GRR

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan is here to redefine super luxury travel

09th May 2018
Bob Murray

Family-orientated and fun to drive, with fold-down rear seats and a huge hatchback boot, yes welcome folks to the new… Rolls-Royce. Goodwood born and bred, the “best car in the world” today (May 10th) joins the SUV crowd with the unveiling of the Cullinan. 

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SUV? Or high-sided all-terrain vehicle as we had been encouraged to call it? Rolls-Royce seems to have overcome its coyness about the S acronym: SUV appears no fewer than 13 times in the 6500-word press information. It still doesn’t mean the Cullinan – with its promise of “taking the world in its stride” and “redefining the parameters of super-luxury travel” – is much like your typical sports utility vehicle.

So what is this new gold standard of off-road adventuring like exactly? Well, it’s the largest, biggest-engined and will undoubtedly be the most expensive production SUV the world has ever seen. This really is the Phantom of 4x4s. No surprises there then. 

What is more fascinating is how Rolls-Royce has reconciled super-luxury and utility. Can one car really offer an authentic Rolls-Royce experience while doing all those SUV things – accommodating kids, dogs and sports equipment, driving across muddy fields, yes maybe even swallowing up Ikea flat-pack furniture – that people find so useful about SUVs? The answer is: the Cullinan can, and it’s thanks to plenty of old Henry Royce’s “take the best that exists and make it better” ingenuity. 

Take Cullinan’s rear-end, for example, design-wise the thing that people are probably going to latch on to more than anything else. It was always going to be interesting to see how design director Giles Taylor and his team resolved the need for a lift-up tailgate with something approaching recognisable Rolls-Royce proportions. A tailgate is not a very Rolls-Royce thing, after all, and something no Rolls has ever had before. The solution is what the R-R designers claim is the first-ever three-box (ie, bonnet, cabin, boot) car in the SUV sector. 

The abbreviated nature of its back end is perhaps more “bustle” than boot, but we see what they mean. Rolls, in fact, likens the design to the ‘D-Back’ Rolls-Royces of the 1930s that carried luggage on a shelf outside the car. Certainly, the vast rear door when lifted (electrically) provides the perfect sheltered spot for the event seating – complete with drinks tray – which slides into position (also electrically). 

Hatchbacks though come with plebeian drawbacks, so how will Cullinan occupants be isolated from noise, draughts and the smell of a wet dog? Now this is clever. Instead of a typical movable shelf between cabin and boot the Cullinan has an insulated glass partition. It seals the cabin in sumptuous luxury – no dog pongs here – while at the same time allowing the rear seats to fold down (another R-R first) for a maximum boot length when needed of 2,245mm. That’s longer than the boot in a Mercedes E-Class estate and, in the unlikely event owners need to know, is plenty long enough for that visit to Ikea. 

If all this is pointing to something it is this: the company chairman might go to work in a chauffeur-driven Phantom but he will have a Cullinan at home to drive himself and his family around in at weekends. As well as being the most versatile Rolls-Royce ever it is also, says the firm, “family orientated and fun to drive”. 

“Our customers do not accept limitations or compromises in their lives and how they live them,” adds Giles Taylor. “It’s not just a case of travelling around the country estate and then on to the townhouse or doing it at the fastest speed possible. Our customers are the new pioneers, and for them it’s about their sense of adventure and daring in how they live their experiences.” 

Those experiences, of course, can be as much off-road as on. Rolls-Royces are no strangers to gruelling off-road adventures – they have survived all kinds of reliability trials and wartime adventures going back to the Silver Ghost. But they have come through more because of their inherent engineering integrity than any off-road design prowess. The Cullinan decisively changes that. It is the first-ever Rolls with all-wheel drive and it comes with self-levelling air suspension, beefed-up running gear – yes, even skid plates back and front.  

How much of an off-roader is it? Here’s Giles Taylor again: “The label SUV is now applied to anything with a two-box silhouette and the least suggestion of going off tarmac. We envisioned an all-terrain car with a convention-challenging design and absolute capability that would satisfy the adventurous urges of our clients.”

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So the suggestion is it’s not going to be afraid to get up to its axles in mud. There is adjustable ride height and hill descent control, but there are no low-range gears or locking diffs. Just one button, dubbed by the engineers as the “Everywhere” button, marshals all the control systems to effect the best progress over whatever the terrain happens to be. Including water. With a wading depth of 540mm Rolls says it is the best swimmer of any of the super-luxury SUV breed (but just to keep things in perspective here, a Range Rover SVA has a wading depth of 900mm).

One very Rolls feature is the coach doors which wrap a little way under the car. The reason? So you don’t get covered in muck when getting in or out. Rolls-Royce puts it rather more elegantly: “Although the Cullinan will have traversed terrain that will have besmirched its exterior with mud, slush or dust, no trouser leg will be dirtied on exit.” That’s a relief then.

In all other ways, the Cullinan offers the expected heady cocktail of unmistakable Rolls-Royce design cues, finely-crafted interior, and engineering excellence. True, seeing the familiar Pantheon grille juxtaposed to a protective skid plate is a novelty, but there could never be any mistaking what this car is; design chief Taylor says it has the commanding stance and toughness of a Saxon warrior.  

The Cullinan is also big: higher but shorter than the new Phantom with which it shares its bespoke all-aluminium spaceframe construction. There’s no shared platform here. The Cullinan is 140mm longer than the longest Range Rover and at full height is 1836mm tall on its 22-inch wheels. For its size and all its luxury, there’s no shame in its 2,660 kg kerb weight.

Like the Phantom, the Cullinan is powered by the firm’s twin-turbo V12 but in reworked 6.75-litre form which purrs out the same power as the Phantom, 563bhp, but with more torque: 627lbft from just 1600rpm. Transmission is a ZF eight-speed automatic. There are no performance figures as yet, apart from a quoted top speed of 155mph.

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And inside? It is sumptuously appointed with the finest materials, as expected, but the huge interior space is also notable for its completely flat floor which with the wide-opening coach doors should make entry and exit easy. Press a button to open a door (they are all powered) and the car automatically drops down 40mm to make entry easier still. 

Those who want unbridled luxury, complete with drinks cabinet and champagne chiller in the back, will go for the individual seats interior option. You get a pair of expansive and electrically adjustable chairs in the back. More practical types, and certainly budding Ikea shoppers, will tick the 'Lounge Seats' box which provides a three-person bench seat in the back with two-thirds/one-third split fold-down backrests. All push button of course.

So that, at this early stage at least, is what we know about this first new diamond in the rough from Goodwood. For Rolls-Royce Motor Cars chief executive officer Torsten Müller-Ötvös the Cullinan is Rolls-Royce’s answer for the “visionaries, adventurers, explorers and those who believe in the supremacy of liberty.” 

Torsten Müller-Ötvös adds: “Cullinan dramatically evolves the parameters of super-luxury travel, translating Rolls-Royce’s ethos of ‘Effortlessness’ into physical capability, anywhere in the world. Cullinan will simply take the world in its stride.”

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