This is the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan and it is unquestionably the most luxurious 4×4 to hit the market – at least until Aston Martin gets in on the act.
The iconic British marque says its first purpose-built sports utility vehicle is inspired by Lawrence of Arabia’s military-readied Roller – although it has undoubtedly been designed with the super-rich in mind – as it curtsies to let you in and deploys leather-bound picnic chairs so you can enjoy equestrian events without ever leaving the vehicle.
Bosses at BMW-owned Rolls-Royce claim the new £250,000 SUV is ‘the ultimate rough diamond’ – taking its name from the legendary 3,106 carat Cullinan gem, unearthed in 1905 in South Africa that was the largest and most flawless ever found and elements of which are in the Crown Jewels.
However, Rolls-Royce will face competition in three years’ time, as fellow British brand Aston Martin has confirmed it will also make its first SUV in 2021 – and that will only come with electric power.
SUV Crown Jewel: The Cullinan name is taken from the legendary 3,106 carat gem, unearthed in 1905 in South Africa that was the largest and most flawless ever found and elements of which are in the Crown Jewels
Pop-out picnic bench: The Cullinan SUV is crammed with clever features. One of our favourites is the ‘viewing suite’ that can be ejected from under the boot floor so you can enjoy watching the polo
The Cullinan will be built at Rolls-Royce’s boutique factory at Goodwood, in Sussex.
Launched to capitalise on the booming market for luxury off-roaders that’s recently seen the likes of Jaguar Maserati and even Lamborghini get in on the act, Rolls-Royce is outright refusing to call it an SUV, instead referring to the all-new enormous machine as a ‘high-bodied car’.
That doesn’t mean it can’t go off the beaten track, though.
And to prove it, National Geographic has been building up to this week’s glitzy unveiling with a series of videos of a prototype model being ‘tested to destruction’ during rigorous trials around the world.
It’s not like the famed British marque doesn’t have previous when it comes to creating robust all-terrain models – its highly-engineered cars have been used off-road throughout the firm’s 114-year history by the British army and Indian maharajahs, as well as in desert campaigns by Lawrence of Arabia who enthused that ‘A Rolls in the desert is above rubies’.
And this is a seriously high-rech car.
The Cullinan uses the same flexible aluminium space-frame platform as the latest £350,000 eighth-generation Phantom limousine, as it aims to eclipse rival off-roaders such as Bentley’s Bentayga and the range-topping Range Rover SVAutobiography.
Daily Mail motoring editor Ray Massey tries out the Viewing Suite that ejects from under the boot floor of the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan
No slouch: The Rolls-Royce Cullinan uses a 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 engine producing 563bhp and with a top speed that’s limited to 155mph. It will be able to hit 62mph from rest in around 5 seconds
The two different types of Cullinan will also have a different seating arrangement. The tougher example – aimed at those with plenty of cash and kids to transport – will be a five-seater (left), while the more luxurious model will have just two rear-chairs that look like they’ve been pulled from a private jet (right)
Champagne on ice: Owners will be able to relax in the back with a bottle of bubbly that can be stored in a chilled fridge in the centre console and consumed via a pair of Rolls-Royce flutes that appear from a sliding drawer
It features four ‘coach’ doors – where the rear two open outwards from hinges at the back – plus Rolls-Royce’s first ever tailgate at the rear.
Rolls-Royce Cullinan: Luxurious features
• Pop out Viewing Suite: Two rear-facing seats and a small table from boot to offer ‘best seat in the house for watching equestrian events, school sports days or falconry. Touchscreens are also deployed
• Trouser leg/skirt protector: Front and rear coach doors wrap low under the sill to ensure all dirt remain as on the outside of the door, not on the inner sill itself
• It curtsies: Car lowers by 40mm to allow passengers easy entry and exit
• Recreation Modules: Variety of cabinets with motorised drawer that slot into the boot containing bespoke kit for from fly-fishing, shooting, rock-climbing and snow-boarding to drone-racing and photography
• Pavillion seating: Privileged rear passengers sit higher for grandstand views from private jet-like side window, while enjoying privacy when required
• Drinks cabinet: Two rear seats are separated by a fixed centre console incorporating a drinks cabinet, Rolls-Royce whisky glasses and decanter, champagne flutes and a fridge to chill your bottles
• Jet-like cockpit: The hand-crafted luxury cockpit has upper fascia clad in durable and water resistant ‘Box grain’ leather similar to that used in high-end Italian luggage and handbags
• Not just heated seats: Most luxury models have heated seats but the Cullinan also has heated front and rear door arm-rests and heated lids on the centre consoles
Riding on vast 22 inch wheels, there are two main styles the high-end car maker hopes will appeal to its ever-broadening – though always well-heeled – customers.
For those with bags of cash and a bevy of offspring, there’s a flexible five-seat model with a 600-litre boot that can be extended to 1930 litres with the second-row backrests folded flat.
And for VIPs, captains of industry and monarchs on the move, Rolls-Royce has created a statelier four-seater with two ‘pavilion’ chairs in the back.
These have been fixed in a raised grandstand position and the privacy side windows – inspired by those fitted to private jets – allow the chauffeured owner to wave to an adoring crowd if the event requires it or block them out for complete privacy.
And to ensure they’re relaxed at all times, the two executive airline-style rear seats flank a fixed centre console incorporating a drinks cabinet, Rolls-Royce whisky glasses and decanter, champagne flutes and a cool box to chill your bottles.
Even the rear seats have been angled slightly towards each other to allow the two rear occupants to talk to one another without straining their necks.
To make getting in and out of the high-riding car easier too, Cullinan can curtsy by lowering 40mm (one-and-a-half inches) when the driver clicks the unlock button or touches the door handle sensor for keyless entry. It then rises back up when the vehicle’s ‘Start’ button is pressed.
That’s not the only luxuriously practical touch added to the limo-like SUV.
To protect skirts and trouser legs from getting dirty when getting in and out of the giant off-roader, the front and rear coach doors wrap low under the sill to ensure dirt remains on the outside of the door, not on the inner sill itself and in touching distance of fine garments.
Two versions will be available. A more hardened, go-anywhere, model designed to cope with plenty of trips off the tarmac (left) and one that’s a little statlier and crafted for VIPs (right)
Behemoth: It measures in at 5.3 metres long, 2.2 metres wide and 1.8 metres high and tips the scales at 2.66 tonnes
The rivals: The Cullinan puts Rolls-Royce in the race against other luxury SUVs, such as the Bentley Bentaya (left) and the Range Rover SVAutobiography (right)
Many of these features don’t come for free, though, and buyers are expected to pay at least double the £250,000 base price by the time they’ve added their own sumptuous bespoke touches and extras.
One of the most-selected options is likely to be the pop-out ‘viewing suite’ in the boot.
Two chairs and a table emerge from beneath the boot floor at the push of a button to offer the best seats in the house for those attending the races, polo or school sports days. There are also screens just in case you want to catch up on your favourite shows while under the cover of a boot lid.
Aston Martin will also enter the luxury SUV race in 2021
Aston Martin has confirmed that it will also build a luxury SUV under the Lagonda luxury brand in 2021 – and it will be fully electric.
As the reveal image released by the car maker shows, it will take inspiration for the Lagonda Vision Concept limo showcased at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year.
That vehicle was targeted directly at stealing sales from Rolls-Royce’s Phantom – and it appears that in 2021 Aston will go head-to-head with the rival British marque and its Cullinan SUV.
It will share technology with Aston’s forthcoming DBX SUV, which will be built from next year at the firm’s new St Athan factory in South Wales.
And just like the rival Bentley Bentayga, Rolls-Royce will even handcraft special modules and suites for the boot along with bespoke equipment hampers for whatever leisure activity you enjoy most, be it fly-fishing, shooting, rock-climbing, snow-boarding, falconry, drone-racing or photography.
Despite stretching some 17 feet and six inches in length, six feet high, and weighing more than 2.6 tons, it won’t be a slouch.
That’s because it’s powered by a 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 engine developing 563bhp – equivalent to around six Ford Fiestas – that can propel it from rest to 62mph in five seconds.
Foot to the floor and completely flat out, this breeze-block on wheels has a top speed that’s electronically limited to 155mph.
And it should even be usable when owners return to the city from a weekend of tackling mountain sides and sand dunes as it has a relatively nimble turning circle of 13.23 metres.
Coach doors: Rolls-Royce has chosen to remain on brand by keeping a ‘coach door’ element, with the rear door hinged at the back to make it easier to get in and out of the rear
Inside Cullinan, the driver enjoys a hand-crafted luxury cockpit-style dashboard with digital dials and entirely metal or glass switches
The car the curtsies: To make sure it’s easy and clean to get in and out of the Cullinan, it will curtsy by dropping down 40mm to make the step into the back less of a distance and also has specially crafted door sill that will protect your trousers and skirts from dirt
‘Hundreds’ of customers ready to order a Cullinan
Rolls-Royce said there had already been ‘hundreds’ of expressions of interest in Cullinan and the response since its unveiling had ‘exceeded expectations’.
A source noted that within an hour of setting up a disguised version of Cullinan in the window of their flagship dealership in London’s Berkeley Square at 6.30am on Tuesday, one passing customer walked in put down a deposit on the spot.
The firm said demand for a 4X4 had been ‘customer led’ and that Cullinan was a response to that demand and is likely to make up a significant proportion of future sales which last year topped 3,362.
Before the official launch, Rolls-Royce held a series of closed room events around the globe with existing and long-standing super-rich customers who will be among the first to take delivery.
Now the covers are off, the vehicle will be tested by potential customers at a number of events arranged in glamorous hot-spots used exclusively by the seriously wealthy, including the Cote d’Azure in the South of France and Porto Cervo on Sardinia.
But the nature of their customers – from royalty and VIPs to entrepreneurs, sporting legends, rap-artists and movie stars and moguls – means they are tight-lipped on naming names.
All that weight and power does take its toll when it comes to fuel efficiency, however.
The Cullinan will gulp down a gallon of unleaded every 18.8 miles and emit an environmentalist-crippling 341 grams of carbon dioxide every kilometre travelled.
But while it might not be good for your bank account or global warming, it will be good for your back.
It promises a smooth ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ on and off the road thanks to its sophisticated self-levelling air suspension that Rolls-Royce says makes it ‘effortless anywhere’.
Gadgetry also prepares the suspension for any potholes ahead, with a stereo camera system integrated into windscreen that reads the asphalt for bumps and craters and makes adjustments to the chassis so the biggest ripple in the tarmac can’t be felt by those inside.
Sat-nav aided transmission linked to the eight-speed automatic gearbox also prepares the car in advance for upcoming bends so no lurches or surges are experienced by passengers when the driver shifts through the gears.
To hone its composure on all terrains, Rolls-Royce has put it through its paces on the sands of Africa and the Middle East, the canyons and the mountains of North America, the frozen snow and ice of the Arctic Circle, and the rugged glens of Highlands of Scotland – as documented by National Geographic over the last few weeks.
Thirsty work: The Cullinan will gulp down a gallon of unleaded every 18.8 miles and emit an environmentalist-crippling 341 grams of carbon dioxide every kilometre
Interior envy: Owners will have an almost endless choice of finishes for both the interior and exterior. These shots show just how different you can make the cabin look with different leathers and dashboard panels
‘Tested to destruction’: To hone its composure on all terrains, Rolls-Royce has put it through its paces on the sands of Africa and the Middle East, the canyons and the mountains of North America, the frozen snow and ice of the Arctic Circle, and the rugged glens of Highlands of Scotland
That means it can cope with every terrain you throw at it – be it country lanes, city streets, motorways, desert sands, deep snow and ice, rough tracks, gravel, and wet grass.
To ford streams it even has a wading depth of 21.2 inches (540mm), though that’s less than the 900mm boasted by the Land Rover Discovery.
Cullinan’s chief project engineer Caroline Krismer has spent the last five years of her life with her team perfecting the 4X4, the sixth car she has been put in charge of building, but the first Rolls-Royce.
The executive told This is Money: ‘It’s been my passion. I love cars and I love sporty luxury cars. Now it’s here, I have to pinch myself.
‘It’s a car you can drive daily. It’s effortless but with off-road ability.
‘You feel safe in the car when you drive on your own, on the High Street or on the school run.
‘It’s engaging. You don’t have to have that much technical skill to drive it. It’s effortless. You can have your children in the back knowing they are safe and secure.’
Flood-friendly SUV: To ford streams it even has a wading depth of 21.2 inches (540mm), though that’s less than the 900mm boasted by the Land Rover Discovery
Even the switches in the centre console are beautifully crafted. This panel houses the Spirit of Ecstasy controller dial, an ‘Everywhere’ off-road terrain button, a hill descent control switch and a touch-sensitive central information screen
Cullinan’s chief project engineer Caroline Krismer has spent the last five years of her life with her team perfecting the 4X4
Driven to the edge of the world and back: National Geographic has been documenting the test process for the £250,000 SUV
She said it was also ‘regal’, ‘elegant’ and would be ‘perfectly suited’ to a monarch such as Her Majesty the Queen.
Will it fit in my garage?
Style: Rolls-Royce’s first Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) 4X4/ ‘all terrain high-bodied car’
Price: from £250,000
Engine: 6.75 litre twin-turbo V12
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Acceleration 0 to 62 mph: 5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 18.8mpg
Wading depth: 540mm (21.2 inches/1ft 9 inches)
Doors: 4 (plus rear tailgate) – rear coach doors open outwards from hinges at the back
Seats: 4 or 5 depending on style (Magma Red 5, Darkest Tungsten 4)
Length: 5341mm (210 inches/17ft 6 inches)
Width: 2164mm (85inches /7ft 1 inch)
Height: 1835mm (72 inches/6ft )
Wheelbase: 3295mm (130 inches/10ft 10 inches)
Turning circle: 13.23m
Boot volume: 600 litres (with privacy glass cover removed) and up to 1930 litres with rear seats folded down
Weight: 2660kg/ 2.66 tonnes (metric)/5864lbs/2.62 imperial ton
Wheels: 22 inch
‘It’s a very relaxed position sitting in the back. There’s lots of leg room,‘ Krismer suggested.
Intriguingly, Rolls-Royce does not currently hold a Royal Warrant – that went to Bentley when the two firms, once united, were split when BMW bought Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Volkswagen Group bought Bentley.
Inside Cullinan, the driver enjoys a hand-crafted luxury cockpit-style dashboard with digital dials and entirely metal or glass switches, including the centre console panel that houses the Spirit of Ecstasy controller dial, an ‘Everywhere’ off-road terrain button, a hill descent control switch and a touch-sensitive central information screen.
For the utmost comfort, the seats are all heated, as are the arm-rests and the centre console lid.
It’s crammed with more useful and practical tech too.
There are five USB ports, an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless charging for phones at the front.
There is also a high-resolution head-up display equipped with the latest navigation and entertainment systems.
Saferty 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.
Speaking about the new model, Rolls-Royce Motor cars chief executive officer Torsten Müller-Ötvös said: ‘Our customers have been waiting for Rolls-Royce to make a motor car that offers uncompromised luxury wherever its owner dares to venture.
‘Cullinan is that motor car.
‘It is effortless, everywhere. It will simply take the world in its stride.’
The CEO also spoke of his ‘optimism’ about the future of Rolls-Royce in Britain in the wake of Brexit.
‘We’re part of the British Crown Jewels when it comes to brands. It’s where we build our cars,’ Müller-Ötvös said while being interviewed by radio before the Cullinan was showcased.
The go-anywhere ‘high-bodied car’: Rolls-Royce refuses to call the new 4X4 and Sports Utility Vehicle
Power and beauty: Under the massive bonnet is an enormous V12 motor. On top of hood is the traditional Spirit of Ecstasy that can be raised and lowered at the push of a switch
Some 90 per cent of Rolls-Royce’s super-luxury cars built at Goodwood are exported so he hoped a suitable free-trade deal can be struck with the European Union that would allow frictionless movement of business.
He said: ’I’m highly interested in free trade of goods world wide,’ but added that there was ‘uncertainty’ in the run up to a Brexit deal, noting: ’Uncertainty is always poison for business.’
But he stressed: ’At the end of the day I’m an optimist. I hope we can structure a deal.’
The firm, which is owned by Germany’s BMW, employs around 1,400 people and sold 3,362 cars last year, many costing more than £1million each thanks to widespread customisation by wealthy customers.
It expects the Cullinan to become the best-selling model it offers.
A history of Rolls-Royce off the beaten track
Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) driving through Damascus in his Rolls-Royce armoured car named Blue Mist in October 1918
Lawrence of Arabia, the British Army and the Maharajas of India were all big fans of Rolls-Royce’s off-road prowess – even though its early cars were not specifically designed for it.
Rolls-Royce dependability was initially proven over rough roads during the Scottish Reliability Trials of 1907, and the Alpine Trials of 1913. Also in 1907, British businessman Frank Norbury introduced the brand into India by driving a Silver Ghost 620 miles from Bombay to Kolhapur, through the rough terrain of the India Ghat mountain-passes, without incident or fault.
At the outbreak of World War 1 and beyond, British commanders armoured their Rolls-Royces to carry them and their men across the crater-marked and mud-festooned landscape of Northern Europe, going on to serve in campaigns in China, Russia and the Middle East.
The ‘The Tank Corps Journal’ of October 1922 noted how three Rolls-Royces were stripped of all their finery and put to work for the Army as ‘tenders’ – wooden-bodied open bed vehicles with wooden artillery wheels but no other changes to the original Rolls-Royce engineering. The others were armoured cars weighing up to 4 tonnes.
But while other vehicles used on the campaign would regularly break down or become bogged down in the sand, the Rolls-Royces’ superior ability not only retrieved them time and again, but carried a victorious campaign in the treacherous deserts of the Sinai and Palestine.’
Lawrence of Arabia’s armoured Rolls Royce featured at the Royal Automobile Museum in Amman, Jordan
A British Army Rolls-Royce armoured car patrolling the streets of Belfast following rioting in York Street after an Orange Order parade in 1935
The Tank Corps Journal’ noted: ‘The most outstanding incident since the war has been the trip of three Rolls-Royce armoured car tenders from Jerusalem to Baghdad last year.
‘In addition to these three tenders, fitted with Vickers machine guns, the convoy consisted of some other makes, over which the former demonstrated only too often their vast superiority.
‘In all, thirteen back axles were broken on twelve accompanying vehicles whereas the Rolls-Royce cars had no mechanical breakdown, either on the outward or on the return journey.’
The journeys took 28 days going and 18 days coming back, with one particularly rough stretch of 10 miles taking two days to cover. The Journal noted: ‘The return journey would have been much quicker but for the delay caused by some accompanying vehicles, which occasionally had to be towed by the Rolls-Royces.’
It added; ‘Furthermore in West Africa during the same period during several months of extremely arduous work, over country which was devoid entirely of roads and consisted mainly of desert sands and rock-strewn highlands, not a single Rolls-Royce armoured car was laid up for an hour, except as a result of the enemy’s fire. ‘
A convoy of Rolls Royce armoured cars believed to be near Peshawar
Even Russian revolutionary communist Vladimir Ilych Lenin, who fought to bring down world capitalism, couldn’t help but be seduced by one of its most potent symbols – enjoying among his collection a specially adapted half-track Silver Ghost with skis to cope with Siberian winters.
‘Rolls-Royce motor Cars chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös said: ’History set our precedent, and today Rolls-Royce answers its call to action. Our answer to history, to the visionaries, adventurers, explorers and those who believe in the supremacy of liberty is the Rolls-Royce Cullinan.’
CARS & MOTORING: ON TEST