The inevitability of a Rolls-Royce SUV left many of the brand’s fans simmering in worried anticipation. After all, it’s never been a foregone conclusion that the Rolls-Royce design ethos — a nuanced blending of sophistication, power and luxury — would carry over to the form of a sturdy, essentially utilitarian vehicle. Its closest competitors, the Land Rover Range Rover and the Bentley Bentayga, succeed in this realm by staying true to their cores, with the former never yielding an inch in off-road prowess or essential functionality despite its upscale dressing and the latter going all-in as a surprisingly adept dune-basher infused with globe-trotting style. Where, then, does the $325,000 Rolls-Royce Cullinan land?
Hot Take: the Rolls-Royce Cullinan
The stakes couldn’t really be higher for Rolls-Royce. The brand’s flagship, the Phantom, flies in rarified air as the undisputed leader in supreme luxury, able to convey both power as a magic carpet for captains of industry and pure joie de vivre when ridden off into the night on adventures we can only dream about. The Cullinan needs to retain that aura —- without necessarily besting its master -— but also not fall flat on its face as an SUV. If one of these proved less than capable the first time a titan, royal or Hollywood player decided to test its mettle, the resulting paparazzi pics of a bottomed-out or belly-up Cullinan would be disastrous.
We don’t yet fully know how it will perform in the wild, but now see what it actually looks like and have some sense of how it will strive for that success. After weeks of not-particularly-coy social media plays showing the camouflaged Rolls-Royce Cullinan testing in a multitude of global off-road challenges, the brand finally took the wraps off the new SUV today. The result, frankly, is a win. It looks exceptional, with sleek horizontal lines, properly scaled proportions and no visible design missteps, such as overwrought haunches at the fenders or out-of-control zig-zag creases. The massive signature grill up front feels fully at home, if just slightly awkward in its newly elevated placement high above the ground—a fact we’ll just have to get used to.
Named after the largest diamond ever discovered — a rock that resides with the British crown — the Rolls-Royce Cullinan will arrive with what Rolls dubs a “three-box” configuration, which is essentially a cleanly divided partitioning of space, with the front compartment housing a massive 6.75-liter twin-turbo V12 (producing 532hp and 627 lb-ft of torque), a middle passenger box and a rear luggage compartment. The latter can be isolated from the passengers as in a proper trunk, in the fashion of travelers not sullying themselves in the direct presence of luggage. Its rear tailgate, dubbed “The Clasp,” is intended to further evoke the era of exterior-mounted luggage, though it looks like a pretty standard hatchback. That said, the four- or five-seat SUV also includes fold-down rear seats for the first time in a Rolls-Royce, so apparently, they’ll allow mingling with your parcels it if you need it.
Features and Innovation
In use, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan has an abundance of novel features. It lowers itself by 40mm as you approach to make entry easier, the rear suicide doors can close themselves at the touch of a button (a trick already present in both the Phantom and the Wraith) and it will jack itself back up to its proper ride height as you drive off. The newly touch-controlled infotainment system, digital instrumentation and a full suite of safety and assistance features like night vision, wildlife and pedestrian warning, adaptive cruise control and a big head-up display also bring Rolls-Royce fully in line with modern technological expectations. Another trick: the doors wrap low under the lower sill, so when you arrive somewhere after a muddy traverse and exit the vehicle, you won’t soil your trousers (so to speak).
The key innovation in the 5,800 pound SUV, however, appears to be the trick suspension, which Rolls-Royce went to great pains to ensure would remain smooth and comfortable in even the roughest terrain. Engineers achieved this in several ways: larger air struts with more air volume to cushion blows and a system that actively pushes down any wheel that it detects losing traction; strengthened drive and prop shafts; and all-wheel-drive for the first time in a Rolls-Royce. Four-wheel-steering and a new double-wishbone front axle will help deliver what we assume will be fairly competent off-road capability.
The real test of this, of course, will come with actual experience off-road. Can the Rolls-Royce Cullinan retain a degree of poise and comfort while scrambling over rocks and do so better than a Range Rover or Bentayga? We’ll see. Regardless, it’ll certainly look good doing it.