To start with, what you’re looking at here is not an SUV, at least according to Rolls-Royce. The luxury marque is calling this machine a “high-bodied car”. Everyone bar Rolls-Royce’s management and marketing teams would disagree with that label, but that’s how they’re defining it.
Three years in the making, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is the first SUV (regardless of what Rolls-Royce says, WE’RE calling it an SUV!) from the carmaker in its history, as well as its first four-wheel drive. It follows similar SUV debutants from other prestige and luxury automobile brands recently, like Maserati, Bentley, Jaguar and Lamborghini.
And like the SUVs from those rivals, the Cullinan (more on the meaning of the name below) owes its existence to customer demand; specifically demand from younger Rolls-Royce customers, according Rolls-Royce CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös. “Luxury is no longer an urban concept. More and more it is about embracing and experiencing the wider world,” said Müller-Ötvös at the Cullinan’s official launch on 10 May.
“Our customers expect to go everywhere in luxury, effortlessly and without compromise, conquering the most challenging terrain to enjoy life’s most enriching experiences, wherever they may be. For this reason, they have asked us to create a Rolls-Royce that offers uncompromised luxury wherever they dare to venture. Cullinan is that car. It is Effortless, Everywhere.”
That “Effortless Everywhere” tagline is repeated throughout the Cullinan’s release information, indicating that the Rolls can match the established off-road prowess of a Range Rover or Mercedes G-Class, while offering luxury and appointments that exceed Bentley’s Bentayga, which is the Cullinan’s primary rival.
“We knew we had to offer our clients what they couldn’t find in the SUV market,” Müller-Ötvös continued. “(These younger, more adventurous customers) do not accept limitations or compromises in their lives. They are the new pioneers, and for them it’s about their sense of adventure and daring in how they live their experiences. This approach to life demands a motor car that can go-anywhere in ultimate luxury and style – Rolls-Royce style. Hence Cullinan.”
Diamond. . . . in the Rough. The Cullinan SUV takes its name from the Cullinan diamond that was discovered in South Africa in 1905. At 3,106 carats in rough form, the Cullinan was the largest diamond of its kind ever discovered, but in 2007 another, also discovered in South Africa, was claimed to be even larger.
Named after the mine’s owner, Sir Thomas Cullinan, the rough diamond was gifted to the British Government in 1907. Separated into nine main pieces and almost one hundred smaller stones, the larger pieces of the Cullinan were cut and shaped by master jewellers, with most now in the British Royal Family’s Crown Jewels. In Rolls-Royce terms, their Cullinan is a diamond FOR the rough, rather than IN the rough, as this SUV claims to be the first of its kind to make luxury off-road travel a reality. “Cullinan is luxury in its purest form blended with perfect practicality and off-road capability,” says Müller-Ötvös. “Effortless, Everywhere is not just the promise behind Cullinan. It’s the fact.”
The Body. The Cullinan is built on the same ‘Architecture of Luxury’ platform that underpins the current, eighth-generation Phantom. At 5341mm long, 2164mm wide and 1835mm tall, the Cullinan is both shorter and higher than the Phantom, with a 3295m wheelbase. While ride height is obviously increased, a figure has not been released, but wading depth is listed at 540mm.
Seen from the front, the Cullinan looks much the same as the Phantom, as it carries similar headlights and bumper treatment, as well as the modern Roller’s interpretation of the signature cathedral grille, topped – of course – by the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ radiator emblem.
In profile, the unique nature of the Cullinan becomes apparent, with its wagon body the first Rolls-Royce production model to be so configured in the company’s 112-year history. Being the First Rolls wagon means the Cullinan is also the first with a tailgate, but as with many things in the Rolls-Royce world, they have a different name for it.
Called ‘The Clasp’, the tailgate is a two-piece unit and power-operated. Optional to this is a ‘Viewing Suite’, fitted under the luggage area, that consists of a pair of leather-trimmed seats and a small table that slide out above the open lower tailgate, presumably for watching the polo or the bayside regatta.
Also optional are ‘Recreational Modules’ that hold all the kit for the Cullinan owner’s recreational pursuits; everything from fishing to rock climbing, drone racing to scuba diving. The modules are interchangeable to suit different pursuits and like everything else on the Cullinan, are power-operated, deploying from the luggage area at the touch of a button.
Standard passenger accommodation in the Cullinan is five with the ‘Lounge Seat’ rear bench - that folds with a 60/40 split to increase the standard 560-litre luggage space to up to 1930 litres – but this reduces to four when the lounge is swapped for an ‘Individual Seat’ arrangement of two plush bucket seats.
Choose the Individual Seat rear and you cut luggage space to 526 litres, but you do gain a fixed centre console with seat controls, a refrigerator, champagne flutes, whisky glasses and a decanter. Regardless of rear seat choice, those in the back sit higher than the front row – what Rolls-Royce calls ‘Pavilion Seating’.
Up front, there’s all the luxury and power-operated everything you’d expect in a Rolls-Royce (even including heated armrests), while passenger entry is made easier by the body automatically lowering itself 40mm when unlocked, then rising again once the engine is started.
Ahead of the driver is a class-leading 7x3-inch head-up display and fully-digital instrumentation as part of a dash layout that’s mostly the same as the Phantom, but new additions include additional perimeter padding and a small dip in the top edge of the dash. Also new is a smaller, thicker steering wheel (reflecting the Cullinan’s status as a “driver’s vehicle”) and a Rolls first in a touch-screen centre console, but the rotary dial main controller for all the in-car functions remains.
On the dash and console, water-resistant ‘Box Grain’ leather is standard, but as with other Rolls-Royces, an abundance of trim options and finishes are available, covering multiple leather, timber and other material choices. The final point to note with the body is that the luggage area is separated from the passenger area via a movable glass partition. Rolls-Royce says this “three box” design emulates when luggage was carried externally on luxury cars, but now has a more practical purpose in isolating the occupants from road and tyre noise coming from the luggage area and also allows more effective temperature control in the cabin, even with the tailgate open.
Soft Ride in the Rough Stuff. Rolls-Royce says a key driver in the creation of the Cullinan was the successful combination of the brand’s existing ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ with off-road ability. Granted, most Cullinans are unlikely to encounter anything more challenging than a gravel drive, muddy polo field car park or an icy road on the way to the ski fields, but the ability for the best vehicle to handle the worst conditions has supposedly been built in.
To the configurable Architecture of Luxury platform, Rolls-Royce engineers incorporated a number of weight reducing measures for the Cullinan and added a new aluminium sub-structure to increase body stiffness and handle the addition of a Rolls-Royce first in the driven front axle.
The existing air shocks, re-engineered to handle harder and heavier impacts, have been combined with new double wishbone front suspension and a five-link rear with active anti-roll bars for what’s said to be astounding levels of body control in a vehicle weighing 2660kg unladen.
Electronic suspension control reacts to acceleration, steering and camera data to deliver suspension adjustments in milliseconds, while four-wheel steering (like that employed on Lamborghini’s Urus) is a road car initiative that’s been employed here to enable sharper manoeuvring in tight off-road situations.
The Phantom-based drivetrain was also reconfigured, with strengthened drive and prop shafts added to suit the new model’s off-road ability and incorporation of permanent all-wheel drive. For low-speed off-road work, maximum torque of 850Nm from the 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 now comes on at a low 1600rpm. Max power is 420kW is unchanged, top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h and while economy is a thirsty 15lt/100km, it’s unlikely Cullinan owners will be complain.
There’s no low range gearing, but with all that bottom-end torque and a torque converter on the 8-speed ZF automatic transmission, Rolls-Royce believes it isn’t required. Experiencing that ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ in rough terrain is as simple as pressing the ‘off-road’ button on the centre console. Rolls-Royce calls this the ‘Everywhere’ button, and while the off-road functions are largely automatic, the driver can finesse settings to suit the specific terrain or conditions – from a rocky track to gravel, wet grass, mud, snow and sand – or individual preference.
But even with all this ability, suitable tyres for the standard 22-inch wheels would be highly recommended. In terms of tech, Rolls-Royce are pretty understated about what the Cullinan offers, but it’s pretty comprehensive, with Night Vision and Vision Assist (including daytime and night-time Wildlife & Pedestrian warning), Alertness Assistant, a 4-camera viewing system with all-round visibility and ‘helicopter view’, Active Cruise Control, Hill Descent Control, Collision Warning, Cross-Traffic Warning, Lane Departure and Lane Change Warning, the aforementioned head-up display, a WiFi hotspot, and what’s described as “the latest” navigation and infotainment systems.
Aussie Expectation. Will the Cullinan come to Australia? Yes, given there is a market for Rolls-Royces here, albeit one that’s very, very small. You could probably count the Cullinans that will come to Australia on both hands and still have a few fingers left over, but the SUV will sell here, despite a price tag that’s expected to be close to $700,000. Local deliveries are expected to start from early 2019.
One thing’s for sure, when it does come here, the Cullinan will be guaranteed to draw attention. If it can meet local off-road challenges, like the Simpson Desert, Kimberley, the Top End and Cape York, the Cullinan will truly live up to its ‘Effortless Everywhere’ motto.
Credits: Words: Mike Ryan. Photos: Rolls-Royce