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First drive: Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.

First drive: Rolls-Royce Cullinan
You might think the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is contentious, but actually itís quite brilliant.


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Rolls-Royce Cullinan

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Had to be done. Rolls-Royce could ignore the twin pressures, of both the wider automotive market and its own fastidious customers, no longer - and so the first-ever Rolls-Royce SUV, the Cullinan, was as inevitable as the sun coming up in the morning. Thankfully, whatever you think about the concept of a 4x4 Rolls, or even the divisive looks of the newcomer, the Goodwood marque has executed this thing to the highest possible standard going, meaning the Cullinan is thoroughly deserving of its exalted Rolls-Royce badge.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Rolls-Royce Cullinan
Pricing: from £250,000
Engine: 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V12 petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Body style: five-door SUV
CO2 emissions: 341g/km* (VED Band Over 255: £2,070 in year one, then £450 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 18.8mpg*
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 5.2 seconds
Power: 571hp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 850Nm at 1,600rpm
Boot space: 560-1,930 litres
* figures quoted are NEDC-correlated from WLTP testing

What's this?

The diamond-standard of SUVs. Rolls-Royce didn't, at first, even like calling the Cullinan - named after the largest example of the most precious gemstone ever to be hoicked out of the Earth's crust, which now forms part of our Royal Family's Crown Jewels - an SUV, instead preferring to term it as a 'high-sided luxury vehicle'. However, it has now decided that SUV is sort of appropriate, because - with the Cullinan - it is having to use terms like 'utility', 'versatility', 'practicality' and 'Hill Descent Control' to market the vehicle, terms it has never had to use before. You can almost sense a slight air of discomfiture.

Despite its four-wheel-drive underpinnings, the Cullinan is based on the same 'Architecture of Luxury' aluminium spaceframe chassis that you'll find if you strip all the expensive metal skin off a Phantom VIII. The Cullinan, though, is shorter and slightly narrower than the Phantom, if obviously taller. It is powered by the same 6.75-litre biturbo V12 as its saloon cousin, here developing 571hp and a monster 850Nm, which should be enough to haul the 2.7-tonne Cullinan through almost any type of scenery (within reason). Four-wheel drive, which in this case is a system developed heavily from BMW's xDrive tech, sends most of that 850Nm rearwards, although up to 50 per cent can be channelled to the front axle - and you can lock the Cullinan in a 50:50 split in a sub-menu of the Off-Road mode, if you need its maximum 4x4 abilities.

There are no locking diffs, though, and Rolls is fairly honest about the fact that 90 per cent of Cullinan owners worldwide will only be doing the gentlest of off-road pursuits with their new toy, rather than trying to traverse quagmires or take on brutal rock crawls in the Roller. Indeed, 'Effortless Everywhere' was the mantra and so the twin-axle air suspension with a raise-capable ride height (max wading depth: 540mm), four-wheel steering and no fewer than three anti-roll bars (two up front, one rear) do the job of keeping the Rolls-Royce as luxurious off the tarmac as it is on it. Incidentally, the Cullinan's onboard software can tell when one wheel is raising in the air, and it then uses the air springs to push the opposing wheel on the same axle further into the ground, maximising traction.

Truth be told, with its weight, AWD and torque, the Cullinan's real forte for the country set will be as a tow vehicle, although the chances of seeing one hauling a Bailey Senator twin-axle caravan are slim to non-existent. Instead, expect speedboats, classic cars/motorbikes and horse boxes to be trailing around in the wake of this most unexpected of SUVs. Rolls will even offer an electrically deploying tow-bar as one of the options for the Cullinan, although pesky legislation means that limits the braked trailer it can pull to about 2,600kg, rather than the 3,500kg that it could obviously so easily achieve with a fixed towing hitch.

All of which leaves the looks and the interior to be discussed, before we can get onto the driving experience. On the latter score, the Cullinan is faultless. Space onboard is generous to a fault, the quality of the fixtures and fittings used is uniformly peerless (save for the box-grain leather on the upper fascia, which we're not fans of, but which Rolls' interior designers spent two years perfecting, so perhaps we'd better shut up now...), there's open-pore wood with an exquisite look and feel for much of the trim, and the leather seats are plush to the point of decadence. OK, so the Rolls-fronted infotainment is also clearly more BMW technology (hint: iDrive) but, as it works so brilliantly and complements a lush interior which blends the traditionally fabulous Rolls-Royce styling with contemporarily excellent equipment, we've no qualms about the ambience.

There are also two choices for your rear-seat configuration. 'Lounge' sees a bench seat with 60:40 split, electrically folding backrests equipped, meaning your Cullinan can seat five but that you won't be able to have a crystal decanter and champagne flutes drinks set plus refrigerator in the back of your SUV. For that, you need the 'Individual' chairs, which are electrically adjustable... but they don't fold down. That means boot space, accessed by 'The Clasp' (this is Rolls-Royce's grandiose name for a split tailgate), stands at 600 litres if you remove the luggage cover, and 560 litres otherwise. Lounge-equipped Cullinans, though, have a maximum cargo capacity of 1,930 litres and the ability to take items which are 2,245mm long. Said items will be skis, of course, rather than rough-hewn lengths of four-by-two or rolls of waste carpet that you're lugging to the municipal tip.

As to the exterior, well... we'll leave that up to you to decide. For what it's worth, when we first saw the press images of the Cullinan, we were singularly unimpressed with the Rolls aesthetics stretched over an SUV body. Having spent a few days in its company, however, we're prepared to admit we like it more than we thought. It's by no means perfect or pretty in the looks department, but then all Rolls-Royces tend to be big and bluff, rather than delicate and dainty (you're probably looking at the Silver Cloud II of 1959 as the last truly beautiful Roller, although bonus weirdo marks from us if you argue that the 1975 Camargue takes the title), and so the Cullinan is not singularly offensive in that regard. As a piece of design, it also has the impressive ability to convince you that the Cullinan is not as physically big as it actually is, as you walk up to it and open the hefty great doors to get in.

Final thoughts? One, prospective customers will love it, because it looks like an SUV from Rolls-Royce and no one else; and two, a certain key rival is hardly what you'd call a looker. Neither is the Lamborghini Urus, for that matter.

How does it drive?

On tarmac, the Cullinan is utterly majestic and completely peerless. Seriously. It's everything you could want of a Rolls-Royce, SUV or otherwise. Pillow-smooth, 'Magic Carpet' ride? Check. A complete absence of wind and tyre noise, thanks to some of the thickest double-glazed glass in a production car, around 100 kilos of sound-deadening material swathing the cabin and even foam inserts in the 22-inch tyres? Check. A feeling that you're driving something a cut above any other SUV going, be that a Bentley, Range Rover Autobiography or anything else with four-wheel-drive abilities? Check.

It's this last point which both thoroughly justifies the Cullinan's existence and ratifies the development team's painstaking work in equal measure. At 60mph, the interior of the Roller is silent. You can sit there, having a whispered conversation with the person sitting next to you, and it sounds like you're shouting maniacally at each other. The air suspension smothers away every last imperfection and minuscule bobble in the tarmac, and the light steering, imperious seating position and great visibility make it a cinch to place on the tarmac - a trick that once again belies the Cullinan's general bulk. The V12 powertrain is also a gem (apt, eh?), as it bestows effortlessly monster pace on the Rolls, courtesy of a silken eight-speed ZF gearbox.

If there are any criticisms of the Cullinan's on-road performance, it's that the 'S' of SUV simply does not apply. But you could say this about all Rollers. Sportiness is an unseemly quality to this company and so, if you want your hyper-luxury SUV to handle sharply, you're better off looking at the Bentayga. The Cullinan has a little too much body roll and not enough feedback to encourage press-on driving, although - once you've worked through a bit of lean - it actually has masses of grip and traction, which ensure that it's not totally hopeless in the bendy bits. Nevertheless, throwing the Cullinan about is not the most rewarding experience.

Off-road, it does what it needs to do in terms of how the affluent, HNWIs who will buy it intend to use it. With the four-wheel steering and Hill Descent Control, the Cullinan will pick its way around steep, rubbly tracks without too much difficulty and its impressive xDrive-derived traction even made it feel solid and dependable on compacted snow. Sure, a Range Rover will go a lot further into inhospitable terrain than a Cullinan could ever achieve, but that's not hugely relevant, as anyone who goes through sucking bogs and over mountain-esque boulders in a quarter of a million quid's worth of SUV has clearly got several screws loose and probably deserves to get stuck somewhere remote. And anyway, the most impressive thing is that the Cullinan preserves much of its impeccable ride quality, even when it's thundering along gravel at 50mph - in truth, it comports itself better in such conditions than many cars do when they're travelling on pristine tarmac. Remarkable.


You can, if you're vehemently against the whole concept of this particular vehicle, pick holes in the Cullinan's case. It's not the best-looking thing in the world. It doesn't handle particularly crisply. And it starts from £250,000, which is a wholly irrelevant number because - by the time the seriously rich have personalised the living daylights out of the Cullinan - its price tag will probably be more like £350,000, and maybe even higher. That's a huge amount more than even the most opulent of Range Rovers would set you back.

But none of this stuff matters. To the people (read: Rolls-Royce customers) who can actually afford one of these things, your criticisms will, quite rightly, fall on deaf ears. And, in all other regards, the Cullinan is breathtakingly spectacular. Its ride and refinement are off-the-scale good, it's reasonably adept off-road, it has an interior that's leagues ahead of the competition's efforts and the V12 drivetrain has 'more than adequate' power to propel this brilliant chunk of luxury to wherever you want to go - be that on-road or off it - in extremely short order. The Rolls-Royce of SUVs? Undoubtedly. The Cullinan is magnificent.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

5 5 5 5 5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 19 Oct 2018    - Rolls-Royce road tests
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- Cullinan images

2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.

2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Image by Rolls-Royce.


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