Rolls Royce is rolling the dice in the SUV segment with the 2021 Rolls Royce Cullinan Black Badge. When The Cullinan first appeared in 2019, it rewrote the definition of the pinnacle in luxury automobiles. It wasn’t long ago that owning a Phantom or even a Ghost sedan signified that you made it in the world. Still, with SUV demand rising globally, the British ultra-luxury carmaker knew it had to adapt to rapidly changing times. Our initial taste of the Cullinan was brief, with our 30-minute encounter doing little to answer how the large SUV would fare in long-term ownership. We asked Rolls reps for a second meeting with this glamorous SUV, and we were given a beautiful Michigan weekend (rare weather in this state) to try and find the answer.
Big, Brash, And Always Eager To Draw Attention
When our tester arrived at the office, it certainly had the goods to draw plenty of attention to itself. Unlike other Cullinans we’ve seen that tend to be covered in black paint or prefer to wear a subtler grey hue, this example arrived in a vibrant shade of blue that the company calls “Galileo Blue.” The color is a special order hue for customers, and if you’re willing to pay the $15,400 admission fee, it really brings enhanced depth to the Cullinan. That’s especially true for Black Badge models with the blue actually meshing nicely with the black accents on the grille, Black Badge exclusive 22-inch wheels, and Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament.
But the big takeaway here is the sheer size of the Cullinan, with the SUV doing a good job projecting a strong yet elegant image to observers. The front fascia shares much of its DNA with the Phantom sedan, and the large grille and LED headlights drive home the familial links. The side profile is home to the trademark coach doors, and they help create a sizable entryway for occupants to enter or exit the Cullinan. The doors can also be electronically closed via switches on the dashboard for the front doors and poorly marked ones in the rear that took us a few minutes to find. The doors are also large, and that requires some strategic parking to avoid other cars and walls.
The rear styling is arguably the blandest part of the Cullinan (perfection is fleeting even at this price point), with the taillights looking out of place with the large tailgate and the blacked-out rear bumper. That’s a shame because it helps prevent the Rolls from having a truly balanced design with the front fascia and those iconic doors being tasked with keeping the attention of buyers away from the rear. That said, this slight omission didn’t stop the Cullinan from ending up being the subject of a future painting done by an artist who happens to live on our block; here’s hoping that the Cullinan looks just as good on canvas as it does in real life.
Cullinan Black Badge Interior Is Bathed In Star Light, Offers World Class Opulence
Like other Rolls Royce models, the interior of our Black Badge tester is all about delivering the finest in luxury. Still, before we talk about some of the novel ways the Black Badge coddles its passengers in luxury, we suggest turning your gaze upward. The Black Badge model is the first in the Cullinan family that offers Rolls Royce’s Star Light headliner technology. When fully illuminated, the roof looks like a beautiful night sky, and it even features a shooting star effect though catching sight of one is about as rare as finding a shiny Pokemon in one of the games or finding hen’s teeth. But if you are lucky to see it streak by on the roof, it looks really cool. The system uses 1,344 fiber optic lights in the headliner to achieve this effect, and the whole thing is controlled by several switches mounted on the roof. But that’s not all; Rolls Royce will even tailor the lighting to match the night sky on a certain date or even the sky on a particular date (yes, really.)
The rest of the interior retains the core identity that has come to define other Cullinan models. The materials are top-notch, and all the various dials and switches have a good tactile quality, with the iconic metal air vent plungers being a favorite of ours to manipulate. The heated/cooled and massaging front seats coddle passengers as no other seat can. The layout of the controls here is logical and ergonomically sound even if the BMW DNA bleeds through in the placement of the infotainment controls. Our tester did not have the nifty rear seat package that defined our last Cullinan experience, but the standard rear bench still managed to deliver the goods in terms of comfort and luxury. It’s a step above the Bentayga, and it’s the best setup for wealthy clients with a family to haul around on the weekends.
Other goodies include the sweet-sounding Rolls Royce Bespoke premium audio system, splashes of carbon-fiber trim, and tasteful yellow accents that help add some contrast to the interior. The sheer amount of luxury here is very impressive, and there’s no doubt that the Cullinan can walk the walk when it comes to pleasing its clientele. Oh, and the door-mounted umbrellas are also along for the ride to help the chauffeur keep passengers dry during downpours.
But while one can easily get distracted by all the luxury appointments on hand, some quirks do stick out when you get a better look at your surroundings. The rear cargo area is rather small, and while the rear seats in our tester can be raised or lowered electronically (an improvement over the Bentayga’s seating), the system did not quite work as advertised, with one seat choosing to resist the urge to go back up when asked to do so and the other one not folding down at all. We never saw an electronic situation like that before, and we suspect it was a fluke occurrence. Lastly, the Cullinan uses the older 6th gen i-Drive infotainment system. While we appreciated some of the graphic and function changes made for the Rolls, the system is still clunky to use, and you don’t get Android Auto or Apple CarPlay either.
Cullinan Performance Gets A Boost With Black Badge
The 2021 Rolls Royce Cullinan Black Badge is all about the fine details when it comes to the performance upgrades that the model brings to customers. Like other Cullinans, power comes from the 6.75 liter twin-turbocharged V12, but an ECU flash moves the power number up from 563 hp to a beefier 592 hp. While that increase might only be noticed by the most discerning of drivers when the Cullinan is left in its default driving modes, shifting things into Low mode (the equivalent of Sport mode) allows the tweaked twelve-cylinder to have a robust character and even unlocks a more aggressive shift pattern for the eight-speed automatic.
This pattern allows the driver to get the optimal gear needed for high-speed passing and makes the big Cullinan a real treat out on winding roads. Black Badge models get a new exhaust system that provides a sharper exhaust note and some pops and crackles from the exhaust tips, which are a welcome departure from the more buttoned-down and muted restraint that defines standard Rolls Royce models. Of course, all of this power requires an equally massive set of brakes to help bring the Cullinan to a stop when it comes time to rein the fun in.
The larger discs are mated to a pedal with decreased travel and an improved bite-in point for the pads. The air suspension gets a slightly stiffer tune for Black Badge duty, and while the firmer ride is noticeable on some stretches of road, the changes here are minimal. The slight benefit that the revised suspension brings to the Cullinan is minimal at best. This firmness also does not sacrifice the “magic carpet” like ride quality that Rolls is known for with the suspension not being bothered by pockmarked roads and the light steering doing a good job communicating where the wheels are to the driver even if it means that you feel all 6,000 lbs of Cullinan when you chuck it through a sharp corner.
The increased performance and swagger wielded by the Cullinan Black Badge comes with an expected surge in price, with the model adding $57,000 onto the base $325,000 price that defines a standard Cullinan. Our tester had a base price of $388,000, but it came loaded with a proverbial laundry list of options, including the $23,825 Drivers Package, the $15,400 Galileo Blue paintwork, and the $7,800 Star Liner roof system. Add up all the options our example came with, and the final sticker checked in at $465,300.
That might seem like a lot of change for most utility buyers, but the Cullinan Black Badge is targeted towards those who can spend the extra $57,000 without blinking and want to add a bit more spice to their Cullinan purchase. The Black Badge’s unique spot in the segment also means few rivals to deal with. The Bentley Bentayga is the traditional rival, but buyers looking to match firepower with the Black Badge will have to go all the way up to the $245,000 Bentayga Speed. The W12 in that model makes 626 hp. Still, while the engine outmuscles the Cullinan, the Bentayga is not as luxurious as the Rolls. The Bentayga also has some glaring compromises including manual-folding rear seats and interior materials a step below the Rolls.
Another rival is the $218,009 Lamborghini Urus. While the Lambo is focused more on providing raw performance versus outright luxury, the 4.0 liter V8 is more powerful than the Black Badge. The Urus is also 2,000 lbs lighter which makes a noticeable difference in cornering. While it might seem like an outlandish comparison at first glance, some customers actually cross-shop between the two.
At the end of the day, the 2021 Rolls Royce Cullinan Black Badge does a good job of pushing the Cullinan into a higher plane of performance without sacrificing the elegance, style, and flair that has come to define the modern Rolls Royce experience, especially when the tweaked V12 is allowed to sing at full song. And for enthusiasts that want a must-have Rolls Royce related item on their bookshelf, we invite you to check out friend of the site (and this author’s future wife) Emily Blakowski’s review of Rolls Royce Motorcars: Making Of A Legend, which is written by Simon Van Booy and Harvey Briggs and you can find it here at this link.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.