Rolls-Royce and SUVs could, on the face of it, be as diametrically opposed as it gets. Rolls-Royce is the pinnacle of luxury British motoring, an icon of class and stoicism above all else.
SUVs, on the other hand, are the virulent, fashion-based product of a twisted automotive class system where higher equals better – excluding vans and trucks, of course. There’s something… common about SUVs. Something about it has already devalued in the same way that if everyone was a millionaire, the word would cease to have any meaning.
And yet, here is the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. The product of a car-buying customer demand for a high-riding, rough stuff-capable machine that somehow encapsulates the finest airs and graces of Edwardian-era Great Britain and teams them not only with the outstanding technical prowess developed through the 2010s, but also its most infectious and omnipresent design trends.
Let’s face it, SUVs are now everywhere. Ford has even culled almost all of its North American cars because people don’t want them any more. They want the same cars, but on stilts. You can buy SUV-ified city cars, family cars and business cars. The SUV, once a sign that you lived on a farm and needed something you could hose out at the end of the day, has become absolutely derivative.
Whatever you think of it, SUVs are the new centre of gravity. The new normal. The Cullinan is a response to that; a conscious effort to keep Rolls’ products current in a world where everyone from the minimum wage worker to the wealthiest oil baron wants an SUV. Persevering with saloons, however lovely, was the wrong choice.
This, then, was the right choice: to build the first four-wheel drive Rolls-Royce SUV ever. And, well, I quite like it. You could argue that from some angles it doesn’t really look like a car worth several hundred thousand pounds and I’d agree with you, but I’ve been staring at the press shots and I can’t find a bad angle. The slabby styling that was so ugly on the first BMW-era Phantom works better here. The proportions seem neat and the overall feel hits the nail on the head. I can easily picture one doing some very un-Rolls-ish driving through searing deserts or sweaty jungles.
That said, it’s no mere styling exercise. Suspension that actively pushes a lifted, spinning wheel into the ground for extra traction, adjustable air suspension and a suite of exciting and everyday-useful technologies are signs that this is the Rolls-Royce that will see more actual use than any other before it.
Unless you count the ridiculous legroom offered by the current Phantom, we don’t see any compromises to the Cullinan, either. Fair enough, there’s the faint whiff of fashion hanging over it, but it’s set to be every bit as comfortable as a Rolls-Royce should be. Add to that the kind of desperately privileged features that simply aren’t possible in a saloon, like the Viewing Suite for when you’re watching Tarquin and Arabella playing polo.
There’s something undeniably exciting about this car; something most mud-shy lifted hatchbacks masquerading as SUVs lack. It carries with it a sense of freedom that the stuffier Rolls saloons have always lacked. A Rolls-Royce that you can drive – or be driven in – to anywhere in the paved world is a fine thing, but a Rolls-Royce that can blend obscene comfort with the ability to traverse just about any environment on earth is simply untouchable.
Other off-roaders may still have the measure of it in extreme situations. A Phantom may still have the edge in terms of outright Monaco hotel arrival class. But nothing that’s on sale today can get anywhere near the scope of the Cullinan’s pantheon of talents. Whatever your feelings on SUVs in general, this is probably the best car ever made.