outright performance car, is the Black Badge series, aimed at fantastically monied boy racers.
What makes the Black Badge different from the regular Cullinan is its badass-ness. This is a mean-looking muscle car, with massive road presence; and everything just that little bit more threatening.
With added attitude, the Cullinan Black Badge has been created for young men in a hurry.
The engine is a recalibrated version of the Phantom’s vast 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 and, despite the 2,660kg kerb-weight, it drags the Cullinan to 60mph in five seconds. It’s almost silent (hello 100kg of insulation), the silky ZF eight-speed automatic-only gearbox is magnificently smooth, and thanks to foam lined tyres, wind and road noise is barely perceptible. Witchcraft imbeds this car into the road — which is all what you’d expect on the tarmac of the world’s most refined SUV.
There’s a perverse pleasure in pointing the Cullinan up a rocky pass and letting its 664 pounds of torque get on with it (whilst keeping the Dom Perignon chilled). Off road it disguises its near 2.7‑tonne heft well and can be confidently hustled along using nothing more than telepathy.
The standard Cullinan puts out 563bhp and 627 pound-feet of torque;the Black Badge ups that to 592bhp and 664 lb-ft torque.
On twisting country roads it’s particularly able (and delivers a satisfying roar when driven boldly), and on 22-inch wheels it has a surprisingly tight turning circle.
Aided by a camera system that reads the road ahead, it glides over dirt tracks with a self-levelling air suspension which miraculously absorbs off-road ruts and bump. The active roll bar, satellite-controlled gear shifting, and four-wheel steering all do their jobs manfully. But the fun starts with a flick of the ‘Everywhere’ switch. This is when the Cullinan tightens its muscles to tackle some off-piste action, including traversing streams up to 540mm deep which, according to Rolls-Royce, is the deepest wading depth of any super-luxury SUV.
Matching the mechanical modification, Rolls-Royce have customised the exterior, swapping out the chrome jewellery with an all-black façade – a black Parthenon grille, a black Spirit of Ecstasy mascot at the bottom of the elongated nose, and 22-inch lightweight composite alloy wheels with 22 layers of carbon-fibre and a 70s-inspired square-spoke bonded to the rim.
In short, the four-door Cullinan Black Badge is pimped beyond skin deep.
It’s attention grabbing, with conspicuous opulence at its core.
Inside the cabin, swathed in hides sourced from Bavarian bulls (where there is no barbed wire or mosquitoes, so the skins remain unmarked), is a star-studded headliner, absurdly intricate aluminium-threaded carbon-fibre composite dashboard panels, darkened PVD air vents (which don’t discolour over time), along with everything else you’d expect from Rolls-Royce like lambs-wool foot mats, monogramed headrests, carbon-fibre umbrellas in the door pillars, an all-round camera system, a driver’s assistance package, a bespoke audio system, satellite assisted transmission – but that’s just the tip of the technological iceberg.
If I had to nit-pick, which of course I do, the lack of a tachometer leaves you guessing as to what’s happening under the bonnet as the replacement dial displays how little of the engine potential you’re tapped into.
Driving most supercars is akin to manhandling a racehorse up a fire escape.
Taking this for a long drive I launch its 2.4‑ton, 17.4ft long, 6.5ft wide body into hairpin-bends. The car comes alive, a pleasurable sensation runs through the steering wheel and up my arms. Whilst catapulting along roads set to test road grip, power and handling, the twin-turbo’d v12 hums calmly in the background, as if it could hardly be bothered. The Black Badge slips into the grand touring mode as if it was born for it.
You can at once sense the way the recalibrated air suspension software controls the Black Badge’s considerable weight transfer more tightly than the regular Cullinan, and allows it to be placed with real precision in longer, faster corners; and under sharp breaking the nose no longer takes a dramatic dive – it’s like a magic carpet ride! The chassis settles into the tyres, begging for the throttle to be pushed down, which of course I do until I run out of road. And nerve. This is the most dramatic piece of automotive engineering ever created. At a stroke Rolls-Royce have rewritten the SUV manual.
On the road performance? The Cullinan Black Badge is no slouch.
The Black Badge recalibrates the mind. It’s pure rock ‘n roll. At low revs it’s quiet, but prod the 6.75-litre V12 motor and the twin-turbo will send shivers up your spine, delivering an unfamiliar snarl to your ears – not exactly a death-metal roar, more of an attack dog on a short leash growl.
Developers at Rolls-Royce have deliberately allowed a little of the V12’s note into the cabin by removing just some of the strategic sound insulation – but you’ll only get to hear this under hard acceleration. Blasting from 0 – 60mph in just a shade over 4 seconds will unleash an atomic power, leaving artistic smears of black rubber on the road.
You can’t be nonchalant about undertaking a road trip in a Black Badge.
To embrace the dark side and bag yourself a Black Badge there’s a buttock-clenching £35k put on top of the standard Cullinan price which, off the floor, is £220k – this is without anything from the options menu and VAT.
This is, in so many ways, a ludicrous car. The looks may be challenging, and the price daunting, and whether you like it is irrelevant – this is what Rolls-Royce customers want. Arguably it’s the ultimate car oxymoron: a boutique 2.7‑tonne off-roader that’s rewritten the SUV rule book.
But be assured, driving a Rolls-Royce attracts envious glances; and will have people stop and stare, with mobile phone cameras flashing. If ever there was a statement car – this Cullinan Black Badge is it, the King of the Night.