The Rolls-Royce Cullinan is a rare gem that has been built to drive as well on the roads as it does off. Andre Lam gives the super luxurious SUV a go in the wilderness of Wyoming in the US

Rolls-Royce may have been late to the sports utility vehicle (SUV) party by launching the Cullinan only in 2018, but doing so has its advantages. Letting its closest competitors enter the market first has helped Rolls-Royce avoid the same pitfalls and allowed it to plan around them. The result is a high-bodied all-terrain vehicle—as the marque prefers to call it—that is ultra luxurious but highly functional.

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan was named after the world’s largest gem-quality rough diamond (3,106 carats), and the stones cut from it are today in the possession of Queen Elizabeth II of England. However, its name is a radical departure for Rolls-Royce, which had traditionally been using names with a spectral theme—think Phantom, Ghost and Wraith.

In many ways, the SUV is a perfect fit for Rolls-Royce. The generally boxy, upright appearance and oversized dimensions of an SUV match the general styling of the marque’s fleet perfectly. And while the purpose of this genre of car may have began as a mud-slinging, spartan 4 x 4, the SUV has since evolved into quite the opposite, with some of the latest models in the market looking very distinguished and posh indeed.

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Styling-wise, the Cullinan shares the same new, all-aluminium platform as the Phantom, but its frame sits higher and is shorter than that of Rolls-Royce’s flagship model. The SUV also sticks to the signature “suicide” doors that are used for its siblings as well, thus differentiating it from the burgeoning horde of luxury SUVs. But while it features an elegant design that is instantly recognisable, the Cullinan might well be the sportiest looking Rolls-Royce in decades.

In addition to the levels of refinement and comfort that Rolls-Royce owners expect, the Cullinan has some serious off-road capabilities. The car is equipped with four-wheel drive and a high-riding chassis, which gives it a high ride height and a wading depth of 540mm to allow it to progress through some pretty demanding terrain. But it stands to reason that the more expensive the SUV, the less likely an owner is going to ever attempt a river crossing in it. Nonetheless, the Cullinan features the latest in air suspension technology, which provides active, variable ground clearance that also maintains the classic “magic carpet ride” experience that Rolls-Royce is famous for.

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For my driving experience with the Cullinan, Rolls-Royce had courageously plotted a lengthy off-road drive that would showcase the car’s cosseting ride, even on the rough trails of the Grand Teton National Park in the US state of Wyoming.

While the ride comfort is a given in a Rolls-Royce, the handling of the Cullinan is surprisingly entertaining for such a tall vehicle. This is thanks to an active anti-roll system, which automatically resists body roll and decouples appropriately as the car cruises, to provide sporty handling and a superb drive. In addition, the handling is aided by a rear‑wheel steer system that gives the Cullinan the agility of a smaller car and the stability of a larger one.


The car’s noise isolation is also excellent despite sprays of gravel and mud being thrown up against its bodywork on the drive. Much of the interior architecture has been remodelled from that of the Phantom. The style and function might seem conservative and simple at first, but it is what I prefer as opposed to having the latest array of LCD and LED touchscreen gizmos that take away from the whole experience as much as they add to it.

The unvarnished wood veneers that came with the Cullinan I drove on the trip perfectly suited the car’s interior, where rawness is contrasted well with the rest of the exquisitely finished interior. The steering wheel, while familiar, is slightly thicker but smaller in size than that of the Phantom, to give the car a sportier flavour than its limousine sibling.

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Above The classic Rolls-Royce lines are a surprisingly good fit for the Cullinan, giving it a less formal look that makes it more appealing than its stately siblings to customers with a family or a more casual lifestyle

A unique feature of the Cullinan is the optional tailgate recreation module, which comprises a slide-out pair of seats at the boot of the car from which owners can enjoy a spot of tea as they watch a polo match or take in the sights of the beautiful wilderness like what we did at one point of the drive.

In terms of performance, Rolls‑Royce makes little mention about the Cullinan’s engine, and it seems almost crass to say that it has a 6.75L twin-turbo V12 engine that delivers 571hp and 850Nm of torque. This might not be the most potent in the market, but it is certainly the last word in refinement as it delivers smooth effortless power. With the latest eight-speed gearbox and all-wheel-drive traction, the wheeled leviathan scurries to 100km/h in a remarkable 5.2sec. Also, were it not for the electronic safeguards, the car would have surely exceeded its governed top speed of 250km/h.

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With the introduction of the Cullinan, Rolls-Royce has realised that “luxury” is a term that evolves with the times. “Our customers expect to go everywhere in luxury, effortlessly and without compromise,” says Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. “They want to be able to conquer the most challenging terrain and enjoy life’s most enriching experiences, wherever they may be.”

Without a doubt, the Cullinan is the first Rolls-Royce to truly fulfil the marque’s tagline of “Effortless, Everywhere”, thanks to its talent on- and off-road. So, it is no empty boast when Müller-Ötvös proclaims the Cullinan to be “the most practical of Rolls-Royces, and the most versatile, family-oriented, fun-to-drive super-luxury SUV available in the market today”.

Getting the Cullinan from drawing board and onto the roads was a monumental task, but to keep it above the competition is a bigger challenge. This is not simply because of the premium price it demands, but because it has to live up to the Rolls-Royce name. It may eschew the contemporary design and features that are offered by its peers in the same segment, but the Cullinan exudes a distinctive sense of aristocracy and presence that only a Rolls-Royce possesses. For clients of the marque, this is all that matters. And for those who found the Phantom or Wraith too formal for their liking, they might find the Cullinan to be just right. 

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