WHAT IS IT?
The Cullinan is the vehicle Rolls-Royce once thought it would never produce, but the coachbuilder has buckled under public demand and bequeathed its Spirit of Ecstasy to an SUV. Think a Phantom with gumboots, not brogues.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Rolls-Royce launched its über-luxury SUV on dirt, and we were never going to refuse an opportunity to test the Cullinan’s off-road chops. This is the exploration of a new frontier by the iconic British brand. Can it live up to the brand’s lofty reputation?
A Bentley Bentayga if you’re on a budget, a superyacht if you aren’t, or ‘The Beast’ if you’re President Trump.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE PRICE tag isn’t the only thing absurdly large about a Rolls-Royce. Making them look and feel bigger and more impressive than every other car has always been a core principle. Ask, or perhaps force, its designers to produce an SUV like the Cullinan, then, and you’re going to end up with something that would belittle a behemoth.
As one crayon-wielder admitted, they looked at the basic, two-box design of other modern luxury SUVs and decided it wasn’t big enough (and nor was the 7 Series platform BMW offered), so they built an all-new, unique three-box design that’s meant to capture “capability and elegance”.
It certainly captures attention - at 5341mm long, 2164mm wide and 1835mm tall it would want to - and never more so than when it’s ploughing down a steep dirt track in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, straight at a bunch of baffled hikers. It must have felt like a particularly aristocratic house was about to run them down.
I would say I was surprised by just how capable the Cullinan was when thrown at some steep and rocky challenges, but anyone who’s driven a modern Range Rover knows just how incredible and bizarre the mix of luxury with off-road ability can be.
What’s impressive here is how simple the big Rolls is to use. Apparently the brand’s buyers like these cars to be a “detox” from their busy, super-car-addled lives, so you get no shift paddles, just one forward gear and a one-touch “off-road” button.
Everything else is taken care of by the company’s first all-wheel-drive system and a surfeit of power and torque from a massive 6.75-litre, twin-turbocharged V12 making 420kW and 850Nm, which arrives at just 1600rpm. Put your foot down and the nose rears at the sky, it’s fabulous.
Read next: Rolls-Royce Cullinan: 11 coolest features
Rolls also claims to have equipped the Cullinan with its famously wafting “magic carpet” ride, no matter what you throw it at. Sure enough, it’s almost surreal in its quietude and floatiness on sealed roads, but even actual magic can’t totally silence the clatter of gravel roads.
It’s also on loose stuff like that where the Cullinan’s light and airy steering feel is just slightly disconcerting, because you’re not entirely sure of what your wheels are up to.
Generally speaking, though, this seemingly inevitable Rolls SUV delivers on its mission statement of being “Effortless, Everywhere”, and no doubt will achieve the company’s goal of being hugely profitable.
The first year’s production is already sold out, despite a reassuringly large price tag starting at $685,000.
Rolls-Royce expects the Cullinan to be its biggest selling model in Australia, with around 80 per cent of buyers opting for the family friendly Lounge variant, which gets a three-person bench seat in the rear, and the rest opting for the Individual spec, which gets two First Class airline-style seats plus a fridge, champagne flutes, a decanter and a glass panel to separate you from your luggage compartment, making it even more freakishly quiet. Both models score the fantastic, and unique in this segment, suicide doors.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
If you are a Russian oligarch who is bored of using a Bugatti Chiron to commute to work, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan provides a refreshing reprieve, but retains earth-shifting levels of grunt. For those unhinged enough to go rock-hopping in the Cullinan, Rolls-Royce’s first SUV will prove surprisingly capable. It’ll sell like crazy, for good reason.
PLUS: Magical ride on bitumen; epitome of luxury; endearingly simple; tectonic plate shifting torque
MINUS: Need to own a small nation to be able to afford one; wafty steering can be concerning off-road (if you are crazy enough to take yours there); hulking size
Model: 2018 Rolls-Royce Cullinan
Engine: 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12
Max power: 420kW @ 5000rpm
Max torque: 850Nm @ 1600rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 5.2 seconds
Price: Starting at $685,000