As Rolls-Royce finally reveals its long-gestating Cullinan SUV, we at The Drive have just one question: What’s the over/under on how many hip-hop videos will feature the Roller, with a yacht in the background and a backseat bubbling with Ace of Spades champagne? This SUV (or “high-riding vehicle,” in Rolls-Royce’s sniffy parlance) is named for a 3,106-carat diamond dug from the Cullinan Mine in South Africa in 1905—which was, at the time, the world’s largest diamond. The Cullinan may not be the world’s largest sport-ute, but it is appropriately the most expensive: Prices start at $325,000, with American buyers seeing initial deliveries around year's end.
Ultra-luxury brands, of course, long resisted the urge to build and sell SUVs, until resistance proved futile. Now the inimitable Rolls-Royce grille adorns a three-ton SUV, and that hood-topping Spirit of Ecstasy lady might consider some stylish hip waders. The Cullinan will take on other change-of-heart SUV purveyors, including the Bentley Bentayga, the Lamborghini Urus, and Aston Martin’s upcoming SUV, reportedly dubbed the Varekai. The Cullinan adopts the aluminum spaceframe that Rolls calls the “Architecture of Luxury,” shared with the $420,000 Phantom VIII and BMW’s 7 Series sedan, as well as with the upcoming BMW X7 SUV. Though the Cullinan is an SUV, it will actually take up the least space in Rolls-Royce's showrooms, stretching just 210 inches in length; that's about 2.5 inches longer than a Lincoln Navigator, but two feet shorter than a long-wheelbase Phantom.
Rolls-Royce is using the tagline of “Effortless, Everywhere” to tout its new model's go-anywhere capabilities. The Cullinan, Rolls’s press release assures us, was “tested to destruction all over the planet.” Stateroom quiet and steamship power are provided by Rolls’s familiar 6.75-liter V12. That 48-valve, twin-turbo engine matches the Phantom’s 563 horsepower, but with 627 pound-feet of torque versus 664 for the flagship sedan. But if the engine and eight-speed ZF transmission are familiar, along with the self-leveling air-suspension and that signature magic-carpet ride, the AWD system with multiple off-road settings is another first for a Rolls.
A single switch, which Rolls internally dubbed the “Everywhere” button, prepares the Rolls-Royce for off-road excursions by optimizing the SUV for, among other things, a 21.4-inch wading depth. (And we thought Rolls owners were only knee-deep in money). The electronic, continuously-variable suspension reacts to body and wheel acceleration, steering inputs, and even camera information. A double wishbone front suspension, five-link rear suspension, and four-wheel steering help control lateral forces and boost agility—as much as they can in a vehicle that weighs 5,864 pounds, about 500 more than the beefy Bentagya.
And despite its genuine off-road chops, the Cullinan would never want passengers to sully their designer trousers on entry or exit: Front and rear coach doors wrap low beneath the exterior sill, keeping dirt entirely on the outside of the portals.
Kneeling before those occupants, the Cullinan lowers itself by 1.7 inches when they press the keyfob or touch the beautifully chrome-plated door handles, unlocking serious riches inside. That includes the swankiest, hand-crafted wood and metal trim, and an enormous panoramic sunroof. “Box grain” leather covers the upper dash, in a durable, water-resistant form that borrows from high-end Italian luggage and handbags. To suit its SUV mission, the steering wheel is thicker-gripped and smaller-radius than your typical, chauffeur-spun Rolls wheel. Pampered families will likely choose three-across Lounge seating in the rear; buyers who prefer soothing scotch to rowdy rugrats can opt for deep-bolstered buckets, bisected by a console with a drinks cabinet, Rolls-Royce whiskey glasses, champagne flutes, and a refrigerator. Power-folding rear seats, split 67/33, are another first for a Rolls-Royce, as is a touchscreen infotainment system.
Tailgates are a novel addition for Rolls as well, so the brand calls its version “The Clasp.” That portal opens to a two-part, “D-back” rear whose protruding bustle accepts fancy luggage. That cargo area is separated from passenger quarters by a sealed glass partition, ensuring that occupants catch neither a draft nor a whiff of their perspiring, luggage-carting servants. Indeed, Rolls assures us that the partition wall maintains heat or A/C “even when the luggage compartment stands open.” The design, the brand claims, nods to an era in which occupants carried their luggage on the outside of the car.
Yes, the Cullinan is tall, but Rolls-Royce takes it over-the-top with a range of bespoke options. A pair of leather-clad folding chairs power out from the hatch, bisected by a small table. Rolls calls it the “Cullinan Viewing Suite,” perfect for tailgating at polo matches or some mythical drive-in theater for the 1 percent of the 1 percent. But what we’re really dying to see are the custom “Recreation Modules” owners can commission based on their favored pursuits. Rolls cites “fly-fishing, photography, rock climbing, snowboarding, parascending, kiteboarding, base jumping, volcano boarding, or just sitting and taking in the view” (viz., "couch-potatoing"). Each custom Recreation Module slots and plugs into the cargo area, with “a motorized door housing the equipment and paraphernalia specific to each Cullinan owner’s pursuits. When the owner is ready to play, it presents itself.” Whoa. Has that dude from 50 Shades of Grey put down his deposit?
And as ever, it wouldn’t be a Rolls-Royce launch without press releases that combine the pretentiousness of a British colonial viceroy with enough overheated prose to make D.H. Lawrence blush. On the subject of SUV cargo space, where Chevrolet might say something about sheetrock or kayak paddles, Rolls-Royce offers this: “For those wishing to 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— a load capacity...is accessed by electronically raising the boot floor to meet the seat base.”
Well, then. If a gang of modern art thieves—or Indiana Jones—needs a new SUV, the Cullinan awaits.