The horror! The disgrace! The fallacy! All of those expressions were used by a lot of people when they learned about the first Rolls-Royce SUV. That’s because some people might not be fully familiar with the Rolls-Royce brand. For most, their knowledge of the Rolls-Royce brand is limited to the last 20 years or so, since BMW stepped in and bought it.
However, the British car maker’s history goes a long way back and is even older than BMW themselves. In order to understand what Rolls-Royce stands for, you need to take some time to grasp the times when it was founded. Back in the early 1900s, having a car was reserved for the rich and famous. Furthermore, the landscape was completely different, especially when it comes to the infrastructure. You need to remember that the vast majority of people was still using a horse and carriage and they didn’t really need asphalt for that. Thus, the roads were basically still made of dirt. Therefore, getting around using a car was a challenge from the get go.
And that’s one of the reasons why Rolls-Royce as a brand and a car maker was respected from the beginning: their cars could go everywhere. Just take a look on Youtube at some British Pathe footage of the earliest Rolls-Royces and you’ll notice they are nowhere near a patch of asphalt. They are rather portrayed covering some really harsh terrain. Thus, if you truly know the history of the brand, you’ll soon understand that launching the Cullinan was nothing more than a logical step for the company. I’m actually surprised they didn’t do it sooner.
However, I do understand why over the years the Goodwood-based car maker was mostly focused on the Phantom and other sedans. Now that the world seems hellbent on SUVs and crossovers, it was the perfect moment to launch a car that has a similar purpose. To some degree. Notice how I avoid calling it an SUV? That’s not by accident.
Rolls-Royce says this is not an SUV but a mere ‘high-riding vehicle’ and, in all fairness, that’s exactly what it is. Driving it feels very similar to driving a Ghost or a Phantom, even though the sizes are quite different. This is basically your personal capsule capable of going just about anywhere.
From the beginning, Rolls-Royce has said that even though the Cullinan may seem bigger, the crown jewel of the model line-up will remain the Phantom. And that’s dead on. The Phantom, even in ‘regular’, non-EWB guise is longer than the Cullinan. The front grille of the Phantom is larger in every way (taller and wider) and you also get more space inside. Rolls-Royce also made sure it is quieter and more comfortable than the Cullinan even though they don’t explicitly say it. Luckily for me, I spent some time with both cars on a 1,000 kilometer long trip from Bucharest to Budapest and I was able to compare certain aspects about them.
The Design Of The Cullinan
What does make a difference though, is the design. The Cullinan is not exactly ‘pretty’ by any means, but then again, thinking about its purpose, I don’t think it should be. I personally believe that the Cullinan looks just right in real life, imposing, massive and incredibly luxurious. It looks as if it can run right over you and the people inside would’n’t even feel it. And that’s pretty much what would probably happen.
Open the vault-like doors and hop inside (and I do mean hop as this thing really is tall) and you are met with one of the most luxurious interiors you can get these days. Our tester wore Premiere Silver on the outside while the interior was dressed up in two shades of blue: Imperial Blue and Charles Blue. The leather is as rich as it gets and.
Rolls-Royce says that it uses a special breed of cows that are raised at a certain altitude, and are not closed in by a fence made of barb wire as they could scratch themselves and ruin the leather in the process. That’s the kind of attention to detail Rolls-Royce uses in its manufacturing process.
The whole interior is made of the best materials possible and, as one brand manager told us: If a material looks like something, that’s because it’s definitely made of that. What he meant was that if the air vents look like they are made of stainless steel, that’s because they are made of stainless steel and not some slick plastic that looks really alike. Everywhere you look everything felt massive to the touch.
The air vents I mentioned were made of real metal and thus they would simply start having little drops of water accumulate on them when the AC was on. Then there’s the wood, for example. The dash and other places throughout the car had wood trims made of real, open pore teak. It felt so nice to the touch and so different from the lacquered wood normally used in other cars.
According to Rolls-Royce, the people over in the interior department use the same tree for all the trims inside the cabin, just to make sure the shade will be the same everywhere. Yet another example of why Rolls-Royce is appreciated for its level of craftsmanship. Just to top things off, the 22” wheels we had were an optional feature, as they were hand polished. That’s right, after forging those wheels, someone has to polish them into their final shape, by hand, for the perfect look.
The seats are exactly as comfortable as you imagine, especially in the back. The rear seats can be adjusted in a variety of ways too, and our tester came with the ‘Immersive Seating’ option, which means you get a fixed center console in the back, turning the car into a four seater. At least, if you ignore another option our tester had, the so-called Viewing Suite. Care to guess what that means? It’s a set of two extra seats that fold and tuck away under the boot’s floor. Furthermore, they can be extended so that you can sit on them and enjoy the view whenever you get to the top of the mountain or another interesting destination.
Inside that rear center console you’ll also find a couple of surprises, if you’re willing to pay for them. There was a Rolls-Royce branded, crystal bottle of water in there along with two glasses made of the same material and also wearing the double-R logo. Right between the backseats there was another hidden door, holding a champagne and another set of crystal champagne glasses, in case you want to celebrate some special occasion.
The Driving Experience
So, we definitely established that the Cullinan is a luxurious place to be. What a surprise, right? Well, what I didn’t expect was to have fun behind the wheel. That was definitely the highlight of my time with the car. And I know that you’re supposed to be driven inside a Rolls-Royce, not drive it. Yet, even the company itself admits that a growing number of their customers are now driving their cars more and more. The Cullinan, I think, was made for driving it, especially over rough patches of road or even off roads altogether. Not necessarily because you can’t get a driver to do it for you, but because you’ll be curious about how far this thing can go before you get stuck.
It’s an impressive off-roader too, being able to go into half a meter of water or even more without an issue. Its all-wheel drive system is more than capable and the air suspension allows you to raise and lower the car’s height for you to adapt to every scenario. While inside you feel like you’re simply floating over everything, the ‘magic carpet ride’ being a truly impressive bit of technology. And while a 7 Series feels comfortable as well – or the X7 now – they don’t come close to how a Cullinan feels. It’s the entire package that impresses, not just the suspension.
Under the long hood up front you’ll find a traditional V12. This one though is a twin-turbocharged 6.75-liter unit making 563 HP and 850 Nm of torque, numbers that allow it to be quite fast off the line. This 2,660 kg behemoth will accelerate to 60 mph from standstill in five seconds flat which seems absolutely insane. It’s a fast machine by any means but it definitely doesn’t feel like it.
Just like any other Rolls-Royce, the Cullinan is set up for the utmost comfort not to give off the impression of speed. The acceleration is silky smooth, no matter how hard you press the go-fast pedal and driving it you understand the true meaning of a land yacht. It’s an expression used not only to convey the size of a car, but also the way it moves. Get going in a hurry and the nose and the entire hood simply rises, with the Spirit of Ecstasy leading the way, just like a boat would lift its nose on the water once you started going. Speed becomes just a number on the dash or the HUD after you start off because unless you check those two dials, you’d have no idea just how fast you were going.
The windows are double glazed to keep noise at a minimum. There’s hundreds of pounds of sound isolation thrown in on the car for good measure and you basically feel like you’re traveling in a ultra-luxurious cocoon just a bit above everyone else on the road. The gearbox is set up to be so smooth, so changing gears it downright feels like you’re driving a CVT unit not a ZF 8-speed you can also get on an M5, for example. That’s a true testament to how much of a difference fine tuning can make.
The torque comes along really soon in the rev range, according to Rolls-Royce the car offering you its full potential at just 1,600 RPM. That, combined with the smoothness of the gearbox, and the sound isolation means you kinda feel like you’re driving an electric car. And that’s what most customers will be looking for too: utter quietness and comfort as they drive over just about anything.
However, if you do want to get going in a hurry, you can do so once you get used to the car. We had to cover a rather long distance in a single day and, at times, had to push our cars hard. At first, you get annoyed by how slow the car tends to get the revs up, but that’s just how it was configured to feel. Also, there’s a trick I learned during my time with the car if you want it to feel a bit more conventional. Just tap the throttle a bit to get the gearbox to downshift and then you can accelerate harder, and you’ll notice a more instant response from the car.
You do have to pay attention to the speed at all times though, as the sensation is numbed inside the car and you might end up driving at triple-digit speeds without noticing. Then there’s the braking. Just like the acceleration, slowing down is a process and the pedal travel is long. The car does brake, but you don’t realize just how much from behind the wheel. Thus you can be surprised at times, when you notice you get dangerously close to the car in front. The Cullinan is a heavy car too, at over 2.5 tons and since the suspension is set up to be as smooth as possible. Therefore slowing down is a process that’s also muffled rather well, in order to avoid disturbing the patron sitting in the back, at all costs.
You could say that driving the Cullinan basically feels like you’re navigating.
All things considered though, it’s hard to imagine such a car driving any differently. The speed sneaks up on you and that means you need to be careful. Then again, that’s not really going to be your problem, is it? That’s going to be the chauffeur’s problem and that’s true autonomous driving for you, isn’t it? In this regard, Rolls-Royce owners have already discovered what many car makers are struggling to bring to the market these days.
Where does that leave us? Well, the Cullinan is a particular breed, all things considered. While it can, very well, be driven by a chauffeur, as Rolls’ typically are, the Cullinan is better enjoyed from behind the wheel, in my opinion. And since you’re a billionaire, I guess pushing it to the absolute limit while having your water cooled in the rear armrest does sound like a fun afternoon. For that, there’s no better choice out there.