The first SUV from Rolls Royce slowly grows on even the staunchest of enthusiasts.
When the Rolls Royce Cullinan was launched back in December of 2018, it was met with an onslaught of criticisms and scepticism. However when all is said and done, and the dust settles, one realises that the Cullinan serves to be exactly what it promises: The Rolls Royce experience on high ground.
Walk up to the Cullinan and you’re greeted with a familiar yet different sight. All the elements that make a Rolls Royce a Rolls Royce exist, but they sit higher than you would expect. The front, if not for the height is a quintessential Rolls Royce look, with the ‘Pantheon’ grille, the squared-off headlamps, the overall boxy shape and accents all will remind you of the Phantom.
And of course, the infamous “Spirit Of Ecstasy” stands proud in the front, really topping off what is a very good-looking front end of the Cullinan,
When you move on to the side, you would realise that Rolls have tried their best to port the Phantom design to an SUV form factor. The Phantom’s silhouette is unmistakable, and Rolls have tried their absolute best to preserve it. However, the sheer size of the Cullinan means that the C-Pillar turns out to be too thick. This car, being the Black Badge rides on 22-inch alloys, with, of course, the weighted centre cap so that the Rolls Royce logo always stays right side up.
The design team have tried to reduce the visual bulk by adding a thick piece of panelling that outlines the window line, but the boxy design also means that the tailgate does not curve back, thus adding to make the C pillar thick.
Perhaps it was intentional to keep the C Pillar as thick as it was, because of the suicide doors. This is a Rolls classic, and that means that you have it in the Cullinan as well. Because of the lack of obstruction by the hinges of the door, the ease of ingress is truly the best in class. It must have been an engineering ultimatum to ensure the safety of the Cullinan was not compromised by the lack of B pillars.
The rear of the Cullinan is done pretty well. This is the first time Rolls are building anything with a tailgate, and it’s clear that they kept it minimal. It would have been easy to add a myriad of lines and creases with all that extra space at the rear, but they didn’t and kept it simple.
The rear taillights are where the comparisons with the London Taxi Cab are drawn, and it’s understandable. The similarities are quite visible, however, a parallel like that has nothing to do with the fact that the design suits the vehicle very well.
The tailgate is split, much like the Range Rover. So if you want to have a picnic outside your 2,200,000 AED Rolls, you now can! This split tailgate also invites an accessory that Rolls sells, which allows for an installation of chairs that will whir out and present themselves for an even more comfortable seating back there.
Overall the Cullinan is unmistakably a Rolls Royce. With a heritage as pure and untouched as Rolls Royce’s, it is very hard to build something that deviates from the formula, and not get any flack. The iconic design language of Rolls Royce has always been meant for the limousine form factor, and so there are always going to be differences in interpretation when it comes to porting it to an SUV form factor.
Now that the Cullinan has been on road for 3 years, it’s been growing on people, and many have come to see the vision of Giles Taylor, the designer of this car, and appreciate how much it conforms to the iconic design language, despite being in a form factor that is completely different!
Climb into the Cullinan, and you might as well be in a Ghost or a Phantom. Interiors are Rolls Royce’s comfort zone, and it shows.
Everything you touch is either aluminium, leather or wood. The volume knob? Aluminium with leather wrapping. The climate control dials? Aluminium sliders. Door-handles? Weighted aluminium. The mirror adjusting joystick? Aluminium!
All the Rolls Royce classics you would expect are present here. The analog clock, with Cullinan, embossed in metal. The full-sized umbrella housed within the rear doors, and the wooden inlaid dashboard layout with aluminium switchgear, all are present within this car.
This car is not all analog though. Rolls Royce has done a great job discreetly adding a lot of tech features for their younger buyers, but keeping it minimal on the face for their simple buyers.
For one, you get heated armrests, both front and rear. There are 24-way massage seats for the driver and passenger. You get power closing front and rear doors, and they work pretty quickly, unlike some older models. You get 360° view cameras courtesy of BMW, and you get all the latest in driver assists. If you’re looking for them, you’ll find them, otherwise, they blend into the background.
Coming to infotainment, this is where the Cullinan could do better. Since its launch in 2019, Rolls Royce has not updated their infotainment, but the rest of the car industry has spent literal billions transitioning into tech companies, with a huge focus on tech. So what we have seen is an exponential rise in software quality, and hardware quality within the industry.
This means that opulent cars such as the Cullinan already feel a bit dated when it comes to the infotainment, as it runs on a reskinned version of BMW’s iDrive, which was already 2 years old as of 2019. The skin is has immense attention to detail, but the rate of improvement of software is so quick, that the responsiveness leaves more to be desired.
However it does get Apple CarPlay, so there shouldn’t be much of an issue for Apple users.
Stepping out of the front, opening the rear hinged doors, and stepping into the rear, you realise how much plush it is! Every aspect of the rear sear experience has been thought through.
You have motorised trays that automatically present themselves with a push of a button. Press another button, and a 12 inch display whirs out, with a scaled up infotainment interface. It’s touch based, but has not HDMI input, so you won’t be able to plug in a device of your own.
Moving on, the Cullinan has a bench seat with a 60-40 split. Of course, you can fold them and open them with a push of a button. Many only fold down, so the fact that they open up as well is a big plus.
Once again, everything you lay your hands on, it screams premium. Aluminium, Leather, wood, and even wool drape the cabin, and just put you on another dimension of luxury. The panoramic sunroof brings in so much light and air to the cabin should you choose to use it as well! The only plastic you can see in this cabin is the steering column, and the gear shifter. Perhaps there were structural and safety reasons behind leaving the plastics as they are.
Take the Black Badge, and you get bespoke yellow trim and leather throughout the cabin, and more dark elements and materials to further bring home the sporty factor of this variant of the Cullinan.
Another thing that is worth mentioning is the immense attention to detail. You can feel the passion of the designers in this interior. The spirit of ecstasy is embossed in the leather of the door panel, the cabin lights present themselves with a slow glow rather than lighting up, as LEDs do. Every actuation feels smooth! The dials slide as if they are floating, the clicks are tactile, the door handle feels so well weighted when you pull it, the doors themselves feel sturdy and hold their position, like in Porsche vehicles. Panel gaps are non existent, and everything clicks together as if they are made for each other.
Such is the level of opulence and luxury you get with Rolls Royce, and it is unbeatable in this front.
How it powers the straights : Performance
The Cullinan gets a 6.75-litre V12 engine, which makes
- 563 BHP at 5000 RPM
- 850 Nm at 1600 RPM
The Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge gets an increase of about 30 HP and 50 Nm of torque.
As for the driving, we were provided the Black Badge variant of the Cullinan for our testing.
The motor is supremely refined, you can barely hear anything at all but get hard on the gas and the sport exhausts emit a nice growl, signifying the sporty intentions of the Cullinan. Performance is linear throughout, lag is well contained and the motor pulls strongly throughout the rev range. There is no tachometer here so you can’t gauge the revs, neither does Rolls-Royce reveal performance figures but 0-100 km/hr takes 4.9 seconds and the top speed is 250 km/hr.
The gearbox is so smooth that one can barely feel the gear shifts.
Twin Turbo V12 motor is remarkably refined & has absurd amounts of torque
The Cullinan doesn’t get any sport mode but there is a Low mode which increases the enthusiasm from the powertrain, keeping the 8-speed gearbox in a lower gear for added oomph. The torque-converter transmission is super refined (but you can’t control the gears because of no paddle shifters), quick but silent with shifts and the engine and gearbox work with a sense of secrecy that is astounding, to say the least.
How it handles the corners : Vehicle Dynamics
Rolls-Royce has given the Black Badge version of the Cullinan some hardware updates to further improve the driving experience.
Underpinned by the ‘Architecture of Luxury’ all-aluminium platform, the Black Badge gets updated brakes (bigger discs and reduced pedal play), stiffer suspension and tighter steering, all resulting in a more involving drive experience. This ultra-luxury SUV is very intimidating because it’s huge in terms of size but the steering is light at low speeds (but weighs up fantastically well at higher speeds) and the visibility all-around is great.
The stiffer suspension helps contain body roll but it still has quite a lot of roll which can be felt around the corners and also under heavy braking as there is nose dive, stopping power is surreal though.
The Cullinan has exceptional levels of grip along with powerful brakes
By sensing the road ahead, the Cullinan will adjust its suspension to ensure the best ride quality for its passengers
Handling is good by SUV standards (it gets rear-wheel steering too) but it’s really the ride quality which continues to be the highlight as it’s simply phenomenal. The Cullinan wafts along, absorbing the worst in its stride with no hiccups whatsoever. The car gets self-levelling air suspension with electronically controlled dampers for the ‘Magic Carpet Ride’.
But it’s really the ‘Flagbearer’ a.k.a. the camera which reads road surfaces ahead and makes adjustments till a speed of 100 km/hr which ensures the great ride of the Cullinan. Grip is in abundance and the Cullinan can go off-road too with the off-road mode increasing the ground clearance by 40 mm. Rolls-Royce has kept it simple by not offering off-road modes, it’s all about the experience here which is further amplified with the view of the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ when you drive the Cullinan.
The Cullinan is Rolls’ answer to the ever exploding market of ultra premium SUVs. A trend first started by the Bentayga and further carried on by the Urus. Each manufacturer have tried their best to port their philosophy into an entirely new, bigger form factor.
Rolls Royce have done a great job of ensuring that this car conforms to the legacy of the spirit of ecstasy, and has given it enough prowess to truly be used as an SUV. However the truth is that almost all of these SUVs will be spending their time on the road.
The Black Badge takes full advantage of this fact, and delivers to be a very powerful offering, that glides on road at a bistering speed, while maintaining the sky high standards of comfort we all have come to expect from Rolls.
If you’re in the market for a premium SUV, and are looking for a luxurious one, you would indeed be hard pressed to find an offering better than this. The Urus is the sportier option, while the Bentayga sits somewhere in the middle of the scale.