The latest member of Rolls Royce's Black Badge range offers one of the most unique and special experiences on the road today
Words by Erin Baker, Editorial Director at Auto-Trader
How has Rolls-Royce got the average age of its global customer down to a mere 40 years old? Largely with the new Black Badge version of its cars: a darkened, smokey, bad-ass design make-over on everything from its luxury convertible, the Dawn, to this, the massive Cullinan SUV.
Please don’t ask: it only shows you can’t afford. And anyway, no one has a Rolls-Royce as their only car – the Cullinan will be part of an owner’s private fleet. And the choice won’t be between this and another luxury SUV: it will be this or a Picasso, or some exclusively curated pieces from an haute couture collection perhaps, or a new yacht.
But if you must know, the Cullinan costs £254,000, excluding local taxes, and our test version came in at £316,725, minus those pesky taxes again. Fuel and insurance will both be mega – the Cullinan does about 10 miles per gallon (to set that in context, your average petrol hatchback these days should do about 40mpg.
It’s all about the design. The Spirit of Ecstasy is blackened, as is that huge grill. Our car was painted black, which just accentuated those slab sides of bodywork, with vast black wheels pierced by red brake calipers.
Inside, naturally black dominates. Our car had bright “Forge Yellow” as its secondary hue, so the swathers of black leather were punctuated with bright yellow piping, stitching and door lining, while a yellow stripe ran along the waistline of the car outside.
Possibly the piece de resistance in our Cullinan Black Badge was the roof. We’ve seen the magical starlit roof lining they offer before – lots of tiny LED bull prick the leather ceiling, offering a night sky for your dreams. You can have the stars designed in any constellation, such as your star sign, perhaps, but we’ve never seen the shooting star feature before – watch closely, and every few seconds a star appears to shoot across the night sky of the roof. It stays on while you drive, or you can turn it all off. It’s truly special, and rather beautiful.
There are the familiar deep lambswool carpets, monogrammed head rests, rear doors that open outwards from the front, the touches of art deco styling up front that characterise Rolls-Royce, and that impossible thin, large steering wheel that echoes the Roaring Twenties.
Rolls-Rolls-Royce takes nearly all its technology from parent company BMW, so you get the rotary dial that controls the iDrive infotainment system, plus a large touchscreen.
In the rear, veneered picnic tables fold down from the front seat backs and at the press of a button, a screen moves forward to offer the same infotainment functions – audio, satnav, phone etc – as the driver has access to.
However, Rolls-Royce, like Bentley, Ferrari and Lamborghini, does not place tech at the top of its priority list, preferring instead of focus on the comfort and performance of the car, placing it at the pinnacle of luxury automotive experiences, and nothing wrong with that.
Ahhh, there simply is no more comfortable car than a Rolls-Royce. The engineers design the suspension so that it cushions its occupants from every pothole, bump and speed hump. You can neither hear nor feel the baying throngs of the outside world: the interior is an inner sanctuary of calm and relaxation.
Rear passengers can stretch out their legs, raise the footrest from the floor, and even push a button to close their door if reaching forwards and pulling is too much of a strain. Up front, the commodious seats can be heated or ventilated and offer a massage function.
Our Cullinan had a sumptuous surprise up its sleeve: what Rolls calls a viewing suite. Open the electrical rising split-tailgate of the boot, press a button, and from the floor emerge two folded seats, clad in the same Forged Yellow leather, with chrome tips. They rotate outwards and lift to provide the perfect perch for admiring the polo or whatever takes your fancy.
The gargantuan V12 engine delivers 600 horsepower, but even more outrageous is the acceleration: this car weighs 2.6 tonnes but sprints from 0-60mph in just 4.9 seconds. That’s ridiculous. Anything under 5.0 seconds is sports car speed but this is one of the heaviest family SUVs in the world. It starts to explain that painful fuel consumption, but my, it’s worth the financial pain: you plant your foot, watch the long bonnet rise to sniff the air, and you’re hurtling towards the horizon before you can say “speed camera”. It’s one of the most unique and special experiences on the road today and a true privilege to experience it.