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2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Revealed…”it’s a utility vehicle,” design boss tells PM

The 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan has been revealed to the world via the Internet, but our man in Blighty got to see and touch the thing months ago, here’s everything we know.

The SUV’s ascent into luxury stratosphere has been unstoppable, and now here’s the final seal. A Rolls-Royce off-roader. All twin-turbo 6.75-litre V12 and 5.34m of it. To give you some idea of the ambitions the company has for the Cullinan, it’s not just expensive and extravagant for a 4×4, it’s actually pretty expensive and extravagant for a Rolls-Royce.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan revealed...world's most exclusive SUV

Inside, it’s ridiculously soft and cosseting. Outside, it’s brutal. Rolls-Royce’s design boss Giles Taylor is unapologetic. Go big or go home was the brief, it seems. He says he absolutely wasn’t aiming to use crossover visuals. It’s not meant to be pretty. “It’s not styled,” he tells me. “It’s not about pretty clothes on a car. The Phantom is elegant. The Phantom is styled. But the premise of the Cullinan is it’s a utility vehicle. It’s defined by capability, which comes from engineering. And I find that attractive. Concorde wasn’t styled, Brunel’s bridges weren’t styled. But they are attractive, and I think this is.”

Rolls-Royce Cullinan revealed...world's most exclusive SUV

Yet the most striking part of its shape isn’t the immense upright grille or the cliff-face sides. It’s the tail end. It’s a hatchback, but it has a distinct three-box shape. “You should never sit with your luggage or your dog,”says Taylor.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan revealed...world's most exclusive SUV

That edict is taken to the literal extreme in one of the alternative interior treatments. A glazed partition is fixed between the two individual seats and the boot. The back seats don’t fold. It’s a sort of strange crossbred SUV-limo. Those rear seats recline and have a drinks chiller between them.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan revealed...world's most exclusive SUV

But the other version, the five-seater, does have a conventional folding back seat. Well, as conventional as a Rolls-Royce seat can be. It’s an ultra-soft sofa, electrically folding. The occupants can play with polished wood picnic tables and high-res tablets in the backs of the front seats. The tables and screens deploy electrically too. There’s more rear space and boot room than in a long-wheelbase Range Rover.

It’s wonderfully easy to get into the back of the Cullinan. It’s only when you’ve tried rear-hinged Rolls doors that you realise what a contortion it is to climb into a normal saloon, twisting over the wheel and through a gap between door and seat. In a Rolls you just press a switch to open the giant electric rear-hinged door and walk in forwards, barely ducking as you step up onto the flat, thickly shag-piled floor.

In any case, the air suspension automatically lowers by 40mm when the front doors are open, so it’s less of a climb up.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan revealed...world's most exclusive SUV

The Cullinan’s pitch as a versatile SUV is underlined by a box module that slots into the boot floor (the boot offers 560 litres of storage). Customers can get the factory to design them configurations of this box for whatever pursuit they want – shooting gear, various kinds of outdoor sports kit. One pre-designed example is hilariously called the ‘viewing suite’ and consists of a couple of folding leathered swivel chairs that emerge from inside that box module. Open them out and you’re all set for spectator sports or a tailgate party. Apparently.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan revealed...world's most exclusive SUV

If that sounds like a gimmick, the critical front cabin offers lasting delights. The throne-like seats are grand almost beyond imagining. They face a dashboard of solid hand-worked metal, high-grade carpentry, and buttery leather. It’s also packed with tech, including night-vision display, HUD, and all the rest of the gamut available from parent company BMW.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan revealed...world's most exclusive SUV

But the Cullinan isn’t a reclothed BMW. It’s entire structure is bespoke to Rolls-Royce, and much of it is shared with the Phantom. That includes the aluminium spaceframe’s principles, although its dimensions are changed.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan revealed...world's most exclusive SUV

Caroline Krismer, Engineering Project Leader, says that the Cullinan is biased towards on-road comfort, because its a Rolls-Royce. But she insists that much of the chassis tech that helps on-road also makes it more capable off-road. So it has four-wheel-drive of course, and variable-height air suspension with larger volume air-springs than even the Phantom. Up to 100km/h, the suspension pre-adapts itself to the upcoming terrain based on information processed from a forward-facing camera.

Beyond that, active anti-roll bars and four-wheel-steering and adaptive damping all help to make it more manoeuvrable and controllable. The parameters for the chassis and drivetrain and stability systems are variable through six off-road modes. Wading depth is 540mm.

Rolls-Royce tested the Cullinan off-road in all sorts of environments, from ice and snow to rocky trails and the sand of the Middle East.
Rolls-Royce claims the Cullinan is a genuine rough roader and so tested it off-road in all sorts of environments, from ice and snow to rocky trails and the sand of the Middle East.

To give it the urge for tough terrain, the engine is recalibrated to give more torque low down in the revs – the 850Nm peak is at just 1600rpm – and there’s a low ratio box.

Although the Phantom remains the flagship Rolls, the Cullinan uses the same basic architecture and engine as the Phantom, and offers most of the same luxury features, and is almost as bulky. Plus it’ll do off-roading. There are no official prices yet, but it’s unlikely to be less than $800,000 (and doubtless beyond $1m with personalisation), whereas the smaller Ghost saloon starts around $600k.

Torsten Müller-Ötvös, Rolls-Royce CEO, argues that this enormous price – knocking on for double even a W12 Bentley Bentayga – is only possible because the Cullinan uses Rolls-Royce’s unique architecture. “That’s crucial,” he tells me. He’s meaning that the Bentley shares much with the Audi SQ7 (and even the new VW Touareg). “Customers are very sensitive to what’s under the hood. This is a true Rolls-Royce.”

Rolls-Royce Cullinan revealed...world's most exclusive SUV


Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.