Say hello to the Cullinan, the first SUV from Rolls-Royce. This premium automaker has a storied history building some of the finest luxury sedans and coupes in the world. But fear not you well-heeled readers — the Cullinan SUV is as decadent a Rolls-Royce as any other.
That’s because Rolls-Royce builds the Cullinan on the same (aptly named) “Architecture of Luxury” that underpins the new Phantom. And with an air suspension, all-wheel drive and a wealth of usable cargo space out back, the Cullinan is simply better equipped to not only take you places other Rolls-Royces can’t but bring all of your finest gear along, as well.
Power comes from a 6.75-liter V12 engine, producing 563 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. There’s more than enough power for quick acceleration, and it all comes on with an effortlessly elegant rush. As I make my way up to cruising speed, the eight-speed automatic transmission does its thing invisibly — seriously, I never feel it changing gears. And as I approach a curve or hill, the transmission uses GPS data to preemptively downshift (again, smoothly) so I’m always in the correct gear for what’s ahead.
Its structure reworks the so-called ‘Architecture of Luxury’ that lies beneath the fabulous Phantom. We’re talking a modular aluminum spaceframe, with castings in each corner and extrusions in between, reconfigured here into a form that sits higher and shorter than in its limousine brother, with a split tail-gate (Rolls airily calls it The Clasp) added for the necessary versatility. The new chassis is 30 percent stiffer than the previous one, an improvement that helps the transition to super-sized 4×4.
To the Phantom’s preternatural calmness, the Cullinan adds all the soft- and hardware needed to send it down the road and up a mountain with the sort of invincibility that saw early Roll’s patron T.E Lawrence turn his car (nicked off a woman in a Cairo nightclub, or so the story goes) into an unexpectedly robust war machine.
Without wishing to sound euphemistic, it’s fair to say the Cullinan’s design has excited a variety of opinion. Some have compared it to a London taxi or the Canyonero in The Simpsons; others have been less kind. Maybe a shallower glass area would have helped the proportions, but the Cullinan is purposely meant to be a mobile viewing platform and eschews the Phantom’s chunky privacy C-pillar in the process.
It’s 5.3m long, 2.1m wide, and 1.8m tall, and weighs in at 2660kg unladen. Like the Phantom, its surfaces are fantastically resolved, and it doesn’t want for drama. Its laser headlights – complete with frosted elements – and vertical and horizontal lines result in a face that Rolls likens to a warrior (from which historical era it doesn’t say). The bonnet sits higher than the front wings to emphasize the car’s tougher job description, and the traditional Parthenon grille is made from hand-polished stainless steel and sits proud of the bodywork here. Eleanor, the Spirit of Ecstasy, sits higher too, but she’s not wearing a North Face puffer or anything.
There are strong metal touch-points, and the protective spears above the sills are there to break up the body side volume. The Cullinan has ‘coach’ doors (whose handles draw the eye in a touch too much), but gains a rear ‘bustle’ that references the 1930s Rolls D-Back. Back then, your possessions traveled separately in a trunk, to which end an interior glass partition can be ordered sealing off the boot area from the cabin.
Instead, you’re buying a Cullinan because it’s one of the finest luxury cars available anywhere. The leathers are so beautiful and so soft, and the surfaces that aren’t covered in hide are made from open-pore wood and exquisite textiles. Lambswool floor mats just make me want to curl my toes in the carpets, and every surface around me is heated for added comfort.
Rear-seat passengers have it really sweet. My tester has the available bench seat configuration which can fold down to, as Rolls-Royce says, “carry a long item back from their trip — whether it be a Mark Rothko from the art gallery or a newly discovered artifact from the latest archaeological dig.”