First Drive: 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan

Mark Smyth enjoys an exclusive drive in the brand new Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV

07 October 2018 - 18:40 By Thomas Falkiner
The new Rolls-Royce Cullinan
The new Rolls-Royce Cullinan

When I first heard the marketing line for the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan was going to be “Effortless, Everywhere”, I was skeptical. After all, it’s no Range Rover, the brand has a bit of intercontinental rally heritage but not decades of off-road expertise. And besides, the Cullinan doesn’t even have full wheel articulation like a Range Rover, a Jeep or a Land Cruiser. So surely not “everywhere”?

I was overthinking it, because according to the team behind the new Cullinan at its launch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the US, owners don’t need it to go everywhere. They don’t need it to climb every mountain and ford every stream - they have a Range Rover, or maybe two. And probably a Gelandewagen too.

What the customers said they wanted, way back when the project started around five years ago, is an SUV that can take them, their kids and their dogs to places in the style to which they have become accustomed, in the style of a Rolls-Royce.

The interior features all the usual Rolls-Royce handcrafted materials and bespoke options.
The interior features all the usual Rolls-Royce handcrafted materials and bespoke options.
Image: Mark Smyth

We went to Jackson Hole, the place where Dances with Wolves was filmed and the place where the big corporate bankers gather every year. We went there to see if Rolls-Royce has made what it set out to make, the Rolls-Royce of SUVs.

By gosh Jeeves, it actually has you know. Not that Jeeves has anything to do with this one, Rolls says the Cullinan is meant to be driven. Sorry Jeeves. But driven where?

Well on the roads around Jackson Hole, between the Yellowstone National Park and the Teton Mountains, it behaved like a Rolls should. It gracefully cruised along the major roads at the speed limits with the Power Reserve needle barely even leaving its starting point. Basically, it was like being in any other Rolls-Royce, providing grace and pace and all that.

But the SUV which was named after the world’s biggest diamond, found of course in the Cullinan mine in South Africa, is engineered to go where no other Rolls-Royce should go – off-road.

The side profile shows the three-box design the company wanted to provide
The side profile shows the three-box design the company wanted to provide
Image: Mark Smyth

It has a single button labelled, rather simply, “off-road” which puts it into auto and off you go. You can choose from six settings individually if you prefer. The Cullinan has hill descent control too which we put to the test while heading down the side of a ski slope on Snow King mountain. It performed well, doing exactly what we expected as it controlled around 2 600kg of hand crafted engineering down the slope.

It did well going up too, with barely any wheel slippage even on the 22-inch rims and all-weather tyres. This wasn’t serious off-roading though, not like many are used too in SA, but it was not something I had ever done in a Rolls before and it was impressive.

There were times I had to remind myself what I was doing as I watched the Spirit of Ecstasy leading us along a narrow gravel track between the golden autumn trees as we listened out for bears. Except you would not hear a bear until it was swinging at you because the effect of over 100kg of sound deadening material in the Cullinan is that I could not even hear the sound of charging through a muddy puddle. That’s impressive.

The Cullinan is more than capable of taking you up and down the occasional mountain pass.
The Cullinan is more than capable of taking you up and down the occasional mountain pass.
Image: Mark Smyth

Also impressive was the dirt road handling helped by the inclusion of three stabilisation bars and rear-wheel steering, the latter enabling much tighter turns and sharper turn-in when at a slightly more spirited pace. All of this in a massive SUV, a Rolls-Royce SUV.

And that Rolls-Royce name means a high level of engineering and craftsmanship. The sumptuous leather, the sink your feet in carpets and the vast array of options, including bespoke picnic hampers, a fridge between the rear seats if you opt for individual pews rather than the family seat or those theatre chairs that slide out from beneath the boot floor. We can go on about options, but the list is quite frankly, endless.

Is it expensive? Yes. Rolls doesn’t really give prices, but it’s in the millions, lots of them. Do people need one? No, not really. A Range Rover will do everything and more and a Lamborghini Urus will cover ground on a gravel road quicker. But it’s a Rolls-Royce, the Rolls-Royce of SUVs. That’s what customers asked for and that’s definitely what Rolls has definitely delivered.

X