Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV.
Cynics snickered when
Rolls-Royce Motor Co. announced in 2015 that it would build a luxury
SUV. They snickered a little more when the fabled English car
company said the SUV would be named Cullinan, after the world’s
largest gem-quality diamond, and would cost more than $300,000.
off-road, ultra-luxury SUV? From Rolls-Royce? Called what? And for
more money than most Americans paid for their houses? Ridiculous!
Keep snickering. The
2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan is here, and it is ridiculous. And rather
Tipping the scales at
an elephantine 5,984 pounds, propelled by a massive 6.75-liter V-12
twin-turbo engine, the Cullinan looks like what Rolls-Royce says it
is: “The world’s first super-luxury all-terrain SUV.”
It’s enormous —
17.5 feet long, 7 feet wide and more than 6 feet tall, riding on
22-inch wheels — and imposing, from the traditional Rolls-Royce
grille, across a hood long enough to contain the V-12 engine, all
the way to the gaping rear hatchback doors.
The result is one of
the oddest-looking vehicles ever built. It incorporates design
elements no other car company could possibly attempt. The Cullinan
is like a large milk truck, with a cow catcher attached to the
front, that is elegant enough to transport members of the royal
family to the Royal Albert Hall.
The model I drove was
painted Andalusian White, its interior draped in Dark Spice leather
with Mandarin piping, accented with Open Pore Mimosa Calamander wood
paneling, polished stainless steel knobs, a “technical bespoke
clock” and lambswool floormats. Yes, lambswool.
The enveloping front
seats were heated, ventilated, endlessly adjustable and included
massage functions. The enormous rear seats — the Cullinan can be
had in four- or five-passenger versions — offer vast head and leg
room, and are also highly adjustable.
They face drop-down
“picnic tables,” above which are high-definition entertainment
screens. The center console between the rear seats can be fitted
with accessories such as a beverage service area that includes a
Champagne cooler. Each rear passenger seat also has its own climate
The front and rear
“suicide” doors open and close electronically, and silently,
with the push of a button, enclosing driver and passengers in a cozy
cocoon. But the enormous windshield and tall, wide side windows
create wondrous visibility. The panoramic glass sunroof retracts far
enough for a rear passenger to stand up and parade-wave, like a
queen, to the multitudes.
Is it drizzling? Open
the rear door, push another button and an umbrella glides gently
into your hand — or, presumably, into the hand of the staff member
entrusted with keeping you dry as you exit the vehicle.
Behind the rear seats
is a storage area big enough to accommodate all the golf clubs, gun
bags, luggage or picnic equipment you’d need for a proper
“Downton Abbey” weekend outing.
experience is peerless. Never, perhaps, has so much power been
combined with so much plush. The Cullinan, whether easing through
city traffic or pulsing up the open road, could almost be mistaken
for an electric vehicle.
It is silent,
throbbing gently and making the faintest purr only when under
extreme acceleration, and smoothly indifferent to imperfections in
the road, thanks in part to the sophisticated air suspension system.
The eight-speed transmission, connected to an all-wheel-drive system
that includes rear-wheel steering, is unintrusive and seamless.
I experienced no
difference whatsoever — in wind noise, road noise or vibration —
between 50 miles per hour and twice that. (The Cullinan boasts an
electronically limited top speed of 155 miles per hour. I’m sure
it’s kittenish at that velocity, too.)
The extreme silence
— reportedly the result of specialized foam in the front wheels,
laminated glass and hundreds of extra pounds of sound-deadening
materials — allows the “bespoke audio” and “rear theatre
configuration” to work at maximum perfection.
I cued up Handel’s
“Water Music” and set the navigation, one of the best I have
ever experienced, for a destination 120 miles to the north. Two
movements later, it seemed, I had arrived.
The 30-gallon gas
tank allowed me to get there without refueling — not entirely a
surprise for a tank that size, except that the Cullinan consumes
fuel at an average rate of 14 miles per gallon. (The Cullinan MSRP
includes a $2,600 “gas guzzler” fee.)
On the return trip, I
decided to test the off-road capabilities. Somewhere in the
Tehachapi foothills, near Willow Springs, I left the highway for a
stretch of unpaved side road, engaged the “off road” mode and
allowed the Cullinan to be a real SUV.
First I assayed a
quarter-mile of sand. Then I pushed a button to raise the vehicle
and increase the ground clearance, and climbed a rocky hill. On the
other side, I engaged the automatic hill descent system and let the
Cullinan apply the correct amount of braking to bring us safely to
level ground again.
Then I turned around
and went back up the opposite way, enjoying the Cullinan’s quiet,
capable demeanor. It kept calm, and carried on, until near the top,
when its street tires spun and struggled to find enough traction to
get over the top. Once over, I returned to the sandy road and drove
a few miles through the tumbleweeds and sage brush.
It’s possible that
a bolder driver could have done more with the rough stuff than I
did. But I was alone, and off the cellular grid, and a voice in my
head kept saying, “Dude, you remember this is a $400,000
automobile, right?” (That’s with various options; the base is
Perhaps mindful of
its own MSRP, and the concurrent high cost of repairs, the Cullinan
is equipped with an impressive suite of sensors to help the driver
avoid scraping the curb, hitting parked cars or backing into
The backup camera
view can even be adjusted, from the infotainment screen in the dash,
to focus on specific areas of concern — when backing around a
tricky obstacle, for example.
But the Cullinan does
not park itself, and seemed to be missing some of the driver aids
that one would expect from such an advanced, expensive vehicle.
Though the vehicle does come equipped with adaptive cruise control,
it does not include other semiautonomous driving technology, now
standard on most luxury vehicles, that can make an inattentive or
irresponsible driver safer on the road.
And I was troubled to
see that, on the car I borrowed, the lovely Spirit of Ecstasy
statuette that sits on the Cullinan grille did not retract and then
reemerge when directed.
On the other hand,
the Cullinan comes standard with “self-righting wheel centers,”
which means the double-R Rolls-Royce emblem is always right side up
when the car is parked.
Rolls is coming very
late to the SUV game. Having held out long enough to watch the
arrival and sales successes of Porsche’s Macan and Cayenne,
Maserati’s Levante, Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio, Bentley’s Bentayga
and even the Lamborghini Urus we reviewed here recently, Rolls is
the last luxury brand but Ferrari to put a utility vehicle into its
Someone who is not a
buyer for this car may ask, reasonably, who is the buyer for this
car? BMW-owned Rolls-Royce, which just completed its best sales year
ever, says that fully half of the buyers of its new SUV have never
owned a Rolls before, and that the average Cullinan customer already
owns about five other vehicles. So, potential buyers are probably
not asking “How much is it?” but “How good is it?”
L.A. Times’ take:
The world’s most luxurious, most expensive SUV
driving experience, unparalleled elegance
Lows: At that MSRP,
should come with a driver
Four-door, four- or five-passenger ultra-luxury SUV
Base price: $325,000
Price as tested:
6.75-liter, V-12, twin turbo, gasoline engine
Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy
rating: 12 miles per gallon city / 20 highway / 14 combined