When Porsche announced it was launching an SUV, the automotive world lost its collective mind. But other luxury and sports car makers followed suit, including Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Bentley and Lamborghini.
Now Rolls-Royce, the last bastion of automotive tradition, the most British of British car makers, is launching the Cullinan. Rolls-Royce actually designates the Cullinan as an all-terrain high-bodied car, albeit one that embodies the idea of authentic, luxury off-road travel.
Will it dilute the hallowed name of Rolls-Royce that has epitomized bespoke luxury for more than a century? Or will the new model add much-needed relevance to the brand, as the Cayenne led Porsche to reach whole new markets?
Only time will tell. First, let’s talk about the name. It’s a tribute to the Cullinan diamond, a 3,106-carat chunk of hardened carbon that was split into more than 150 smaller gems including the Great Star of Africa, the largest diamond in the British Crown Jewels and the world.
Rolls-Royce has a been a crown jewel of British industry since 1904 when the company began manufacturing luxury motor cars based on obsessive attention to detail and extreme engineering. Some experts say the Cullinan isn’t really the first off-road capable Rolls-Royce vehicle, as early cars were renowned for their toughness. A handful of early models served in World War II as desert fighting vehicles with Lawrence of Arabia.
For decades Rolls-Royce declined to release engine performance figures, saying only that horsepower was “adequate.” (Also Rolls-Royce motor cars didn’t break down; they “failed to proceed.”)
Nowadays, even buyers at the Rolls-Royce level are thirsty for stats, so here are the numbers: the Cullinan boasts 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 engine that pumps out 563 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 revolutions a minute. The driver takes command with the eight-speed automatic, and for the first time in a Rolls-Royce, all four wheels are driven.
Unlike some SUVs that share a platform with other models, the Cullinan is founded on Rolls-Royce specific aluminum architecture that will only be shared with the new Phantom, the ultra-luxury sedan favored by heads of state, oligarchs and rap moguls.
Architecture of Luxury
The Cullinan was designed around two distinctive features, one at each end of the 130-inch wheelbase vehicle. Crowning the forward end, a hand-polished stainless steel grille with vertical slats supports the traditional Rolls-Royce badge and Spirit of Ecstasy sculptural hood ornament. In the early days, the vertical slats were functional, controlling airflow to the engine. Today they’re a brand element akin to BMW’s kidney grille.
The rear features another Rolls-Royce first, an opening tailgate known as “The Clasp,” a throwback to the classic era when motor cars carried luggage on a shelf at the rear. The Clasp gives the Cullinan the first “three-box” layout in the SUV sector with a glass partition that separates the passenger cabin from the luggage compartment. The pure genius of this design surfaces during temperature extremes when the sealed cabin remains at the preferred temperature, even when the luggage compartment is opened. The Clasp automatically opens and closes in two sections at the touch of the key fob button.
The best seat in the house is in the rear passenger compartment, which has been designed to coddle passengers in luxury and technology. Two rear configurations are offered: Lounge seats or Individual seats.
The Lounge Seat configuration offers space for three passengers in the rear, and Rolls-Royce hopes active families will find it roomy enough. The individual option features two seats separated by a rear center console that incorporates a drinks cabinet with Rolls-Royce whiskey glasses and decanter, champagne flutes and refrigerator. The seats move in a staggering number of planes to pamper even the most aristocratic rear end.
While the thought of driving $325,000 vehicle off-road seems like using your house for a paintball game, Rolls-Royce made sure the Cullinan could handle anything its owners’ desired.
On top of the usual height-adjustable air-suspension, hill descent control and terrain selection options, there’s one button to rule them all. Selecting the off-road setting, known as the “Everywhere button,” summons the engineering and technology that ensures the famed Rolls-Royce ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ while traversing any terrain.
The engine delivers the right amount of torque at the lowest possible speeds (1,600 RPMs). The suspension makes millions of calculations per second to continuously vary the electronically controlled shock absorber system in response to body and wheel acceleration, steering inputs and camera information. The Cullinan retains its comportment even when wading through water at a depth of up to 21 inches.
Rolls-Royce typically produces about 4,000 cars per year, so sighting one in the wild is like laying eyes on George and Amal out for coffee. If you’re interested — and your bank account has enough zeroes in it — pop by one of the 136 global dealers to place your order. The first deliveries are expected in early 2019, and there’s already a waiting list.
Globe and Mail
Photos: Courtesy of Rolls Royce
Intro: Courtesy of Rolls Royce
Walkaround: Courtesy of CarTV