TEST DRIVE: Rolls Royce Cullinan — Don’t Call it an SUV
In almost every single news article or review of the Rolls Royce Cullinan, there’s some sort of reference to it being the brand’s first-ever SUV or how heretical such an idea is for a brand like Rolls Royce. I’m every bit as guilty as the rest of the journalists that do so. However, those takes are all nonsense, including my own, and I realize this now. After having driven it, and spent some time riding in the back seat, I can say with absolute confidence that the Cullinan is no longer allowed to be called an SUV because it’s neither a sport or utility vehicle. It’s just a Rolls Royce that can now go further than ever before.
Surprisingly, one of the vehicles available for us to drive during our recent Test Fest was the aforementioned Roller. Because there were only two of them on hand, and about ten each of every other car, only a lucky few of us did actually get the chance to drive the Cullinan. Thankfully, yours truly was one of them and after doing so, the big Cullinan makes so much sense to me as a Rolls Royce. Just don’t call it an SUV.
First, let’s talk about the almost constant mockery of the Cullinan for being a massive, overly unnecessary vehicle. Yes, the Cullinan is absurd, enormous and completely and utterly superfluous. That’s sort of the point of a Rolls Royce, though, isn’t it? You don’t buy a Rolls because it makes practical sense, do you? Of course not. You buy a Rolls Royce so you can have the absolute very best of everything, cost, logic and humility be damned. The Cullinan is that and I love it because it is so unabashedly excessive.
Next, I want to talk about its looks. It’s not the prettiest thing on the road, regardless of how you slice it. Sure, there are some okay angles and it has some individual details that are quite nice. However, as a whole, it’s just not… right. There’s something off about the way it looks and it’s hard to really put a finger on. It sort of looks like what someone would render a Rolls SUV to look like. Though, I will say that it looks better in person and that it does have a commanding presence, pretty or not.
Inside, though, there won’t be any complaints from anyone. While not as overly opulent as the Phantom’s, the Cullinan’s cabin is gorgeous. Sumptuous leather, perfectly handcrafted wood trim and beautiful, bright metalwork adorn the interior of the Rolls Royce Cullinan. Despite the chunky SUV-like exterior, this is not the interior of an SUV. Hell, most luxury cars could only dream of being this beautiful.
Not only is it expertly crafted and wonderfully luxurious but it’s packed with technology, just tech that hides under the surface. For instance, the BMW-sourced iDrive (with Rolls Royce’s own graphics and user interface) can be hidden away with a bit of trim that cleans up the dashboard’s look. Also, front seat-backs have some lovely wood trim on them for the rear passengers, with two aluminum buttons that flank either side. Those buttons pop that piece of wood trim down, which becomes a tray table with a screen behind it which flips out. The screen is touch-sensitive and controls most of the features throughout the cabin. So while there’s a ton of tech, it can all be hidden away for some old-school luxury.
The back seat is also where you want to be. While driving the Cullinan is lovely — and we’ll get to that in a bit — sitting in the back is the proper Rolls Royce experience. The ride is cloud-like, as if the road beneath simply ceases to exist. However, I will say that its hefty curb weight does rear its ugly head over larger potholes, of which there were many in Palm Springs. The ride is never anything close to harsh but some sharp impacts can make their way through the cabin. Still, even when that happens, it’s far more supple than even something like a 7 Series. It just can’t completely hide the fact that its suspension has to handle the weight of a small moon.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to sample a Cullinan with its rear Individual Seat option and its awesome center console. Instead, our test car had the option Lounge Seat option, which is still wonderful, just not as over-the-top as the Individual Seats. It’s the more practical choice, allowing for child seats if need be.
When behind the wheel, it becomes even clearer why the Rolls Royce Cullinan is no SUV. With its thin-rimmed steering wheel, feather-light steering weight and lazy throttle, the big Roller is anything but a sport or utility vehicle. Rolls Royce claims that absolutely nothing gets in the way of luxury when it comes to developing cars and that’s apparent from behind the wheel more so than anywhere else.
The throttle pedal travel is long, which I’m assuming is to allow for as smooth a take off as possible, so as to not disturb the rear VIP passengers. Though, once you really dip into the extremely British 6.75 liter twin-turbocharged V12, it can seriously motivate the hefty Roller. Not that many Cullinan drivers are going to want to do so, as it accelerates like a boat; the nose heaves upward, the rear end droops down and it builds speed more rapidly than you’d expect. So while it’s surprisingly quick, it’s not an enjoyable experience, as it feels a bit uneasy. That’s not necessarily an insult, as that’s not really what the big Roller is designed to do. Instead, it’s better to just calmly cruise around and once you do the Cullinan begins to make so much more sense.
Drive the Cullinan at the pace at which it’s meant to be driven and it’s incredibly relaxing. It’s smooth, stable and effortlessly luxurious. Plus, its height and vast outward visibility allow a commanding view of the road. The coolest thing of all is seeing the massive hood that lies ahead, the Spirit of Ecstasy sitting proudly on its nose while driving. All the while knowing that your massive Cullinan can go anywhere and do anything while never compromising on that Rolls Royce sense of luxury and sophistication.
That’s because its calm demeanor does belie its rugged capability and Rolls Royce was proud to prove it in Palm Springs. BMW and Rolls had set up an off-road course, to show off the capabilities of the X7 and Cullinan, respectively. Surprisingly, the big Roller did very well. It’s not often you see mud on a Rolls Royce, and seeing dirty footprints in the lamb’s wool carpets was actually painful, but it was an impressive sight nevertheless. Like watching watching an Elephant play rugby in a tuxedo.
Even still, the Rolls Royce Cullinan shouldn’t be looked at as an SUV. That’s not what it’s designed to be. It’s designed to be a luxury car that simply can’t be impeded by terrain, which is actually the perfect vehicle description for a Rolls Royce. Rolls customers don’t compromise in any other way, why compromise on where they can go?. The tagline for the Rolls Royce Cullinan is “Effortless Everywhere” and that’s how it should be viewed — a luxury car that can simply go everywhere. Just don’t call it an SUV.
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