Despite how urbanised the world is seemingly becoming, the truth is, the majority of our blue planet’s land still remains unpaved. From the expansive desert sand dunes of the Far East to the dense tropical rainforests of the Amazon, there are so many places that we have yet to explore and maybe even civilise. Understandably, heading off the safety and comfort of our smooth, tarmacadam coated highways to the unknown unsealed trails and beyond is generally viewed as the domain for the rugged, unrefined or uncouth (I’m talking about vehicles rather than people here), but luxury lifestyle brand Rolls-Royce has now come up with another option and I got to check it out.
Aptly named after the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found, the Cullinan is Rolls-Royce’s first ever SUV and boy is it a good one.
Our rendezvous was at Parihoa estate on the west coast and I arrived justifiably early. Set on 600 acres of highly undulated and extremely breathtaking coastline near Muriwai, Parihoa ‘Friendly Cliffs’ Farm provided the perfect backdrop for my first encounter with the very impressive Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
With the large Pantheon grille and the highest ever positioned, Spirit of Ecstacy riding atop, the Cullinan is unmistakeably a Rolls-Royce but the deep-set headlights that boast daytime running light ‘warrior eyebrows’ offer a uniquely stern and meaningful expression to their new SUV. There is a utilitarian poise to the Cullinan’s profile scuff plates and an aluminium ‘spear’ trim provide protection to the vehicle and prevent stone or gravel damaging the side, while aluminium plates and exposed tailpipes complete the rear. It has a high roofline that peaks at the A-pillar, with a fastback flow that joins the ‘bustleback’ design of the rear (inspired by the tourers of the 1920s when they used to put luggage outside the vehicle).
On the subject of luggage, an automated two-gate door design gains you entry to 600 litres of space within and then extended up to 1,930 litres when you electronically lower the rear seats. The luggage area floor will also lay flat or tilt automatically upon request.
Access to the Cullinan’s Italian couture inspired ‘box grain leather‘ soaked interior comes via coach doors, it really is a cool, sight to behold and so very Rolls-Royce. You have the choice of four- or five-seat configurations, depending on your needs, too. Those that have been inside a modern Rolls-Royce will be familiar with the Cullinan’s lavishness and stunning array of instrumentation, for those that have not, I strongly urge you to go and check it out. It’s all you’d hope for and more—rest assured, this is not your run of the mill off-roader.
The driving force behind the Cullinan is a 6.75L twin-turbo V12. It provides 420kW of power and an Earth turning 850Nm of torque from around 1,600rpm, so it’s there from the moment you dab that accelerator. Although the Cullinan tips the scales at a very reassuring 2,660kg, the V12 will get you from a standing start to 100 km/h in just 5.2seconds.
Enough of all that, I’m sure what you really want to know is how does it drive? Well in a word, exquisite. We began our circuit on Parihoa’s rather rough, loose metal drive and the Cullinan barely acknowledged it. The aluminium ‘architecture of luxury’ chassis simply floated over the unkempt surface and the V12 didn’t utter a word. The short hill climb passed by un-noticed and the steering totally ignored the bumps, including the cattle grid.
The Cullinan is a big vehicle yet for some inexplicable reason, it doesn’t feel it. It’s welcoming and immediately puts you at ease. I was expecting the ride to feel different when we left the estate and joined the tarmac roads but quite seriously, the terrain was irrelevant, they were both as smooth as silk. What the new surface did allow, however, was a chance to push the accelerator to the floor and test out that V12. The speed is delivered effortlessly and if it wasn’t for the Cullinan’s nose rising a little (and the needle on the speedo rising a lot) you’d swear nothing had changed at all. Around the tight turns of Muriwai the large SUV offered next to zero body roll and the four-wheel steering negotiated the bends with medium-sized vehicle aplomb, the eight-speed box never struggling to find a gear or even noticeably changing for that matter.
The 30 or so minute drive was over in a flash and as we made our way back to the estate, I thought about this new SUV. The Cullinan is all I’d hoped it would be and so much more. Sure it handles the day to day urban life with the superior Rolls-Royceness I would expect, but it’s the way it simply glided over the uneven rural surfaces that really grabbed my attention. It’s calm and unfaltering, quiet and ultimately luxurious—summing it up, the Cullinan really is a diamond in the rough.
Words — Dave McLeod