Late to the SUV party, a safari-ready Rolls-Royce
Ford is eliminating its sedan lineup, Porsche sells three times as many crossovers as sports cars and Ferrari is making a sport utility.
But for the ultimate proof that we are now an SUV world, look no further than Rolls-Royce’s first-ever SUV, the Cullinan.
Named after the planet’s largest diamond that currently resides in the British Crown Jewels, the $325,000 Cullinan was unveiled by the English carmaker Thursday as a 2019 model. The Cullinan shares elements with Rolls’ flagship sedan, the $417,825 Phantom that wowed Detroit Auto Show with its North American debut in January. Weighing in at a Ford pickup-like 5,864 pounds, the all-wheel drive land yacht comes with the expected luxury appointments that have made Rolls-Royce the standard for luxury: rear-seat refrigerator, drinks cabinet, V-12 power, smooth air suspension.
But the Cullinan SUV promises another dimension: off-road capability. Offering what it calls the world’s first “three-box” SUV, Rolls separates the cabin into three distinct compartments by placing a partition of glass between the rear seats and the luggage compartment. Not given to understatement, Rolls says the ute has been “tested to destruction all over the planet” so that its occupants can reach far-flung safaris “at the end of the earth.”
Once passengers get there, Rolls has equipped the cargo bay with a “Recreation Module” – a motorized stowage-bay that packs your favorite recreational items: polo accessories, fly-fishing gear or whatever flips your switch.
“The label ‘SUV’ is now applied to anything with a two-box silhouette, and the least suggestion of going off tarmac,” said Rolls Chairman Peter Schwarzenbauer. “We envisioned an authentic, three-box high-bodied all-terrain car with a convention-challenging design and absolute capability that would satisfy the adventurous urges of our clients.”
With a 130-inch wheelbase and 85-inch width, the two-row, aluminum-unibody Cullinan is the same size as a three-row, truck-based Lincoln Navigator. The high-riding Rolls uses its air suspension to kneel to its passengers, lowering itself 1.5 inches closer to the ground for better access. Whereas other premium SUVs like the Lamborghini Urus – which debuted at the 2018 Detroit Show – have had to compromise signature features like scissor doors for the five-door ute layout, Rolls offers the full Monty. The Cullinan features the first “suicide doors” on an SUV (Rolls prefers the term “coach doors”) which open wide like cabinet doors.
Once aboard, passengers will be whisked to their destination in a hurry thanks to a 563-horsepower 6.75-liter twin-turbo V-12 that sits behind the Rolls’ familiar, upright chrome grille and “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament.
Inside, the Cullinan is swathed in Old World luxury that’s complemented by state-of-the-art electronics courtesy of Rolls’ parent company BMW, with which the Cullinan shares many infotainment system features. The huge dash screen can be controlled both by touch and by a remote console rotary dial.
The controls are familiar to the Phantom flagship, though the SUV will not get the sedan’s “gallery” feature that allows owners to personalize the dash with, say, an image of their favorite Van Gogh painting.
Rolls says the Cullinan’s calling-card is “effortless, everywhere,” and its one-mode drive button promises that. Unlike Jeeps and Land Rovers, which offer multiple off-road modes from SNOW to SAND, the Rolls simply offers a large OFF ROAD button on the console. Press it, and the Rolls promises that it will adapt to any condition.
“We knew we had to offer our clients what they couldn’t find in the SUV market,” says Rolls CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös. “They do not accept limitations or compromises in their lives. They are the new pioneers, and for them it’s about their sense of adventure and daring in how they live their experiences. This approach to life demands a motor car that can go anywhere in ultimate luxury and style – Rolls-Royce style. Hence Cullinan.”
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.