25 September 2023

Rolls-Royce Cullinan – $685,000

Start the conversation

By Karl Peskett.

It’s not every day that you get to pilot a $700K vehicle. But when that vehicle is a Rolls-Royce, it’s worth making time for. Being in one the finest examples of craftsmanship in the motoring world is one thing, but when the vehicle in question is the brand’s first SUV, there’s a certain level of expectation.

First, that it’s going to be practical, and second that it’s going to surround you in luxury. Clearly the badge gives the second point away, but it’s more than just the materials. There’s also the engine’s smoothness and the ride comfort which simply has to be class leading. We’ll get to that shortly, but let’s just say that it has both bases covered.

The first thing that strikes you is its size. It’s a similar length to the Rolls-Royce Ghost, but because it’s both wider and taller, it cuts an imposing figure even while sitting still.

Though it uses the same 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 and eight-speed automatic as the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Cullinan doesn’t actually share the same platform. The name “Architecture of Luxury” which was applied to the underpinnings of both cars, actually refers to the method of creating the aluminium space-frame, rather than the actual platform itself.

This means the Cullinan has a bespoke platform, and the same method of building will apply to all future Rolls-Royce vehicles, which is why you’ll see that all forthcoming models will have the “Architecture of Luxury”.

Walking around the Cullinan, you can clearly see that it’s a Rolls-Royce, but it has been imbued with its own personality. While in photos it can come across as a little gaudy, it’s in the metal that the proportions make sense.

The large cab and long bonnet could look awkward, but thanks to the sloping rear glass and tailgate that has been extended outwards slightly, it works. There’s also a lovely little detail where the Rolls-Royce logo sits slightly proud of the rest of the tailgate.

The tail lights are also a work of art, with rectangular simplicity, yet enough detail to make you look twice. And at the front end, the laser lights which project beams 600 metres down the road, have their own “eyebrow” daytime running light signature.

The Cullinan is the less formal Rolls-Royce, pointing out the exposed tailpipes and reduced amount of brightwork at the rear of the vehicle. There’s also practicality, with the chrome bump strip positioned on the lower part of the door extending outwards enough to protect the door’s bodywork.

Good to know, especially if you’re sitting in a carpark somewhere – you never know what cretins are around. But when you start the vehicle, it rises from its parking height ready for action.

Then, once you park the vehicle, it will lower itself, ready for its occupants to disembark more easily, sitting at 153mm ground clearance. To keep its trademark ride comfort, Rolls-Royce has fitted the Cullinan with what it calls the “Flagbearer” system which reads the road ahead and prepares the suspension for what’s to come.

For example, if it detects a pot-hole, it will soften up slightly to account for the hit and then re-stiffen once the car has gone over it. Our test vehicle had the 22-inch wheels fitted, so even with the camera, sharp ridges can definitely be felt (and heard in some cases) but the ride for 95 percent of the time is absolutely sublime.

What really gets you is how agile it is. You can throw it into corners with far more abandon that you should with a 2.7-tonne SUV. The anti-roll bars are always working overtime, but there’s no arguing with how effective they are.

Get it on a straight, though, and it retains the typical magic-carpet ride that Rollers are renowned for. Helping with the grip is the first all-wheel drive system that the company has employed. It’s an adaptation of BMW’s X-drive system, with the Cullinan using an electronically controlled multiplate clutch to supply the front wheels with drive when required. The system will send drive to all four wheels at speeds of up to 60kmh, after which it will revert to rear wheel drive as there would be enough momentum to carry the Cullinan through.

To head off road, Rolls-Royce says it’s a one-press system. Simply push on the “Off-Road” button and the vehicle readies itself. It lifts up, sorts out the all-wheel drive system and gets the traction control sensors prepared for changes in surface grip.

However, the slippery New Zealand grass and sloping surface were a bit too much for something that weighs 2700kg, was sitting on road pressures and had 22-inchers fitted. Safe to say we got up the hill but not quite as far as we would have liked. Our short time behind the wheel meant there wasn’t enough opportunity for experimenting, but we reckon with a bit of adjustment (and a different traction setting through the infotainment screen) it may have proved even more capable.

There are also some very nice (and practical) touches as well. The doors actually seal much lower than the openings to ensure that the sill panels are always clean and free of mud or dust to prevent the occupants’ clothing from being soiled if they brush against the sill.

All the touch points are heated. That’s not just the steering wheel and the seats. We’re also talking about centre armrests and elbow rests on the doors as well. And yes, the seats are ventilated, so they can be cooled.

You can have a Viewing Suite, which deploys two seats from the rear of the vehicle facing outwards, allowing you to watch the sunset or even a sporting match, or you can buy a Recreational Module, which can house fly-fishing rods, or camera gear, or even a pair of shotguns – the company’s Bespoke division will create a lockable and custom case for whatever your hobby requires.

The Cullinan comes with its own bespoke audio system with the company setting up an audio division to create a new sound system for each individual model. Couple that with USB-C connectivity and you’ve got your tunes sorted.

You can have a five seat version which can fold the back seat down to load long objects if need be, or a four-seat version gets a glass partition in the back which enables the boot to be opened, without the fear of exhaust fumes entering the cabin, or the outside temperature influencing the inside temperature. Very clever indeed.

The scuff plates at the front and back have been designed to be easily removed, too, so if they get scratched while you’re climbing that rugged trail, you can simply head to a dealer and get it replaced.

Inside, the Cullinan has been made very tactile. The emphasis on open pore woodgrain is clear, and the seats are as smooth and soft as you’d expect from a Rolls-Royce. Look up and you’ll find a panoramic sunroof, but don’t expect to see Cullinans with the same starlight roof lining found in the Phantom. Remember, this is the less formal vehicle, the everyday Rolls-Royce.

The Cullinan is also interested in keeping you safe. It will readi the road ahead and behind, ever alert in case a crash is imminent. If someone is approaching you from behind and doesn’t appear to be slowing down, the car will flash its hazard lights to alert the oncoming driver. If that doesn’t work, the brake lights will also light up and flash. If a crash is predicted, though, the car will tension the seatbelts, adjust the seat positions and get itself ready to mitigate the impact. Fortunately, we didn’t test out that aspect of the safety system, but it’s nice to know it’s there if you need it.

There are also radar sensors to watch traffic ahead, cameras to track the lane and night vision to enable you to see humans or animals in the distance.

It’s a machine that may be less formal, but it’s no less regal. The Cullinan has the same opulence as its brethren, but with all of the latest tech one would expect to find in a 2018 vehicle. It’s also practical (especially in five-seat guise), has miles of room and is the most comfortable SUV you’ll find on the roads.

Clearly, you’re going to pay for the privilege, but for something that will take you further than the Phantom, is less likely to be worried about the occasional bump or kerb, and smells like a Chesterfield, it’s as the old saying goes – you get what you pay for.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.