In 2015, it became fact that Rolls-Royce was going to build an SUV and move into a new growing category. In an open letter from the Chairman and CEO of Rolls-Royce, the decision was made based on customer demand and the drive to innovate.
Taking on the project name as Cullinan, the development had a checklist of characteristics that it needed to have. It goes without saying that apart from the brand’s promise of effortless luxury, it had to be a high-bodied car with an all-new aluminium architecture, and most of all, a car that can cross any terrain.
And cross terrain it did. Just before launch, Rolls-Royce together with National Geographic showcased a series called “The Final Challenge”, it was meant to document the Cullinan on an extreme around-the-world durability test. Beginning in the Highlands of Scotland to the deserts of the Middle East and the toughest terrains in the United States, the Final Challenge is one that aims to establish the new SUV to the early years of the brand. This was the time when its two founding fathers, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce used their adventures with the original Ghost as testament to the cars’ durability and engineering excellence. The result? Top honours in the rigourous Scottish Reliability Trials, London-to-Edinburgh Event and the Alpine Trials.
We must readily admit that we have never seen the words “tested to destruction”, ever been used in any press release or marketing material for any automotive brand or vehicle until now.
Knowing that the engineering team finetuned the stance and height of the Cullinan to ensure that it was able to ford rivers and traverse rough ground, without compromising the on-road capability is testament to what the brand wanted with its first-ever SUV. It has certainly paid off. Having spent a few hours behind the wheel and as a passenger in the world’s most luxurious SUV, this is what we experienced.
The Rolls-Royce name is one that is synonymous with quality and luxury. Their over 110 year of car making experience has earned them the reputation of being the best, and with that, the association of a robustly well-made product. Their cars till today are put together by hand, and while robots are used to paint the base coat on the vehicle’s body, the process of spraying, polishing, and finishing is done by hand.
Understanding this attention to detail is the first step needed when viewing the exterior of the Cullinan.
Of all the exacting areas that you’ll be able to notice with the Cullinan, one part that still humbles us is the coachline that runs across the beltline of a Rolls. The optional finishing touch in the Bespoke department, the coachline is meticulously hand painted by Mark Court, who does each five-metre pinstripe line by hand using brushes made from ox and squirrel hair.
Despite this, Court’s position as master painter can include works from calligraphy, coat of arms, figurines and more. As an example, a one-of-one Bespoke Rolls-Royce Ghost ‘KoChaMongKol’ introduced in 2016 had elephant motifs on the car’s bodywork to celebrate Thailand’s most auspicious and revered animal. All this is more impressive considering that Court is the sole person in all of Rolls-Royce responsible for all these works.
The moment you enter the cabin, the quality of materials throughout the vehicle is majestic to another degree. Door handle pulls, structural trims and buttons are all to the touch, weighted metal pieces that have been intricately polished, while upholstery on this opulent SUV is the use of ‘Box-grain’ leather – high-end leather used in the Italian fashion industry to make luggage and handbags.
Interior colour of Scivaro Grey with Black and Mandarin have been selected for the unit we reviewed, together with veneered open pore Blackwood and Chevron Wood for that touch of warmth. As for the floor lining? Thick carpet with even thicker lambswool floor mats that felt like a misdeed to have our shoes on.
Driving off in the Cullinan is an experience in itself – a smooth and effortless cruise that Rolls-Royce calls the ‘magic carpet ride’. How all this comes together is in the combination of the incredibly stiff chassis, abundance in power from the 563 hp V12 engine, 8-speed satellite aided transmission and the self-levelling air suspension system. But what makes this experience very different from the get-go is the absence of outside noise. Here the silence in the car is thanks to over 100 kg of soundproofing in the body that isolates the occupants from outside noises.
Did we go off-road in the Cullinan? Unfortunately, no. Nevertheless we don’t doubt the capabilities of the SUV going off the beaten path. Should the driver decide to visit areas without tarmac present, it can be done easily with the sole ‘Off Road’ button that activates all-wheel drive for optimum performance, raises the suspension by 40 mm. The suspension has a 40 mm increase and decrease in height, a total of 80 mm, it can sit lower to make it easier for entry and egress.
The individual seats specified on the test Cullinan come with a fixed rear centre console that houses a drinks cabinet – Rolls-Royce decanter, whisky glasses, champagne flutes and a mini fridge. This also goes without saying that the seats have massage and ventilation functions built right in. Together with the Rear Theatre configuration with touchscreen displays and the 18-speaker Bespoke audio system, sitting at the rear is truly special.
For the tech driven, there’s a whole list of equipment including a TV tuner, DAB tuner, Night Vision, Head Up Display, Surround View, USB C ports and more. As for the safety front, there’s the standard assistance list and the following: Cornering Brake Control, Brake Standby, Limit Range Feedback, Drive-off Assistant, Yaw Moment Compensation, Rear Axle Slip Angle Control and Dynamic Handling Total Drive Torque Intervention, many of which we have yet to comprehend.
It needs to be understood that almost every Rolls-Royce that leaves the factory is bespoke. This comes from the fact that stems from what the brand represents, the customisation options, and the detail that goes into building each car. For the great Sir Henry Royce once said, “Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it.”
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