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New Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV: Gavin Green's take on the uber-SUV

Published: 15 May 2018

► New Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV
► V12 with 563bhp, rear-steer, awd
► Can be yours from around £275k

The new Rolls-Royce Cullinan is the biggest, heaviest, most expensive, most luxurious, most imposing, most exquisitely finished, most extravagant, most conspicuous and the most intimidating (if you saw this monster and its Parthenon grille racing up behind you in lane three, you’d move over and pronto) SUV in the world.

And that’s exactly as Rolls-Royce, and its ‘high net worth’ (and high self worth) ‘patrons’ would want it. It will also, almost certainly, be the most comfortable, most refined and the quietest SUV of all. 

But pretty, it ain’t. Nor does Rolls-Royce even pretend it is. The silhouette is more like a London cab than a luxury coupé. ‘This is not a sweet car,’ admits design director Giles Taylor. And in a few hours of discussion with Giles, the word ‘beautiful’ did not leave his lips once.

Although ‘functional’, ‘big’, ‘tough’, ‘super luxury’, ‘versatile’, ‘go anywhere’, ‘commanding’, ‘warrior-like’ and even ‘military staff car style’ were some of the many epithets Giles did use to describe the long-anticipated, if not necessarily long-desired, first 4x4 from the self-styled maker of ‘the best car in the world’.

After all, it was tagged the ‘high-sided vehicle’ by its maker when first previewed. That does not promise auto haute couture.

‘Effortless everywhere’ for high-net-worth adventurers

Instead, Rolls-Royce promises ‘effortless everywhere’ performance and talks sincerely about Cullinans wading axle-deep in mud and in rivers, and traversing deserts, rocky ranges, sand dunes, jungles and snowy mountains. Yes, it’s designed to go off road! 

What’s more, they claim it is the world’s most comfortable, smoothest riding and quietest SUV. It should be neither shaken, nor stirred, even when the road disappears. Given Rolls-Royce’s reputation for refinement, ride comfort and all-round cossetting, you wouldn’t bet against it. Big air springs, self levelling, adjustable ride height and proactive suspension featuring a camera that scans the road (or jungle) ahead, all do their bit.

Rolls-Royce even talks, with apparent sincerity, about patrons ‘exploring’ in their Cullinans – quaffing champagne from the rear centre console cooler, reposing in their leather-lined cockpits and snacking off their burr walnut picnic tables, as they enjoy their all-terrain adventures – like some sort of 21C equivalent of a bygone 1920s maharaja tiger hunt.

More likely, the Cullinan will be an everyday, all-purpose, on-road urban Roller, no more likely to get its tyres muddy than patrons are to get their hands dirty. CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös even talks about it being ‘perfect to take the kids to school’. This is surely foreign language to the typical Rolls-Royce customer. That’s what nannies are for. It’s designed to be fun, formal or for the family. It’s fine for fishing or putting the dogs in the back. It’s a working Roller. 

Rolls-Royce’s first hatchback

It even has a hatchback, a first for Rolls. Although it's not a normal hatch, of course. One version has a solid glass partition between milord and the luggage. Notes Giles: ‘A Rolls-Royce owner should never sit with their luggage or their dog.’

For those happy to share cabin space with their Louis Vuitton or their Labrador, there is a conventional load-lugging hatchback boot on offer with beautifully smooth electric folding (and finely leather trimmed) split rear seats. For those who use their cars for family, fishing, horsy sports or volcano boarding, this will no doubt be the preferred configuration. 

The outside may not be beautiful. But the inside is. The cabin is typically and exquisitely Rolls-Royce, a step ahead of any Bentayga, and two steps ahead of any Range Rover or Cayenne, all beautifully trimmed in the finest leathers and woods. It’s also the world’s most spacious SUV. There’s more rear seat leg space than your typical loungeroom.

Phantom platform and V12

Mechanically we find the new Phantom-like ‘Architecture of Luxury’ aluminum spaceframe platform – shorter of wheelbase but deeper sided than on the Phantom. We find the same new twin-turbo 6.75-litre V12 engine, boasting mountains of torque. We find the same eight-speed auto ’box as the Phantom but with drive parceled to all four-wheels: it’s a development of the BMW xDrive electronic 4x4 system. Four-wheel steering will help manoeuvre its considerable bulk. 

All body panels are aluminium. The rear doors are rear-hinged ‘coach doors’, as with Phantom and Ghost, all the better for patrons to make a scene on arrival, and exit without getting their trousers, dresses or tempers in a twist. All brightwork is lovely hand-polished stainless steel. Unsurprisingly it's no lightweight: at 2.66 tonnes (before optional cabinetry, crystal, marquetry, extra leathersmithery, etc), it’s the heaviest production car in the world. 

It is also likely to be the best-selling Rolls-Royce, just as the ungainly Bentayga is for Bentley. Sales commence at year’s end. At approximately £275,000 (before personalisation) it will be – easily – the world’s priciest SUV. Just as owners would expect, and no doubt demand.

Check out our Rolls-Royce reviews

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience

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