We went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to test the all-new Rolls-Royce Cullinan, the first SUV in the company’s history. We took the new Cullinan through an off and on-road exercise to test its capabilities.
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Named after the largest diamond ever discovered, one which now resides in the British Crown Jewels, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is the first-ever SUV ever built in Goodwood, and one of the most expensive all-wheel drive vehicles one can buy today. It’s also a lifestyle, one that many of us aspire to, so it was all fitted that Rolls-Royce has picked Jackson Hole, Wyoming – home to the highest per capita income in the country – as the place to launch its $325,000 SUV.
At a first glance, the Cullinan not only caters to the ballers of this world, but also to those that want the most exquisite four-by-four that can fill the role of a family hauler for the school runs or to get you in style and comfort to the most exclusive ski slopes in the world.
The fact that the first year’s production is already sold out is not surprising, considering that many Rolls customers have been anxiously waiting for the Cullinan since its competitor from Bentley arrived on the market. It’s also a testament to the fast growing high-end SUV market which seems to get new contenders every year.
Underpinning the new Cullinan, as well as the latest generation Phantom, is a new custom architecture which provides superior ride stiffness, smoothness and silence. This new platform is called the “Architecture of Luxury.”
According to Rolls-Royce engineers, this architecture will underpin every new Rolls-Royce from today, including the upcoming second-generation Ghost. The flexible platform relies on scalable large aluminum structures to fit a number of applications by using various-size aluminum floor pans and cross members. The quality and rigidity of the platform has been increased by using new production processes, such as gluing, riveting and screwing.
While at the launch event in Jackson, Rolls-Royce engineers emphasized that the platform is purely Rolls-Royce and it’s not being shared with any of the BMW Group brands, and it has been in works since 2013. Rolls-Royce believes that sharing a platform between manufacturers can lead to compromises, which goes against the exclusivity of a Rolls-Royce model.
The flexible architecture allows different lengths and heights, so in this case, the Cullinan is shorter (at 5,341m) but taller (1,835mm) than the Phantom. Engineering jewels like a double-wishbone front axle, 5-link rear axle, electronically controlled dampers and active anti-roll bars, are also married to the new platform, further enhancing the uniqueness of the new luxury SUV.
Under the hood, we have the always spectacular 6.75-liter twin turbocharged V12 making 563 horsepower and 637 lb-ft of peak torque at a very low 1,600 rpm. Power is sent to all-wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox on which you can’t select gears yourself. Instead, the shifting is assisted by GPS-nav system.
The towing limit is around 2700 kg, and slightly higher in the US. You know, just in case, you have a high-speed boat to drag along.
But while the performance of a Rolls plays an important role in the life of their customers, the design and craftsmanship is really what sets apart any Rolls-Royce. According to Alex, Innes, the designer involved in the Cullinan project, the design phase kicked off nearly four and a half years ago. Innes said that having a clean slate in designing a new Rolls can be quite challenging, especially penning an SUV that has to look like a Rolls-Royce. As you see across the entire portfolio, the Rolls’s design stands out with their typical long hoods and short overhangs, but in this case, the Cullinan isn’t a conventional “two box” vehicle, but a “three box” design which is emphasized by the design of the rear windscreen.
Overall, it has some of the Phantom’s DNA, but with its own personality and character, traits that customers will appreciate.
But as with most Rolls-Royce models, the exterior design is not the main story. Most of the magic happens inside the cabin where the driver, customer and passengers need to feel – literarily – the opulence of their car. Your first encounter with the Cullinan starts with the coach door which – of course – open with a push of a button. In this case the outer skin wraps under the body, so that when opened they keep exterior dirt away. Another subtle but nice touch.
Stepping inside the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is as special as we imagined, without disappointing in terms of grandeur. The hand-stitching, the wood and the chrome are of the highest quality possible, both visual and tactile. The upper fascia is clad in durable and water resistant box grain leather, similar to that used in high-end Italian luggage and handbags.
The cockpit-style dashboard features digital dials and a thick steering wheel while the in-house developed sound system is one of the best in business.
Rear seat passengers are treated to either one of two seat configurations; Lounge Seats or Individual Seats. The former is your typical three-seat bench and is the more functional of the two, preferable for families.
With Lounge Seats, the rear seats also fold down, so as to allow for more cargo space, a Rolls-Royce first. Of course, they fold automatically, with buttons in the trunk. One press of the corresponding buttons folds the seats down, while simultaneously raising the rear headrests up so as to not leave imprints on the precious seats. They can fold down in either 1/3, 2/3 or complete configurations.
If you decide to choose the Individual Seats for the rear, you get two thrones, separated by a “Fixed Rear Centre Console”, which offers a drinks cabinet filled with whiskey glasses and decanter, as well as champagne flutes and refrigerator.
There is also a a huge glasshouse and high seating to provide panoramic views. With the full-length glass sunroof you can also view the mountain peaks all around.
And that’s exactly what we planned to do. The first part of the day was dedicated to an off-road exercise that planned to take us to the peak of the Snow King Mountain which is the steepest ski slope in the lower 48 states.
The Rolls-Royce Cullinan comes with an “Off Road” button on the console – known from other automakers as well – which has been simplified to provide a seamless experience for the driver. While other SUVs provide several modes, such as sand, rock or snow modes, the Rolls Royce Cullinan only has Off Road. The ride height is also elevated by 40mm, the drive-by-wire throttle and gearbox are recalibrated and the adaptive dampers are stiffened.
In the Off Road mode, the Rolls uses its front suite of cameras and sensors to not only determine what sort of terrain it’s currently on but what sort of terrain lies ahead. It then will not only adapt its all-wheel drive system and suspension for the terrain it’s on but will pre-ready itself for what’s ahead.
Although the Snow King lacked any snow in early October, it had plenty of soft soil, large rocks and hairpin turns that demanded our full attention. Even on those various surfaces, the Cullinan maintains the infamous magic-carpet waftability of the brand. The power delivery from the V12 is linear and progressive, which is always a plus when on difficult terrain.
Steering input is light but it has a responsiveness which is adequate for off-roading. The brakes are fairly silent, despite the constant friction up and down the hill. Speaking of down-hill driving, the even steeper slope involved hitting the button for hill descent assist which works effortlessly without any input from the driver.
The four-wheel steering system plays an important role through the off-road hairpins, making the ride more manageable. The turning circle is 13.23 meters, which Rolls-Royce says it’s impressive for a car of this size.
After our off-road adventure, it was time to take the Cullinan back into its natural habitat – on the smooth and serene roads around Jackson. We’ve had the chance to experience the Magic Carpet Ride from both the driver’s and passenger’s seat, and the claimed effortless driving dynamics was equally impressive. To keep with the simplicity of the its design, there are no shift paddles, no suspension settings to adjust or any other gimmicks that need fine tuning. The active roll bars, damping and four-wheel steering are working in tandem to achieve that Rolls-Royce-like smooth driving experience.
Whether on regular asphalt or on countryside rough backroads, the Cullinan’s cabin isolates you from all the surroundings, with the 6.75 liter V12 being near silent and driven by an extremely smooth eight-speed transmission. Despite the 22 inch wheels (with excellent grip, we might add), the road noise is the being almost fully reduced, while wind noise barely noticeable. The cabin’s quietness is achieved through double-thick glass and 100kg of soundproofing materials, along with the soundproofing foam found in the tires.
Furthermore, an optional glass partition wall separates the passengers from the rear luggage compartment, in an attempt to isolate the rear passengers from their cargo.
Stability is great, despite being such a tall SUV, while the steering is very accurate, despite being on the light side. Even better, the Cullian’s 2752 kilograms (6,069 lbs) curb weight is being properly disguised by the spirited ride when the V12 gets pushed to its limit.
In a nutshell, the refinement and engineering that went into the Cullinan, makes it one of the most relaxing cars to drive over long distances.
Ultimately, the Cullinan is a Rolls-Royce at heart and it builds upon the 100+ years successful recipe – quiet and luxurious rides, exclusive and with the highest level of craftsmanship that any automaker could achieve. Those buying a Cullinan also enjoy the luxury of the rear seats, especially when being chauffeured to hotels like the Amangani in Jackson Hole or to their ski chalet, or even on their way to the office. Therefore, the Cullinan plays so many different roles in the life or a Rolls-Royce customer that in some cases, this might be the only car they need.
But that’s unlikely, since getting that Rolls-Royce bug is what usually drives their customers to other models from Goodwood.