Need proof that SUVs are here to stay? This week brings it in the form of the Rolls-Royce of SUVs – the all-new Cullinan. Designed from the ground up to give the jet set a taste of visceral, boots-on-the-ground adventure without requiring them to give up necessities like plush heated seats and ice-cold champagne, the new SUV brings ultra-premium comfort to rock-strewn canyons, undulating mountain roads and dusty desert expanses. And it should get you noticed in the spa parking lot, too.
The thought of a Rolls-Royce SUV was once fairly mind-boggling, almost unfathomable. But since Rolls announced it three years ago, we've seen equally crazy ultra-premium all-terrain contraptions like the Bentley Bentayga and Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet, so a Rolls-Royce SUV is now just meeting expectations.
Besides, we'd say the strong facial features and powerful, straight character lines of contemporary Rolls-Royces are a much better match for serious SUV design than the softer curves of other luxury marques. The Phantom's front-end is basically a fancied-up concrete block with a watchful spirit fluttering over it – what about that doesn't scream, "make me the face of an SUV?"
So, here we are staring at the Rolls-Royce of SUVs, a model the company suggests might very well be its most anticipated of all time. It was created in response to a growing call from global clients, many of whom were "younger, very successful high-net-worth individuals who are heavily engaged in the experience economy, and wanted a Rolls-Royce that would take them to the ends of the Earth in ultimate luxury."
Work on the Cullinan began years ago, and it was never to be just an SUV, but an SUV fit to wear the Spirit of Ecstasy figurine aboard its snout. That's meant striving to eliminate every shred of compromise in the creation of a vehicle that can negotiate scree-peppered corners without spilling a drop of Krug Clos d'Ambonnay or interrupting Beethoven's 9th with an untimely rattle or high-pitched squeal. It's also meant creating a dual-personality platform with traditional Rolls-Royce on-road comfort and newfound off-road vigor.
It wasn't an easy task, and a full three years passed before Rolls-Royce's initial SUV announcement gave way to the unveiling this week. Critical to Rolls' mission was eschewing the typical two-box SUV design in favor of a three-box construction. That's rather subtle on the outside, where a slight shelf juts out just below the rear windshield to create Box #3, a stylistic nod to the luggage carriers on Rolls-Royce D-Backs of the 1930s.
The three-box construction really comes alive inside, where, when equipped with the two-rear seat layout, the rear passenger compartment is partitioned from the load area rather than being one continuous, utility-driven volume. And not with just any partition, but with a stylish glass wall that helps to isolate noise and prevent unwanted heat or cold from seeping into the cozy passenger cabin when the luggage compartment is open (presumably by the servants loading bags).
When Rolls-Royce says boxes, it means boxes. Back outside, both the front and rear fascias of the Cullinan are essentially perpendicular to level ground, giving the model a look of considerable strength. The glasshouse is angled at the front and rear windshields but sits atop a strong, flat belt line and has a near-level roofline flowing back with but the subtlest of slopes.
We look at that powerful, hulking bodywork from certain angles and can actually start daydreaming about conquering punishing off-road trails before our eye catches a piece of RR badge or signature grille and brings us right back to, "no way in hell are we driving any Rolls-Royce on an off-pavement patch rougher than the construction site of our half-built estate."
Below the bodywork, a new scalable, all-aluminum "Architecture of Luxury" provides a sturdy set of bones with rock-solid stiffness meant to brush off the bobs and jars of rough terrain. Further helping the Cullinan in that endeavor is a new double-wishbone front axle and five-link rear axle, carefully crafted for more precise control over lateral roll and shear forces.
The re-engineered self-leveling air suspension automatically raises the car 1.6 in (40 mm) to full ride height upon start-up and uses larger, more voluminous air struts to better devour big bumps. It actively compounds factors like wheel acceleration, body acceleration, steering and camera input millions of times per second to adjust the shocks. It can also push individual wheels lower to put rubber in contact with uneven ground that would leave the tires of lesser AWD vehicles spinning helplessly.
With its sights set wholly on developing the world's purest, most uncompromising on/off-road ultra-premium SUV, Rolls leaves the title of "world's most powerful upmarket SUV" to the likes of Bentley and Lamborghini. Its 6.75-liter twin-turbo V12 certainly has the size to strike an attack in the power war, but Rolls seems quite content with 563 hp. More importantly, it's massaged the engine to deliver all its 627 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600 rpm, something that will be invaluable when tip-toeing forward over big, nasty obstacles.
The 5,864-lb (2,660-kg) Cullinan obviously isn't a carefully weight/aero-optimized speed machine, but for those wondering, top speed is governed at 155 mph (250 km/h).
Beyond its all-wheel drive, low-end torque and active suspension, the Cullinan has several other baked-in hardware advantages for superior on and off-road driving. Four-wheel steering helps to improve control and agility, while a single "Everywhere" button at the driver's fingertips unlocks the vehicle's full all-terrain potential. From there, the driver can select through terrain types for even more specifically tuned performance – mud, sand, snow and rough track, among the options.
There's also a push-button hill descent setting that reins things in when dropping slopes. And should you need to ford a river, you can rely on 21 in (540 mm) of wading.
Inside the rear coach doors, buyers can opt for the more family-friendly three-seat Lounge configuration or the more luxurious dual-seat Individual package. The latter cuts off the luggage compartment with the aforementioned glass partition and splits the seats with a drink console holding a whisky decanter and glasses and champagne flutes. An integrated refrigerator compartment puts the chill on the top-shelf libations.
Rolls-Royce has further refined the interior with some thoughtful stepped-height construction. The rear Pavilion Seats sit higher than the front seats to provide a clearer view of the scenery, assisted by the large glazed side windows and panoramic glass roof. The base of the triple Lounge rear seats also sits higher than the trunk floor, creating a staggered-height load area when the seats are folded down, designed to prevent cargo from sliding forward.
For occasions when a continuous floor space is needed, the trunk floor can be electronically raised to the same level as the seat bases, creating a flat, 88-in-long (2,245-mm-long) floor and 1,930 liters of cargo space. When the seats are propped back upright, total load space drops to 560 liters, or 600 liters with the parcel shelf removed. The seats can also fold in 1/3 and 2/3 configurations.
Up front, the driver faces a set of digital instruments, a high-resolution head-up display and a thick, compact heated steering wheel. The infotainment display can be controlled via touch or using the Spirit of Ecstasy controller on the center console. Techy driver-assistance tools at the driver's disposal include a four-camera system, a vision assist system with night vision and wildlife/pedestrian warning, alertness assistant, collision and cross-traffic warning technologies, and a lane departure warning system.
The cabin also includes a Wi-Fi hotspot, front wireless charging dock and five USB charging ports to keep devices firing on all cylinders. The doors close behind occupants at the touch of an interior button – or an exterior sensor, for those being chauffeured around. The interior pampers with its amenities and elegant leather, hand-finished metal and wood trim while keeping occupants mindful of the vehicle's strength and robustness via strong horizontal and vertical lines throughout.
Getting back to the adventure for which its well-heeled customers are yearning, Rolls-Royce recognizes that driving, whether over barely-visible, vehicle-width forest track to distant rock climbing approaches or via frosty pavement to five-star ski lodges, is often but Part 1 of the story. It imagines Cullinan owners filling the vehicle tailgate with any one of a series of easily swappable Recreation Modules to continue on to Part 2.
Whether you're heading out to pilot drones, snap wildlife photos, climb sheer rock, or snowboard fresh powder (or even volcano cinders), you can quickly plug and play a module purpose-designed by Rolls' Bespoke Collective. Each module includes a motorized drawer containing all the equipment and accompanying accoutrements you need for your activity of choice.
It's not clear if these Recreation Modules will play nicely with the tailgate Viewing Suite Rolls teased a few months ago or be swapped out in place of it. Actually, it's not clear if they'll actually exist at all since we're not seeing any photos or renderings in the press kit. You can get the idea by reviewing what Bentley has done with its own Bentayga fly fishing, falconry and hunting packages.
Like what you're seeing from the Cullinan and want to get a closer look in your driveway? That's a privilege that'll cost you US$325,000, or a bunch more when you start picking out all those special options you must have on your Rolls-Royce of SUVs.
Most of the world will have to be content catching glimpses on internet videos. We've included the Cullinan release special below since it's the only short clip we found with the fully unveiled car, but we recommend skipping that over-polished piece of advertising in favor of the second clip showing the camouflaged Cullinan getting dirty in Southern Utah canyon country. Then, maybe slow things down and take in each still angle in the photo gallery.
Source: Rolls Royce
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