When the tide of the SUV was first spotted, many petrol heads and enthusiasts scoffed at the notion of being swept off by them, manufacturers included. Some vowed to never even consider making such obscene and crude category of vehicle just to make an easy buck. And yet here we are, the day that Rolls-Royce unveiled their entry into the segment of plush, high-riding and ‘off-road capable’ luxury vehicles – the Cullinan.
In a feeble attempt to defend past claims, Rolls-Royce originally called it a High-Bodied Vehicle, but the global unveil video rid them of that poncy vernacular and called it what it is – an SUV, to meet the ‘evolving’ luxury lifestyle of their esteemed customers. We knew it wasn’t going to look pretty, we knew it wasn’t going to involve any particular form of ground-breaking innovation and most importantly, we knew that it would not be welcomed by much of the motoring world. Even we at the Auto Loons have no fondness for this genre. But I have come to respect what the manufacturers are doing with it.
I am still passionately agitated by the disease-like popularity of high-riding vehicles that match urban lifestyle and broken roads, particularly the ones built solely for the urban middle class. But I have grown to appreciate the extremely focussed builds like Jeeps and luxury ones like the Range Rovers. The first fast-SUV that I can recall was the Porsche Cayenne, an ugly duckling but extremely capable on tarmac. Then came the smaller Macan which was somehow even less attractive, but it was these models that helped Porsche make the dough to continue building limited production runs of magnificent cars like the 918 or the new 911 GT2 RS. The next SUV pill to swallow was the Bentley Bentayga, another ugly creation yet it too is quite capable on smooth roads while offering a more niche luxury ownership experience than the Range Rover. Alfa Romeo followed it up with the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, a supremely quick high-rider built mainly for exciting driving while ticking the lifestyle box as well. They were soon joined by an unlikely Italian manufacturer in the fast-SUV race — Lamborghini, who just last year unveiled their production spec for the 305kph Urus and called it a Super SUV. Recent reviews suggest that the first-ever four-door, pracitcal Lambo fights off the typical failings of such a large, tall structure when pushed to go quickly around corners, defying physics through sheer engineering.
And that brings us back to the star of the evening — Rolls-Royce Cullinan. The name was originally just a project name that got carried through to produtction. Not surprising as the it suits the brand idtentity, seeing that the name ‘Cullinan’ is borrowed from that of the largest diamond discovered till date which is also part of the British Crown Jewels. It is big, but not as big as some of us expected and measuring about 5.3 metres in length, close to the standard wheelbase version of the Phantom. Built on the same new ‘Architecture of Luxury’ platform as the latest generation of the Phantom, the Cullinan utilises many of the same modern technologies. It does however claim a couple of firsts.
It is the first ever Rolls-Royce to feature an all-wheel drive, all-wheel steer system which is powered by a familiar 6.75-litre V12 engine tuned to produce 563bhp and 850Nm of twist, which would be needed to move this massive vehicle across any terrain with considerable ease. Rolls-Royce also claim that Cullinan is the first “three-box” car in the SUV-sector as its rear partition creates a distinct environment separate from the luggage compartmen, maintaining a comfortable temperature irrespective of outside conditions, alongside class-leading noise insulation.
It still has the plethora of traditional Rolls-Royce traits – suicide doors that can be closed at the touch of a button, spatterings of luxurious and comfortable materials all around the spacious cabin, and numerous driving assistance technologies to make the entire automotive experience, “effortless”. Apart from the satelite-guided 8-speed automatic gearbox it also features a further developed version of Rolls-Royce’s self-levelling air suspension featuring the electronically controlled shock absorber adjustment system to offer the brand’s iconic ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ across any terrain. Speaking of terrains, Rolls-Royce has also done something quite unique in the super-luxury SUV space. Instead of mucking about with different modes and icons and such, there is one single button on the central console to engage the Cullinan’s capabilities labelled ‘Off Road’.
One press and the car’s onboard computers use the front mounted cameras, numerous sensors and geographical information via satelite to adjust the distribution of power and the suspension settings to ensure effortless driving abilities across various off-road terrains like dirt, wet mud, snow, sand and gravel. In case you’re wondering if the raised height might impede the ease of entry and egress of Rolls-Royce customers, then fret not for there is a button to lower the Cullinan by 40mm for that very purpose. The console retains some traditional traits and opts for well-made and exquisite surfaces for the controls with only one touchscreen interface for the infotainment system, which is something I do support myself. The fold out tablets for the rear occupants that reside in the front headrests are another modern but basic feature, in Rolls-Royce terms.
It appears Cullinan has been built with the intent that owners will drive this particular Rolls-Royce themselves and can use it for many practical purposes as well. Much of the luxurious and clever touches come in the use of the 560 litre boot capacity that has a split tailgate for easier loading. The Lounge Seat configuration offers three-person seating layout in the back can be folded down completely flat or in a 2/3 and 1/3 split. Should one require to carry a long item in the back, such as art gallery masterpiece or an archeological find, the boot’s floor can be electronically raised to meet the seat base allowing it to be slid through and fully utilise the loading length of 2,245mm. The better known Indivual Seat configuration with two rear seats divided by a fixed central console that incorporates a drinks cabinet is the other standard option.
Rolls-Royce introduced the concept of the gallery on the new Phantom, wherein a large proportion of the otherwise empty dashboard design can be made besoke with individual selections of art or memorabilia. The brand has introduced a similar concept of added degree of personalisation but in the luggage compartment wherein the massive boot space can be bespoke to each customer’s taste and requirements. As an example, Rolls-Royce offer an optional feature of tailgate mounted seats that are built into the boot which electronically appear out of the integrated housing and can be unfoled with a small pop-up table for your glass of champagne or cup of tea. These seats act as a viewing platform to relax and observe that where one has taken their Cullinan to – watching over one’s own acres of land, a serene moment in the savannah, the glistening night skies over the dessert, at a childrens sporting event, or even a spot of clay shooting. The options are limited only to the imaginations of the owners.
To stand back and summarize, Rolls-Royce have essentially applied their core ideas to the standard SUV. Extremely luxurious, many bespoke possibilies, delicious interiors and advanced driving technologies to achieve what is essentially the tagline for the Cullinan — “Effortless, Everywhere”.
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