Automotive Review: Rolls-Royce's Cullinan

They have built magnificent sedans, coupes and convertibles, but never SUVs, at least not until 2018



by

George Kuruvilla

Published: Thu 24 Nov 2022, 10:19 PM

Last updated: Sun 27 Nov 2022, 6:09 PM

There is a deep desire for all things opulent, especially concerning automobiles. And at the top of that list are vehicles manufactured by Rolls-Royce. For over a century, the company out of Goodwood has been producing the grandest of people movers to appease the insatiable rich and to provide beacons of aspiration for those who see the money but cannot touch it.

They have built magnificent sedans, coupes and convertibles, but never SUVs, at least not until 2018. Perhaps, something with an agricultural use originally would not appeal to their clientele or perhaps, it wasn’t something its founders envisioned. Whatever the case, SUVs have demonstrated huge financial success for companies that have invested in them and now we also have Rolls-Royce entering the market with their first-ever high-riding vehicle called the Cullinan.

Design & aesthetics

The Cullinan is yet another exceptionally large vehicle from the House of RR, one that sells itself short in pictures, dimensionally. The 2-box design of the D-back models of the 1930s makes a comeback here, losing the tapering rear end seen in their cars.

Even with this new silhouette, it remains utterly recognisable, thanks to a few signature elements such as the gate-sized Pantheon grille that has enough steel to power another industrial revolution and the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament that floats over it like a butterfly locked in time. This figurine, which leans into the wind, captures the brand’s elements of mystique and dynamism that easily complements the vast and stolid character of the steel panels of the Cullinan’s body, a body which needs giant chariot-like 22-inch wheels to transport itself. And as with a lady of character, the figurine pays hard to get. If you try to grab it, it will automatically disappear into the trap floor saving those of thieving nature from guilt. It can also be retrieved with the touch of a button. And, there is more to this spectacle called the Cullinan, like the multi-coat paint that has a finish so flawless and the self-righting wheel centres that magically keep the ‘RR’ emblem upright at all times.

All things said, the Cullinan isn’t RR’s finest stroke of the brush, that laurel belongs to the Phantom VIII. But its sheer presence and style do make you romanticise the regal life and by that, it achieves what Rolls-Royce has set out to do.

A great number of details have also been poured into the interior. The regular front doors and coach-style rear ones (a novelty in itself) open like welcoming arms to a cavernous cabin. And it yields to your presence through lowering itself by 40mm to make entry effortless. Once inside your valet can close the door with a touch of the handle or you can from inside, again with a touch of a button.

This hallowed space is an exhibition of exotic materials all around, from the softest lamb’s wool carpets you’d have ever set foot on to the immensely supple leather-upholstered seats that can be heated or cooled. And instead of the panoramic roof, you can also opt for a leather headliner that with the help of some 1,500 tiny LEDs recreates the night sky with twinkling stars and streaking comets. But I do admit all this talk of animal skin may give vegans nightmares.

The airy rear quarters can be had in one of two ways, you can choose to carry three in the ‘Lounge Seats’ or exclude a family member for a wonderfully decorated centre console that conceals a fridge with a decanter and a couple of Champagne flutes. The spades of space, on-demand massage function with copious degrees of poke, and the option to set a table to sign documents or watch something on one of the two 12-inch rear entertainment screens make this a lounge, office and living room all at once. And for that reason, it’s considered the choicest seat in a Rolls-Royce. But the Cullinan offers plenty of reasons to sit afront too, the love of driving is one and the second is to be in proximity of the beautifully ornate dashboard and centre console. The sum of the surfaces exudes a kind of art deco vibe. The stainless-steel chaplets and vents, the textured grain in the wood trims and the simplistic rotary controls for temperature are some of the niceties here. And there is some magic as well in the form of the infotainment screen that flips to conceal itself.

Over and above this, there are superfluous levels of customisation available for every fastidious customer. We aren’t just talking about paint schemes and choices of leather, but you can even have your insignia engraved onto the treadplates, and much more!

Driving impressions

Settling into the driver’s leather-bound seat with multiple posture settings, with oodles of space and good overall visibility made for a pleasant start. On the move, the thinly-rimmed steering wheel seems to be the lightest thing to operate, often a finger’s touch is enough. And the vehicle’s sense of stateliness encourages textbook mannerisms like holding the ‘10 and 2’ position, which by the way is strikingly similar to the reins on a horse-drawn carriage. And despite its 2.6-tonne mass, the body follows steering wheel inputs with marked elegance, except when pushed unnecessarily hard through the corners. My advice is to keep it predictable when it comes to steering and braking.

On the front axle sits a giant 6¾-litre V12 that enjoys the steroid effect of twin turbos. This sizeable engine is apt even for a small plane, which is an industry Rolls-Royce is no stranger to. But it is a gentle giant. Even if you stomp the gas pedal, the 850 Nm of torque comes on in a forceful but gradual manner, so as to not fluster the occupants. Even the 8-speed automatic shifts seamlessly to add to that creamy smooth experience. Now it would be childish to discuss the acceleration numbers for such a vehicle, but all I can say is it will easily trounce the average sportscar in a straight line.

But once you get to your destination, do mind your personal space, especially in parking lots because of the large bodywork and massive 13.23 turning circle. The 4-wheel steering does its bit to help articulate, but you’d rather leave this task to the valet. And with a generous tip, he may even park it at the hotel/mall entrance for envy-evoking public viewing.

Thanks to the extensive use of sound-deadening material and double-glazed windows, RR engineers have been able to quieten all 571 horses along with the noise of the bustling streets to render a cabin so tranquil you could hear yourself think… or if you prefer the sound of the classics, you can tune into the 18-speaker Bespoke audio system. The glass partition between the cabin and luggage keeps it further isolated. But the piece de resistance is the supreme ride quality. Between the wheels and body is a new double-wishbone setup upfront and 5-link unit at the rear that works with the cushiest air suspension technology ever, keeping the peace in the inner sanctum.

Being RR’s first-ever SUV, its advertorial content includes plenty of sand splashing in the Arabian desert. Yes, it has an ‘OffRoad’ button, Hill Descent Control, an air suspension with beefier air struts and strengthened drive and prop shafts, but no one sane would dare take it offroad unless you are of the calibre of Thomas Crown, one who can wreck a yacht on a whim.

Practicality and features

Being a Sport Utility Vehicle, it has been designed to satisfy certain criteria. The two-tier tailgate that RR calls ‘The Clasp’ opens up to a carpeted space of 600 litres (without the parcel shelf ) and by dropping down the rear seats — a first for RR — you’ll have access to 2,245 mm of length and load capacity of 1930 litres. However, as a nod to tradition, the luggage should travel in another car. And then we have the viewing suite. With the touch of a button, two exquisitely finished, but thinly padded leather seats and a cocktail table emerge from the luggage compartment giving you and a friend a grand way to enjoy some karak chai in the city or the desert.

The BMW-sourced infotainment with its 10.25-inch touchscreen (again a first) is a neat arrangement, which is intuitive and user-friendly and can be operated with the iDrive-like rotary knob. There is also a 7x3 high-res’ Head-Up Display and Night vision to keep the driver informed of all functions and visibility high in the late hours. It also has WiFi hotspot, with 5 USB charging ports and a wireless charging port upfront.

Other very Rolls-Royce things include a full-size umbrella stored in the doors and a cleverly designed drainage channel to help it dry.

Verdict

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan is a raised estate car of monumental proportions and a royal presence with good amounts of utility and a great amount of luxury. Real estate and digital age moguls can use it to steer through their vineyards in Europe or traverse the desert to reach their resort-like habitats with ease. The quality of the craftsmanship and customisation is unparalleled. And by design, it is a peerless product, which justifies the ransom’s worth that RR demands. Quite oddly, it is a driver’s car too, just an atypical one.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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