The 2019 Cullinan breaks a lot of new ground for Rolls-Royce. It is the first Rolls to have all-wheel drive, the first with a hatchback, and—in a more modest step forward—the first to use touchscreens for its infotainment system. Yet all that fades into insignificance next to the most obvious difference between this and every other vehicle Rolls has made throughout its 112-year history: This is the company’s first SUV.
The design language of ultra luxury sedans does not translate easily to the taller dimensions of SUVs, yet Rolls-Royce’s styling team—under the leadership of Giles Taylor—has managed to make the Cullinan look nobler and classier than the towering gin palace that is the Bentley Bentayga. The presence of the brand’s trademark Parthenon grille is no surprise, although the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament now sits at chest height for most observers. The decision to give the Cullinan the same suicide-style “coach” doors as Rolls sedans is a braver one. The back door finishes ahead of the rear wheel arch, with the lack of a trunk altering the proportions of its profile and making the rear aperture appear slightly short. Although it is a hatchback, the upper part of the Cullinan’s split tailgate has a stepped design that hints at the missing third box.
Rolls-Royce says that 96 percent of its cars are bought with at least some bespoke options. And along with the ability to choose unlikely trim colors and materials, Cullinan buyers will also be able to radically alter the car’s interior layout depending on how they plan to use it. The majority of buyers are expected to go for the conventional back seat, offering three-abreast seating and turning the Cullinan into something of a billionaire’s five-person family bus. We suspect any lighter-colored or softer trim will struggle against the sort of mess even the wealthiest children are likely to generate. The power-folding bench collapses to improve on the already generous cargo space for those trips to whatever the ultrahigh-net-worth equivalent of IKEA is. Rolls will also offer a variety of lifestyle-enhancing “cassettes” that clip to the cargo floor. The first of these is called the Viewing Suite, two rear-facing fold-out seats and a pop-up table designed for spectating at outdoor events—and for rubbing fellow spectators’ noses in the fact that you own a Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
More-toffee-nosed buyers will likely spec the two-seat second row that comes with a fixed bulkhead and a glass screen that rises out of it to fully separate baggage and passenger compartments. Thus specified, the Cullinan does a good impression of a more traditional luxury sedan. This, along with rear curtains and tinted glass, is sure to be the choice of those planning to be chauffeured. All versions feature plush materials and design cues from elsewhere in the range. Buyers who park their Cullinan next to their other Rolls-Royces will recognize the mechanical rotary climate controls and the optional power-folding tray tables in the backs of the front seats.
While CEO Müller-Ötvös confirms that Rolls designed the Cullinan with electrification in mind (most likely a plug-in hybrid), the SUV launches with a reassuringly traditional V-12 power plant. The twin-turbocharged 6.7-liter is the same unit found in the Phantom, matching that car’s 563-hp peak but producing slightly less torque—627 pound-feet versus 664. A zero-to-60-mph time in the low fives seems likely. Rolls-Royce quoted us a top speed of 155 mph.
Torque is directed through the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed automatic. The all-wheel-drive system is—naturally—rear biased, with the Cullinan regularly channeling up to 90 percent of its torque to the rear axle. Rolls figures at least some owners will use it for strenuous off-roading, and a Low button on the column-mounted gear-selector wand holds the transmission in second gear to help in tricky conditions. Especially sand. “Dune bashing is a fundamentally important story in the Middle East,” Müller-Ötvös explains. “You can’t sell a car that needs to be parked so people can swap into their Land Cruiser to get to their weekend retreat.”