A more imposing take on the Cullinan.

Given Rolls-Royce's 115-year history, you'd think the company would be almost immune to change. And yes, in a lot of ways the brand's long tenure as the pinnacle of luxury auto manufacturing goes without competition. But even century-old Rolls-Royce knows that flexibility breeds success, and that's sort of how the Black Badge models came about.

The Black Badge Dawn, Wraith, and Ghost give the brand's growing number of younger clients more choices. Millionaire millennials (read: athletes, actors, and musicians) want hipper style and extra power to pair with that signature Rolls-Royce exclusivity, and that's exactly what they get when buying a Black Badge. And now the trio grows by one.

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge is peak posh in all the right ways. It is, inarguably, one of the most luxurious SUVs money can buy. But what's even more impressive is that while the Cullinan Black Badge maintains the same levels of quality and exclusivity you expect of a Rolls-Royce Cullinan – only now packaged a bit prettier – it's one of the few available options that's just as thrilling from the driver's seat.

2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge: First Drive
2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge: First Drive
2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge: First Drive

Less Is More

Blink and you might miss the Cullinan Black Badge's new visual cues. They’re not very noticeable at first glance. But look closer. Keen eyes will distinguish the darkened grille, trim pieces, and Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament, all of which wear a new high-gloss black chrome chemical finish. Rolls-Royce says the process to create these darkened trim pieces is difficult and painstaking, but necessary to prevent long-term scratching or chipping. We expect nothing less from a company so dedicated to distinctiveness.

The wheels are unique to this trim, too. They almost look like little “Cs” for Cullinan. The 22-inch units wrap around painted brake calipers (a factory first for the brand), which you can get in any colour… as long as that colour is red. The Cullinan Black Badge is a subtle, stylish improvement to a vehicle that's already extremely impressive to look at.

Inside is much of the same. Small upgrades over the standard Cullinan make all the difference. A “Technical Fibre” (RR speak for fancy carbon fibre) trim comes standard, and it covers most of the dash and centre console, creating a 3D effect. The new Forge Yellow leather, meanwhile, looks exceptional alongside traditional black accents. But the piece de resistance lies above you.

Believe it or not, this is the first Cullinan with Rolls-Royce's signature "Starlight Headliner." And it's even better here. Not only does it consist of 1,344 individual fibre optic cables, and is wholly customisable (you can select any star pattern from any place or point in time), but it also comes with a new “shooting star” feature. Press a button and a stream of light shoots across the artificial sky. If there's anything more absurdly luxurious, though insanely brilliant, we haven't seen it.

2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge: First Drive
2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge: First Drive

Serious Skills

The Cullinan Black Badge uses the same colossal 6.7-litre V12 found in the base model. Had you thought this was a monstrous unit prior (with 563 horses and 627 pound-feet), it now produces 600 bhp and 664 pound-feet of torque. Credit a reflashed ECU for the improvement. Rolls-Royce doesn't bother to list the time it takes to reach 60 miles per hour or a top speed (because who cares), but this SUV feels noticeably quicker than its 563-bhp sibling from behind the wheel.

Power delivery gets an uptick. In “Low” mode (Rolls-Royce's version of Sport), the remapped throttle and touchier accelerator pedal help unleash that massive V12's strengths in a way the base model doesn't. The Black Badge Cullinan takes far less prodding to get up to speed; the eagerness with which this 2,753 kg mobile penthouse moves in a straight line is awe-inspiring. And it stops just as well, thanks to new brake discs and reduced pedal travel. The best part is, there's a burbly but subtle exhaust note that emanates from the rear, which is extremely fun to hear from a Rolls-Royce.

The more-aggressive shift pattern from the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission puts the V12's newfound power to use exceptionally well. The gearbox is still seamless in the way it shifts, as it is in the base Cullinan, but now it holds revs longer, allows for more torque down low thanks to shorter gearing, and generally knows exactly what to do on its own. Rolls-Royce scoffs at the thought of something so garish as steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. This is still a Cullinan, after all.

The Black Badge Cullinan takes far less prodding to get up to speed.

The Cullinan remains averse to canyon carving, even with its new sporty designation. But the Black Badge model feels more majestic in the way it moves. The firmer air suspension gives better feedback and more responsiveness, while the heavier steering and quicker ratio improve turn-in abilities. Yes, the body of the Cullinan Black Badge still moves, but it does so now with a bit more confidence and predictability.

But don't be brash in thinking those performance upgrades contribute to a less-comfortable ride. The Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge is still a car comfortable-enough to be driven in. Even post upgrades, it remains one of the poshest, quietest, and smoothest vehicles on planet Earth – only now you’ll have more fun behind the wheel. Even with our co-driver pushing it in the bends, the La-Z-Boy-esque front buckets coddle us, and the “Immersive” rear seating setup – which swaps the standard bench for two seats and a centre console – do the same for second-row passengers.

Our tester wears the polarising new Forge Yellow-and-black leather with a fluffy, matching yellow carpet. We love the injection of colour in the cabin, honestly, but we understand the mustard hue might not be suitable for all tastes. Thankfully, as with any Rolls-Royce, the Cullinan Black Badge is highly customisable, both inside and out.

2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge: First Drive
2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge: First Drive
2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge: First Drive
2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge: First Drive

Pay The Piper

There's no way to soften this: the Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge most likely costs a fair premium over the £230,000 base model, approximately around £270,000, and can easily option out well over £350,000. That's a lot. But to prospective Cullinan owners, all of whom have likely already ordered theirs anyway, the additional cost of the Black Badge model is inconsequential. To us, it's like McDonald's upping their Dollar Menu by 50 cents. Paltry sum, relatively speaking.

But the improvements given to the Black Badge over the standard model are worthy enough to justify even the most outrageous cost. The Black Badge model is prettier, posher, and definitely quicker, but still maintains the same borderline-obsessive comfort and capability levels you expect of a Rolls-Royce. It's so good, in fact, we question why anyone might still consider a base Cullinan knowing that this one exists.

2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge

Engine Twin-turbocharged 6.7-litre V12
Output 600 bhp / 664 pound-feet
Transmission Eight-speed automatic
Drive Type All-wheel drive
Weight 2,753 kg
Seating Capacity 5
Base Price £270,000 (estimated)

Gallery: 2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge: First Drive