Ride alongside the wild horses in Wyoming. Plow over the dunes of the Arabian desert. Carve down the Austrian mountains. Or dodge potholes on a blustery November day in Chicago.
Everything except that last bit is the marketing promise of the world’s most expensive SUV, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Yep, Rolls-Royce has an SUV, just like everyone else. Range Rover has the $180,000 SV Autobiography, Bentley has the $230,000 Bentayga and Rolls passes mustard (ahem) with the $325,000 Cullinan. It will likely average about $450,000, once the well-heeled make it their own.
We recently spent the morning with the Rolls-Royce of SUVs in a decidedly less exotic location than in the marketing videos. Here’s a bit of what we learned about the bespoke British brand’s fifth and soon to be best-selling model.
1. It’s all about firsts.
Cullinan is the first-ever SUV, and, like the Phantom, it rides on a space-frame architecture that will underpin all future Rolls-Royce models. Prior to the Phantom, Rolls had been using components of parent company BMW’s 7-Series. Also firsts for Rolls: first all-wheel drive, first power folding rear seats, first opening tailgate, first “three-box” SUV, with an available glass partition that can be raised between the rear seats and the cargo area for quieter travel.
2. No third row
There is no third row for this posh people mover. The Second row is a bench seat with a power two-thirds to one-third folding option. That is another first. Surprisingly, those “lounge” seats don’t recline, but they are plenty comfy, even when not trimmed with sheepskin floor mats. In true Rolls-Royce fashion, the seats are deep in the rear, behind the C-pillar and above the rear axle, to keep rear seat passengers hidden from view, with or without the power sliding curtains. Those rear-hinged coach doors, or what we Yanks call “suicide doors,” also keep rear passengers hidden.
There is an available captain’s chair, or Individual Seat, setup separated by a champagne cooler instead of the third seat. The individual seats are meant for the chauffered, while the “lounge” seats are meant for owners who will use the SUV as an SUV, and possibly haul around the third child in the middle seat. They can be power folded from the boot or from the rear seat, and a power load floor will raise up from the cargo area to create a flat floor space. Cullinan has both a liftgate to open to the sky and tailgate to open parallel with the ground. It is the first-ever tailgate for Rolls, which calls it The Clasp, and it can handle several adults. The coolest option, which wasn’t available on the test cars, is the viewing suite. Two folding seats stowed in the load floor deploy with the push of a button for tailgating from the rear of the vehicle.
3. Easy entry
The front doors are designed to tuck under the frame of the car, so that when you’re getting in there is no outdoor muck on the sill to rub off on your trousers. This also keeps out road noise. Of course, approaching those doors and unlocking the fob, or pulling on the handle, will automatically lower the Cullinan about 1.6 inches to make getting in easier. And forget shutting your own doors, you plebe; there is a button for that. Ground clearance is 22 inches, with the suspension fully raised in off-road mode.
Once buckled in (you have to do that yourself) the ride is characteristically Rolls-Royce. Like the Phantom, it feels like you’re floating above the road surface. The air suspension system uses all sorts of inputs and calculations to smooth out and dips and pits in the road. Hit a pothole and it may shock your bank account more than your backbone. With the first-ever all-wheel-drive system, an air compression system pushes down any wheel that is losing traction so all four are on the floor, delivering all 627 pound-feet of torque, which is available at just 1,600 rpm. Off-road driving modes are accessed simply via the push of a button on the fly, and hill descent control works as well as Land Rovers’.
The Cullinan SUV weighs just under 6,000 pounds and is powered by the same 563-horsepower 6.75-liter twin-turbo V-12 engine found under other Rolls-Royce bonnets. Hitting 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, Cullinan is not quick by the 60 mph standard, but there is so much available power in so much available space carrying so much weight, it seems like an onslaught. We pressed the throttle hard and could not repress a smile every time. All-wheel steering helped us cut corners in a closed-off construction lot alongside the North Branch of the Chicago River. We imagine those rear wheels turning in the opposite direction as the front helps off-roading, too. At higher speeds, the wheels turn in the same direction for more athletic handling. It gets 18.8 mpg combined.
The question with a Rolls is whether it is better to drive or be driven in; this conundrum is true for the Cullinan as well. Pretty sure I’d rather drive when running with the wild horses or over Arabian sand dunes, but around Chicago, I’ll take the hidden-from-back-seat view any day.