Some are born to lead. Others have to content themselves to follow in the slower lanes of life behind the powerful, rich and famous. But what do you drive when you are a global power-broker? When you’re busy running the world by day, yet still need a practical, luxurious 4×4 to get you to the ski slopes, do the school run, or take the family shopping?
Such tricky decisions may have been made a little easier with the bold new Rolls-Royce Cullinan, though. The first ever custom-built sports utility vehicle from the world’s most prestigious car maker, whose very name has become a byword for the pinnacle of perfection.
Cullinan takes its title from the 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond, unearthed in South Africa in 1905 as the largest and most flawless gem ever found. Like the diamond, these are big, bold, expensive and tantalising vehicles that look far more lithe and slippery when in motion.
The fact that the first year’s production is already sold out may be testament to the firm’s courage in taking a direction it feared some purists might have considered sacrilege. It admits it agonised, but in the end it decided it had to enter the booming SUV market or leave a vacuum for its customers.
The moment you climb into the vast cabin you feel strangely empowered. Sitting very high, you look down the bonnet at the Spirit of Ecstasy ‘Flying Lady’ mascot, cocooned in a luxurious sanctuary of calm. The trappings of wealth grow on you quickly.
Acceleration from the mighty 563bhp 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 engine is awesome but balanced, propelling it from rest to 62mph in 5.2 seconds. It’s a dramatic boost of power. The steering and handling is sharper and more precise than the more stately flagship Phantom limousine, too.
On twisting country roads it proved particularly adroit. It’s amazingly nimble in fact, and even on 22-inch wheels it offers a surprisingly tight turning circle. It’s quiet, too, thanks to the extensive soundproofing Rolls-Royce has fitted to every surface and under every panel. Yet that doesn’t detract from the engagement; the Cullinan will deliver a satisfying roar when driven boldly.
The GPS-aided transmission prepares the car for bends and such like ahead of it, smoothing the ride impeccably. A ‘Flagbearer’ stereo camera system integrated into windscreen reads the road ahead for bumps and potholes, adjusting suspension at speeds of up to 62mph.
Tested “to destruction” on trials around the world, the Cullinan is just as talented on the road as it is off it. It uses the same flexible aluminium space-frame platform as the eighth-generation Phantom, and aims to eclipse rival off-roaders such as Bentley’s Bentayga and the Range Rover.
But in true Rolls-Royce fashion, nothing is much effort. A flick of a switch – which the super-luxury car firm dubs the ‘Everywhere’ off-road terrain button – tightens up its muscles to tackle some off-piste action, whether on grass and gravel, or snow and mud. Fording streams up to 540mm deep, it’s almost as adept as a Land Rover Discovery. It’s thirstier, however, returning just 18.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of 341g/km.
But the Cullinan has been created to be as fit for a Queen as an active family, and as such comes in two main styles with either four or five seats. The former is alarmingly practical, in fact, offering a 600-litre boot, which when folded more than trebles to 1,930 litres.
The ‘VIP’ car offers two individual executive airline-style pavilion seats, offering privileged rear passengers a higher position with grandstand views from the side windows. They are separated by a fixed centre console incorporating a drinks cabinet, whisky glasses and a decanter, as well as champagne flutes and a coolbox to chill your bottles.
Built at the firm’s boutique factory at Goodwood in Sussex, the Cullinan is an intoxicating blend of 21st-century technology and the most exquisite hand-craftsmanship. Despite prices starting at £250,000, many customers will double that by the time they have added their own bespoke must have extras – such as the pop-out ‘viewing suite’, which emerges like a Bond gadget from beneath the rear boot. Perfect for the polo, or public school sports days.
Once inside the Cullinan, the driver is subsumed in luxury, including a cockpit-style dashboard with digital dials and a smaller, thicker steering wheel. The upper fascia is clad in durable and water resistant box grain leather, similar to that used in high-end Italian luggage and handbags. The entire dashboard is protected by leather pads, the top one fashioned like a wing. The leather on the back of the bespoke key matches that of interior, too.
It is so tactile, even the hi-tech elements are hand-crafted, with all the switches made from metal or glass, or wrapped in leather; including a ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ controller dial on the central console. There are five USB ports, plus wireless phone chargers and heated everything: seats, arm-rests – even the lid for the centre console is warmed perfectly.
Other features include a driver alertness warning, a four-Camera driver assistance system with panoramic and all-round visibility and helicopter view; night vision, pedestrian and wildlife warnings, active cruise control; collision, cross-traffic warning, and lane departure and lane change warning. There is also a hi-res head-up display, an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and the latest navigation and entertainment systems.
To protect those inside, there’s even a glass partition that rises behind the rear seats to create a sealed cabin sanctuary. This, Rolls claims, helps optimise temperature and improve refinement. No stone has been left unturned, that’s for sure.