The Rolls-Royce of SUVs (literally) has arrived. We drive it

DAMIEN O'CARROLL
We go for a quiet country drive in a new SUV. A Rolls-Royce SUV, that is.

ROLLS-ROYCE CULLINAN
Price range:
From $505,000 (it's complicated).
Powertrain: 6.75-litre turbo-petrol V12 (420kW/850Nm). Eight-speed automatic, AWD.
Body style: Five-door SUV.
On sale: Now.

Depending on your point of view the idea of a Rolls-Royce SUV is either utterly horrifying or perfectly fitting. Then the company released the Cullinan and the reaction was, well, pretty much the same.

But the Cullinan is here now and we are among the first in the world to drive it. Is it a proper Rolls-Royce? We certainly think so.

Make me an instant expert: what do I need to know?

Cullinan is big and proud and definitely a proper Rolls-Royce.
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Cullinan is big and proud and definitely a proper Rolls-Royce.

Big, bold, proudly ostentatious and, above all else, big again, the Cullinan is either everything a Rolls-Royce SUV should be or an affront to the Rolls-Royce name. It's that whole "point of view" thing again.

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But it would seem that Rolls-Royce has an entirely different point of view. You see, according to the company, the Cullinan isn't anything so vulgar and working class as a mere "SUV" - not at all. It is, in fact, the company's first "high-riding vehicle with AWD."

So if that makes it easier for you to accept the Cullinan, then just run with it. But, I have to say that seeing it in the metal, they might just have a point.

I have to admit I was always floating somewhere in-between on the subject of the Cullinan - it made sense in terms of that is what people want and are buying by the truckload, but still didn't seem quite right.

Tall, square and upright? Yes sir, Rolls-Royce has done that before.
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Tall, square and upright? Yes sir, Rolls-Royce has done that before.

While the Cullinan is huge and imposing, it is the details in its blatantly upright and square design, particularly the clever nods to the big coach-built Rolls-Royce bodies from their early days, that make it all come a bit clearer. As well as add weight to Rolls-Royce's "high-riding vehicle" claims - you see Rolls-Royce always used to build cars like this, it just never called them SUVs then either.

Or had sophisticated AWD systems under them, like the Cullinan does.

The Cullinan is the second Rolls-Royce (following the new Phantom from last year) to appear in the company's new Architecture of Luxury platform that is completely unique to the company and most definitely not borrowed from a BMW - take that Bentley and your silly Volkswagen Group-based Bentayga.

And it is the first Rolls-Royce to send its power to all four wheels.

Where did you drive it?

Family photo at launch-drive location. Are the cars or property worth more here?
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Family photo at launch-drive location. Are the cars or property worth more here?

The launch was held around the narrow and winding roads at Muriwai beach. Yeah, that's right - narrow and winding.

While the launch location was somewhat spectacular and the roads seemingly unsuited to a massive Roller (including gravel), the Cullinan acquitted itself remarkably well.

Once you got used to its size, that is. But that was surprisingly easy to do - thanks to the sheer bluff angularity of the big Rolls, you quickly get a feel for where the extremities are, and it is actually surprisingly agile and responsive for something that big.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan out for a spin at Auckland's west coast beaches. As you do.
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Rolls-Royce Cullinan out for a spin at Auckland's west coast beaches. As you do.

As expected, the steering is light and accurate, but somewhat distant - but that is exactly what you want in a Rolls, Sir.

Oh, and then there's that engine - 6.75-historically-appropriate-litres of twin-turbo V12 power all 2,660kg of Cullinan at a rate that is appropriately cultured, yet still needlessly fast.

It doesn't accelerate so much as majestically gather pace and the brakes, thankfully, are spectacular.

What's the pick of the range?

Rolls-Royce would prefer you not to call Cullinan an SUV. It's a high-bodied vehicle.
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Rolls-Royce would prefer you not to call Cullinan an SUV. It's a high-bodied vehicle.

That will depend on what you will use your Cullinan for.

The Cullinan comes in what is essentially two forms. There's a more flexible five-seat arrangement, with a traditional rear bench seat that folds down allowing you to increase that already cavernous boot. 

Or a more indulgent four seat arrangement with two fixed seats in the rear and a thoroughly magnificent centre console that not only contains the infotainment controls, but also a drinks compartment (complete with a fine decanter and glasses) and, of course, a chiller for the champagne (again, complete with glasses).

If one prefers to be driven rather than drive, one would probably prefer one's Cullinan to have the four-seat cabin.
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If one prefers to be driven rather than drive, one would probably prefer one's Cullinan to have the four-seat cabin.

While the four seat arrangement is more opulent - and essential if you are planning on being driven around in the back - the five seat set up still provides plenty of opulence, but also that simply massive amount of space for messy things such as children and the like.

So it really does depend on whether you will be driving the family around in it, or luxuriating in the rear yourself.

Of course, the four seat version can also have a retractable glass divider between rear seats and the cargo compartment that makes what is already an extremely quite car simply insanely quiet. So there's that.

Why would I buy it?

If you're the driver, you get all the expected Royce luxury - not to mention control of a V12 engine and clever AWD system.
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If you're the driver, you get all the expected Royce luxury - not to mention control of a V12 engine and clever AWD system.

Because you can. Simple as that.

Vehicles like the Cullinan are not a matter of "need", they are a matter of "want". No-one needs a huge, ultra-luxurious SUV (sorry, Rolls), they simply want one. And that is reason enough.

There is also the fact that the Cullinan is currently the cheapest (in relative terms, of course) way into a Rolls-Royce and in its basic, un-optioned form, is not that far off the price of a Bentley Bentayga with a few options on it.

You can't beat the view over the bonnet in any Royce. But especially this one.
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You can't beat the view over the bonnet in any Royce. But especially this one.

And, make no mistake, the Cullinan is still very much a proper Rolls-Royce.

Then there is the view out the windscreen - the Cullinan's flat, wide bonnet is brilliantly reminiscent of a Silver Cloud from the 70s and 80s. That kind of retro perfection doesn't come along often.

Why wouldn't I buy it?

Yes, we got the Royces dirty. It felt naughty.
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Yes, we got the Royces dirty. It felt naughty.

Because you are a normal person with normal requirements and a normal bank account. Go away poor person, you are not needed here.

Or you simply can't get with the idea of a high-riding Rolls-Royce with AWD. But you really should give it a chance - just think how the owners of the mere Bentleys and Range Rovers will feel when you power up over the kerb and onto the lawn at the polo club in one.

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