The Rolls-Royce Cullinan is home to a good number of firsts for the ultra-luxury British carmaker.
Most obviously, it’s the first SUV to come from the brand in its 115-year history, though Rolls-Royce will point to the car’s pedigree. Specifically, the specially modified cars used by one T.E. Lawrence (that’s Lawrence of Arabia to you) over the course of his wartime campaign in the Arabian desert.
We’d argue that a stripped-down, de-fineried and armoured-up limousine set to perform duty as a war horse is quite a different kettle of fish to what Rolls-Royce terms the Cullinan, a “unique, high-bodied car”.
But we digress.
The Cullinan is also the first Rolls-Royce to ever come with all-wheel-drive (like, good heavens… a tractor), the first to have flat-folding rear seats (like, good heavens… a hatchback), the first to have a tailgate (like, good heavens… a lorry) and if you like, rubber floor mats (like, good heavens… a taxi).
However, Rolls-Royce has done its level best to ensure the Cullinan is quite unlike the sort of SUVs driven around by everyone else. Specifically, people whose can only claim a net worth of some SGD10 million and below. You know, the proletariat.
To start with, Rolls-Royce has done so by making the Cullinan big.
And we mean really, really big.
Yuge levels of bigly.
HMS Ark Royal levels of big.
At 5.4m long, 2m wide and 1.8m tall, the Cullinan boasts the sort of bulk that could blot out the sun. Not quite the 6m-long land barge that is a Phantom Extended Wheelbase, but what the Cullinan lacks in length, it more than makes up for in height.
And once seated in those big leather armchairs (with the Rolls-Royce monogram emblazoned on its headrests, or just about anything else of your choosing), you really do feel like you’re the captain of a ship, peering over a lengthy prow crowned with a Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament.
The Cullinan loaned to us for the purposes of this test was equipped with a frosted crystal Spirit of Ecstasy, which, as you might expect from an optional extra that’s likely to cost well upwards of five figures, on a car that could well cost as much as an apartment in the swankier areas of town, is gorgeous.
And once you get the barge moving, you’ll realise that while the Cullinan is unlike any other Rolls-Royce before it, owing to its tall nature, you’ll also realise that every molecule of its being has the brand’s hallmarks baked into it.
More than the calmness of its ride, more than the immense reserves of thrust apparent in its 6.75-litre V12 (“waftability” in Rolls-Royce speak), more than the quality of its cabin is the car’s sheer majesty.
The Cullinan has the magical ability to make anything short of an 18-wheeler feel like a toy when you’re driving past it, making its driver feel like the lord and master of all that you survey.
We imagine it’s not entirely unlike ancient emperors of China waving at their subjects from their sedan chairs. Fitting, then, that the Cullinan panders to its occupants.
There’s the aforementioned refinement, of course, but you’ll also notice a curious lack of manual overrides in the Cullinan. There’s no way to manually rifle through its eight forward ratios, no way to set the air-conditioning to exactly 20.5 degrees and no way to select what terrain you’d like to go on. Yes, the Cullinan can handle light off-roading duties, hence its “effortless, everywhere” tagline.
Yes, there’s no paddles behind the wheel like any other car, though there’s a button marked ‘low’ on the (awkwardly) long column-mounted shifter stalk, though that only instructs the transmission to holds onto lower gears for longer. The Cullinan determines what the best ratio to be in is by using the sat-nav to scan the road ahead and select an appropriate one.
The air-conditioning also does away with traditional digital climate control readouts and instead has a set of sliders with no markings aside from blue and red, which could terrify those afflicted with OCD.
As for its off-road mode, while some cars have settings to select sand, gravel, mud, snow and things like that, the Cullinan simply has a button marked ‘off-road’. The electronics take care of the rest, including controlling front-rear torque split, suspension, differentials and the like. Faffing about and figuring out whether you’re on sand or gravel is something only the poor have to endure, apparently.
But one thing that the Cullinan won’t do is drive itself… yet. Though that’s very much on the cards and “exactly what we see as the future of the brand”, said Rolls-Royce boss Torsten Mueller-Otvos during an interview with us earlier this year.
Of course, you could just hire a chauffeur and get pretty much the same thing, though with the Cullinan, you won’t really have to. And that brings us to what is perhaps the biggest contribution of the Cullinan to Rolls-Royce (aside from filling its coffers)—choice.
Amongst the Cullinan’s other firsts for the ultra-luxury carmaker, and quite possibly the car’s raison d'être is how this is the first Rolls-Royce with rear doors that you can drive yourself with any sort of social acceptability.
Sure, you could always self-drive your Phantom and Ghost, but unless you enjoy being mistaken for one of your employees, we strongly suggest you don’t.
We also strongly suggest not driving the Cullinan with any sort of vigour. Its chassis proved remarkably competent in that regard, with copious amounts of grip and resisting roll admirably. It’s decent enough, but bear in mind this is a vehicle that weighs 2.6-tonnes and its long, lazy steering blunted still further by an overly assisted rack and oversized wheel.
Then again, if you’re flinging around a Rolls-Royce, let alone a Rolls-Royce SUV, you probably need to get your head checked out.
But the most important question the Cullinan needs to answer, and indeed, the only one it needs to answer is this: does Rolls-Royce’s brand values translate to a high-riding, all-wheel-drive vehicle with a tailgate?
The answer to that is ‘yes’.
A big ‘yes’.
A Cullinan-sized ‘yes’.
ENGINE 6,750cc, 48-valves, V12, turbocharged
POWER 571hp at 5,000rpm
TORQUE 850Nm at 1,600rpm
0-100KM/HR 5.2 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/hr (electronically limited)
TRANSMISSION Eight-speed automatic
FUEL CONSUMPTION 15L/100km
VES BAND C2 ($20,000 surcharge)
PRICE SGD$1,268,888 (without COE and options)