What we’re driving: Rolls-Royce Cullinan
What it costs: from $685,000
Why we’re driving it: 2019 marks the 115th anniversary of the first meeting between Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, and the Cullinan is an uber-luxury SUV representing the storied company's answer to the growing global demand for a flexible flagship that is more in tune with the lifestyle dreams of high-net-worth individuals in the 21st century.
No on-road experience is remotely like the Cullinan, and motoring through the lush English landscape in a Rolls-Royce Cullinan is like going cross-country touring in Big Ben.
On the outside
There is nothing categorically 'beautiful' about the styling of the Cullinan, unless perhaps you are a fan of bauhaus architecture.
The blunt styling and imposing nose is more like a Cunard liner, but that’s a big part of the point. Rolls-Royce could have softened its first SUV but it wanted to create an impact.
Overall, the effect is much like a 17th century nobleman’s carriage. The Cullinan is big and bold and created with lots of straight lines to maximise the cabin space and make access easy for anyone. You have to step up but the car has a ‘park’ setting in its air suspension that lowers it for easier loading.
Signature rear-hinged ’suicide’ doors are part of the package, just like the grand Phantom limousine, and the two cars share much of their hidden mechanical and chassis pieces to ensure they are built more like a stately home than a suburban flat – a similarity which extends to noise-reducing double-glazing on the windows.
To put the scale of the Cullinan into focus, it stands 1.8m tall and it weighs 2.6 metric tonnes. That’s a very, very big car by any measurement and it even looks big while sitting alongside the Phantom at Rolls-Royce’s headquarters at Goodwood in England.
Under the bonnet
Motivation for the Cullinan is powerful yet restrained.
A twin-turbocharged V12 ensures the performance is - to use a long-term Rolls-Royce expression - ‘adequate’, with a silky-smooth eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive in case the SUV dream becomes a reality.
In truth, the only off-roading that’s likely to be required of a Cullinan is towing over grass, occasional muddy tracks to a weekend getaway, and sand driving in the Middle East. The rest of the package runs from 22-inch rims and air-ride suspension with a single setting marked ‘Off-road’.
On the inside
Everything in the Cullinan’s cabin is old-school in design and materials, even the controller for the iDrive system that comes as part of the technical package from Rolls-Royce’s owners at BMW.
If it looks like wood, it is; if it looks like metal it is; and if it looks like leather and deep-pile wool pile, well, you get the picture.
A Bentley Bentayga is a little more flashy at first, but everything in the Cullinan is there for a reason – even if it’s the owner’s ego – and beautifully hand finished.
Production at the Goodwood factory is so brisk that there are giant tents for some of the final checking, but the site is still crowded with the sort of craftsmen who make the woodwork and leather trimming so special.
There is a choice of a two or three-person layout in the back seat, and our test-drive car has the twin-seat layout with fold-down snack tables and individual infotainment screens.
If you need to carry luggage, there's up to 2000 litres with the back seats electrically tumbled flat for maximum storage.
Almost every Rolls-Royce, from the Ghost to the Cullinan, has some level of bespoke fit-out and that means the car can be exactly tailored to the owner’s wants and needs.
That includes a choice of woods and leathers, as well as extras including the ’starlight’ roof that uses pinpoints of LED lighting to put a pattern on the roof lining.
On the road
It's challenging to put into mere words the effortless comfort of cruising in the Cullinan.
It can be brisk, sprinting to 100km/h in a tick over five seconds, but motoring in this 'Big Ben on wheels' is about covering whatever distance is required with absolutely minimum fuss.
The car is breathtakingly quiet at any speed, is barely troubled by the worst surfaces and bumps, and can easily turn off the bitumen and motor across dirt and grass and up steep roadside inclines.
At the wheel, the feeling is slightly remote and the Cullinan tilts when all that heft is asked to change direction, but it’s nothing to unsettle the passenger.
From the rear seat, after climbing up into the cabin, the world is slightly more remote and less bothersome. It’s a place to relax and enjoy.
It sounds too obvious, but Cullinan is truly the Rolls-Royce of SUVs. Everything you'd expect from a Rolls given the upscale SUV treatment, and then some, is embodied by this big black beauty.