by Jared Rosenholtz
When Rolls-Royce announced it was building an SUV, we thought the company had gone mad. Rolls-Royce cars are meant for comfort and excess while SUVs are built for ease-of-use and practicality - the concept of a Rolls-Royce SUV couldn't possibly work in our minds. Then, we drove it.
BMW flew us out to Palm Springs, California for an event called TestFest, where we were given the keys to a selection of BMW, Mini, and Rolls-Royce vehicles for an adrenaline-fueled day of track, road, and off-road driving. As soon as BMW let us loose for the day, we made a beeline for the Cullinan to see just how ultra-lux an SUV can be.
Styling is highly subjective but we weren't big fans of the Cullinan when it was first revealed. In all honesty, we think the Cullinan looks like the result of the Grand Theft Auto video game franchise deciding to have a Rolls-Royce-style SUV in the game. After seeing it in person, we can truthfully say our stance on the styling has softened because the Cullinan oozes excess as a Rolls-Royce should.
Rolls-Royce offers over 44,000 colors for the Cullinan and there is absolutely zero chance we'd opt for the silver on our test car. The official color name is actually "silver," how boring is that? There was another Cullinan at the event (you can find in the gallery) finished in a more interesting shade called Dark Emerald, which is far more eye-catching.
Rolls-Royce only offers one engine in the Cullinan, a 6.75-liter twin-turbo V12 silently producing 562 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. All of the power is sent out through an eight-speed automatic transmission to all-wheel-drive with all-wheel steering.
Mashing the accelerator in a Rolls-Royce feels as improper as square dancing with the Queen of England but if you are so inclined, the V12 will motivate the 5,864-pound Cullinan to 60 mph in around five seconds. This may not sound rapid but the Cullinan isn't about straight-line acceleration, it accelerates without letting the driver feel the vehicle is even moving. All of this sumptuous performance doesn't come for free because the Cullinan is rather thirsty with fuel economy figures of 12/20/14 mpg city/highway/combined. But when you are spending this amount of cash on an SUV, who cares about how many dead dinosaurs the engine burns?
Stepping into the Cullinan is not like stepping into any other SUV. You don't just let the kids slam the doors shut, they get in, sit down and then press a button. As the doors gracefully thunk into place, the outside world disappears thanks to this bank-vault interior. Every surface is gracefully appointed in wood or leather and all of the buttons and controls are made of either glass or metal. All cars have some plastic but in the Cullinan, it is few and far between.
Rolls-Royce has dedicated this interior to luxury, often forgoing technology and ease-of-use in the process. We drove several other BMW vehicles on the same day as the Cullinan but Rolls' interior felt far less familiar than we anticipated and we had trouble finding certain buttons in our brief test drive. Rolls-Royce also uses an older version of BMW's iDrive, so the Cullinan is not the most advanced vehicle in the BMWs portfolio.
Rolls-Royce tells us that most Cullinan owners will drive the vehicle but we felt as though the back seat is the ideal place to sit. The coach doors allow for easy access into the rear seats and of course you don't have to expend any energy to close them. Plus, they have built-in umbrellas for the chauffeur to hand you in case of inclement weather. Once in a seated position, you'll notice how much leg room there is in the Cullinan. Rolls-Royce has prioritized passenger room over cargo volume, so the rear bench is positioned farther back than it is in most SUVs.
Our tester included lambswool floormats for $1,500, which are incredibly soft to the touch. It also included the Rear Theater Configuration for an additional $8,000, which adds picnic tables in the rear seats with power-folding touchscreens.
We doubt too many owners will dirty up the cargo area of their Cullinan like normal SUV owners would but Rolls-Royce hasn't completely skimped on practicality. The rear cargo area offers 21.2 cubic feet of storage or 68.15 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Opening the rear hatch is similar to the BMW X5 and X7, with a split-folding tailgate. Rolls-Royce even offers optional tailgate seats that hang off the lower part of the hatch but our tester didn't have this option equipped.
We need a new word to describe how the Rolls-Royce Cullinan drives. The experience is light and feathery you barely realize you are driving. Steering is so effortless, you could almost blow on the steering wheel to motivate it left or right. Then there's the ride comfort. Rolls-Royce calls its air suspension Magic Carpet Ride and the name feels apt.
In most SUVs, the weight of the vehicle is flung upwards over bumps and what comes up must come always down - but it doesn't in the Cullinan. We could still feel the body rocking up and down over undulations in the road but when it comes time to crash down violently, the car gradually floats back to Earth with the grace of a tiptoeing ballerina. If there's a more comfortable SUV out there, we haven't driven it. Some people might say that the Cullinan is just a gussied up BMW X7 but the two vehicles don't even share a platform. The X7 is a lovely vehicle but since we've driven both, you can take our word for it that the Rolls-Royce is from a different planet.
As you'd expect of a Rolls-Royce, the Cullinan was not designed for mere mortals. Starting MSRP is a neat and even $325,000, putting the Cullinan far out of the price range of even the most exotic SUVs like the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus. Then there's the option sheet. Our Cullinan was relatively restrained with an as-tested price of $395,025 and the green Cullinan we mentioned earlier, that one was $404,925. This poses an interesting choice - would you rather have a Rolls-Royce Cullinan or a four bedroom house?
Buying an SUV is usually a logical decision based on budget, family constraints, and a small component of style. With the Cullinan, this decision doesn't even come close to using the same logic. You should buy a Rolls-Royce Cullinan because you want the most comfortable and most outrageous SUV money can buy.
No SUV in the world is quite like it. Bentley and Land Rover may offer similar products at a lower price but when arriving at a gala filled with billionaires and movie stars and it's time to make a statement, who wants to be driving the SUV that was "more affordable?" If you can afford it, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan has no equal.