Rolls-Royce’s all-new SUV, the Cullinan, makes the most of its precious heritage, writes Cindy-Lou Dale
The Cullinan name references the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond discovered in South Africa in 1905 – the largest uncut flawless gem ever found, which is now part of the crown jewels. Like that stone, Rolls-Royce’s take on the super-luxury SUV is immensely large, bold and expensive.
What lies beneath is the unique-to-Rolls-Royce ‘Architecture of Luxury’ – a modular aluminium spaceframe with castings in each corner and extrusions in between. A tailored version also underpins the new Phantom, though for the Cullinan it’s reconfigured into a form that sits higher and shorter, on a 30 per cent stiffer chassis.
The moment you climb up into the cabin you feel strangely empowered. Sitting very high (in an airline-style pavilion seat), you look down the bonnet at the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot. There’s a chunky steering wheel and beautiful instrumentation graphics, with a central touchscreen multimedia display. There’s a vast suite of assistance systems, including cameras with panoramic and helicopter views, and an industry-leading hi-res head-up display.
As you’d expect, the cabin’s fit and finish is superb. It’s not just the look and feel of the leather, wood and metal, it’s the fluid movement of cockpit controls. In the back, the pavilion seats theme continues, with a centre.
Diamond in the rough Rolls-Royce’s SUV, the Cullinan, makes the most of its precious heritage by Cindy-Lou Dale – a writer and editor specialising in motoring and travel console incorporating a drinks cabinet, whisky glasses and a decanter, as well as champagne flutes and a cool-box to chill bottles. There’s even a glass partition that rises behind the rear seats to create a sealed sanctuary.
Under the bonnet is a recalibrated version of the Phantom’s 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12, which, despite the 2,660kg kerb weight, drags the Cullinan to 60mph in five seconds. The car is suspended on vast air spheres which allow the ride height to be altered according to the terrain. All this helps the Cullinan take ride and refinement to another level. On the tarmac, it purrs along productively: that V12 is almost silent (hello, 100kg of insulation). The silky ZF eight-speed automatic-only gearbox is magnificently smooth, and thanks to foam-lined tyres, wind and road noise are barely perceptible.
There’s a perverse pleasure in pointing the Cullinan up a rocky pass and letting it get on with it (while keeping the Dom Pérignon chilled). Off-road it disguises its heft well and can be hustled along. On twisting country roads it’s particularly able, and on 22in wheels it has a surprisingly tight turning circle.
Aided by a camera system that reads the road, it glides over dirt tracks with a self-levelling air suspension which miraculously absorbs off-road ruts and bump. The active roll bar, satellite-controlled gear shifting and four-wheel steering all do their jobs manfully. But the fun starts with a flick of the ‘Everywhere’ switch: the Cullinan tightens its muscles to tackle off-piste action, including traversing streams up to 540mm deep.
Although the Cullinan is graceful and brilliantly crafted, it’s no beauty, but there’s an energy and modernity to it; it is a heady mix of 21st-century technology and exquisite craftsmanship. Despite prices starting at around £275,000 most customers will double that by the time they’ve added their own bespoke extras.
This is, in so many ways, a ludicrous car. The looks may be challenging, but what’s certain is that this is the ultimate car oxymoron: a boutique 2.7-tonne off-roader that’s rewritten the SUV rule book.