CARANDDRIVER: The 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV Exists Because Rolls-Royce Wants to Continue to Exist
The justification involves global 1 percenters and yearning. Mostly the latter.
You may think this whole SUV thing is out of control, but the blasphemy inherent in these vehicles evaporates the moment a chief executive explains the rationale. When your customers’ garages are packed with multiple vehicles and one of them is always an SUV, then why should that SUV not be a Porsche, a Lamborghini, or, in this case, a Rolls-Royce? Ever since the Porsche Cayenne, nearly every prestige brand to launch an SUV has seen that SUV become its best seller within months. Or second-best seller, behind its other SUV: see Porsche’s Cayenne and Macan and Jaguar’s F-Pace and E-Pace. It’s hard to argue with making money gloved hand over gilded fist.
Then again, that wisdom is perhaps starting to show cracks. The Maserati Levante struggles against the Ghibli, and the Bentley Bentayga is neck and neck with the Continental and Flying Spur. Is there a level of prestige above which customers don’t want their SUV to share branding with the other exclusive products in their garage?
There Shall Be No “Hey, Cullinan Man” Jokes
Rolls-Royce thinks no. Its customers were asking for an SUV, Rolls people tell us, and it’s not as if the company needs to move all that many for it to be a success. And what will those buyers be getting? They’ll be getting, as one representative says, “a Rolls like you’ve never seen before.” For the 98 percent of the population in the United States that lives outside of Los Angeles and Miami, that’s no differentiator at all. Rolls-Royce being the unofficial official car of the global 1 percent, and the global 1 percent being a conduit to the ancient aliens that seeded and have sustained mankind, yeah, the Cullinan feels extraterrestrial. It’s as smooth as a space suppository warping through the light-years, as quiet as the remotest corner of the universe, and as opulent as Donald Trump’s . . . well, never mind that thought.
On the Crossing of Legs During the Crossing of Deserts
Rolls engineers tell us that one of their top priorities with the Cullinan was ensuring that it had sufficient interior space. Check. There will be crossed legs fore and aft, no matter how tall the occupants are. And Rolls-Royce’s lambs-wool floor mats are the best thing to happen to feet since toes. Go barefoot and luxuriate. The rest of the interior isn’t quite as satisfying a tactile experience—few things shy of a newborn baby’s head or a ginormous pile of unmarked bills are—but it is lavish. There’s not a commodity part to be found anywhere. There are chrome piano-key secondary controls, organ-pull HVAC stoppers with milled aluminum vents, frosted-seafoam lamp lenses. For novelty-check sums (accepted only via direct bank transfer from places we’re too poor to know about), Rolls-Royce will of course tailor the interior to anything buyers desire. But the standard roster of materials includes 21 leather hues—with a maximum of three colors in any single interior—and eight wood options. The exterior choices include 32 paint colors and five wheel designs. The new jam in the Cullinan is the box-grain leather. More often found on high-end luggage and handbags, box-grain leather is rolled under high pressure between engraved metal rollers that emphasize the grain in the leather. It’s pretty neat.
What isn’t neat is the new digital dashboard, which features digital renderings of gauges. It’s weird that a brand that still won’t just give people an automatic climate-control read-out and instead makes them twirl a pair of red-to-blue donuts to pick their preferred thermal intensity would abandon its trio of gorgeous analog gauges nested in chrome serving platters for pixelated needles like you’d find in a four-cylinder Ford Mustang. Almost makes you think maybe this thing shares an electronic architecture with something else in the BMW family . . .
In these days where the mega-luxury brands are often repurposing lesser architectures—you can see some of the Audi Q7 shining through on a Lamborghini Urus or a Bentley Bentayga—the fact that the Cullinan shares its bones with the new Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII, riding on multilink front and rear suspensions with air springs all around, is refreshing. Rolls calls this new platform the Architecture of Luxury, which absolutely sounds pretentious—until you consider the fact that this vehicle starts north of $320,000 and not even a Bentley rides like a Rolls-Royce. Waftability isn’t a word recognized by many dictionaries, but it’s innately familiar to anyone who has spent any time in a Rolls. The ride of the Cullinan—like other modern Rolls-Royce products—really is unlike anything else. The Cullinan floats down the road in supreme isolation, with nary a shudder from road imperfections or a hint of rustle from the wind.
That is, so long as you keep it on pavement. This thing being sort of SUV-like, we spent at least as much time on dirt as we did paved roads during our drive of the Cullinan. A fair bit of shuddering works its way through the structure on bumpy dirt roads, and when we climbed into the back, because that’s where you’re supposed to ride in a Rolls, the unoccupied front-passenger seat shook like a paint shaker. Twenty-two-inch wheels and washboard road surfaces are an indomitable combo.
And yeah, we did get it dirty, but note the flat floor in the back seat. Tucking the driveshaft and exhaust system below the floor seriously limits ground clearance. We never drove down a road that a Toyota RAV4 couldn’t handle. Maybe even a front-drive RAV4. Or a Camry. Or, for that matter, a Phantom. Still, it’s a rare experience to use Rolls-Royce wheel-center caps—which are weighted anti-spinners so the R-R logo is always upright—as inclinometers. Mud-spattered inclinometers.
Giggle Quietly but Never Falsely
There’s also nearly zero sound emanating from the engine compartment. Even though V-12s—and especially twin-turbo V-12s—are as rare as billionaire debutante virgins, the powertrain in the Cullinan might as well be electric, so smooth and silent is it. We spent an entire day in the vehicle and never once thought to pay attention to it, because in the grandest tradition of household help, it is utterly invisible. Did I ask for another Scotch? Did I even finish the last one I had? I don’t know. All I know is that there is one in my hand, and it is exquisite. Here’s a fun game to play with passengers: It’s called 10 or 100. They close their eyes, you drive one of those speeds, and if they guess incorrectly, you get to call their grandfather and tell him something embarrassing they did while in boarding school. Grandfather will laugh, if he still can.
And if you can afford a Cullinan, opportunities for the odd guffaw or chortle ought to be rampant. This is not real life. This is just fantasy. A Rolls-Royce is an inherently silly, inherently frivolous thing. If it’s going to cost this much, it damn well better feel special. The Cullinan does. It makes us wish Grandfather had not worked harder, because hard work alone does not beget the sort of fortune that translates into Rolls-Royce ownership two generations later. We wish Grandfather had been a savvier industrialist. Because to afford a Cullinan, you’ve got to know how to make money. The Cullinan exists because Rolls-Royce does.
Article By: JARED GALL
Photos By: THE MANUFACTURER