by Karl Furlong
Pressure is a privilege. It's the title of a book by tennis legend and former world number one Billie Jean King and an appropriate term used to describe someone - or even something - at the very top of their game. You'd think, therefore, that the $325,000 Rolls-Royce Cullinan, by far the most expensive SUV listed on the CarBuzz website, would feel considerable pressure to deliver on its sky-high price tag and the expectations that come with the Spirit of Ecstacy badge resting atop its majestic grille. And yet, nothing about this extravagant SUV - the first of its kind from Rolls-Royce - feels remotely pressured. With a distinctly unstressed 6.75-liter V12 engine delivering 563 horsepower and a supremely comfortable ride, the Cullinan coasts along as if it doesn't have a care in the world and you, the driver, will feel the same by extension. The impression is heightened if you're seated at the back where you'll be greeted by a cabin that is a masterpiece of elegant design, artfully integrated technology, and unsurpassed luxury. The world's top athletes may relish in the arduous task of constantly keeping their challengers at bay, but the unmatched Cullinan ends up being the victor of the SUV world without so much as breaking a sweat. Game, set, match, Rolls-Royce.
Newly introduced for the 2019 model year, the still-fresh Cullinan is the British luxury automaker's first SUV. It is also the brand's first all-wheel-drive vehicle and sits below the Phantom in the Rolls-Royce lineup. For 2020, the Cullinan marches on without any significant updates, retaining the 6.75-liter V12 engine and the exquisite cabin that can be customized to the customers' exacting tastes. The brand did, however, introduce a special Cullinan Black Badge model late last year. Besides a bolder new look, it gets a bump up in power to 592 hp and, with it, a reduced 0-60 mph sprint time of just 4.9 seconds. A newly introduced option - Sanctuary Seats - provides even more comfort for rear-seat passengers.
Retaining the controversial but unmistakably Rolls-Royce design from last year, the Cullinan's styling has been the subject of much debate since it was launched. We'll merely say that while it does have some less flattering angles, it achieves its objective of announcing your arrival - and then some. The blunt front design is highlighted by the vast Pantheon grille and the Spirit of Ecstacy mascot above it. The wheel size is an enormous 22 inches and their self-righting wheel centers always display the Rolls-Royce badge in its correct, upright position. Obviously, a power liftgate is fitted for easier access to the cargo area. Like other cars in the luxury automaker's range, the Cullinan gets rear-hinged coach doors at the back. The special Black Badge trim has unique 22-inch alloy wheels with a gloss black/polished finish and partially conceals colored brake calipers, a first for any Rolls-Royce.
The key dimensions don't lie: the Cullinan is a proper hulk of an SUV. It measures 210 inches long, 79 inches wide (85 with mirrors), and 72 inches in height (unladen) while riding on a 130-inch wheelbase. To put that into perspective, the Cullinan is 4.8 inches longer than the Mercedes-Benz GLS, and the German is anything but small. Although most owners are highly unlikely to take the Cullinan off-road, it has been engineered with some capability on the rough stuff so it has a decent wading depth of just under 20 inches. By selecting the off-road mode, the maximum ground clearance increases to about nine inches.
There is a penalty to pay for the Cullinan's spectacular refinement and its many creature comforts, though - curb weight is a portly 6,069 pounds. That's a full 370 lbs heavier than the Mercedes GLS 580.
An endless selection of colors makes ordering a Cullinan a time-consuming exercise, but you'll never be able to complain that the shade you wanted wasn't available. Using the brand's online configurator, we were able to access well over 50 individual colors. The standard range includes colors like Black Diamond, Petra Gold, Anthracite, and English White. Under the 'Commissioned Collection' range, there are more flamboyant shades like Dark Indigo and Lyrical Copper. You can also delve into the crystal finish selection with options like Crystal over Black and Crystal over Magma Red. The choice really is vast.
There is only one engine choice for the Cullinan but it provides the mega SUV with more performance than most are likely to use. The 6.75-liter V12 produces 563 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque and sends power to all four of those gigantic wheels to launch the Rolls-Royce to 60 mph in five seconds dead on its way to a top speed of 155 mph. Not that owners of this regal SUV will care, but the Bentley Bentayga Speed is even faster, shaving more than a second off the Cullinan's benchmark sprint time. The Lamborghini Urus is even quicker, but then again, the Cullinan was never built to be the fastest SUV in the world. When driving it, one also feels encouraged to take it easy rather than resort to hooligan antics. Make no mistake, though, it is still a seriously quick luxury SUV. The Black Badge trim is the performer of the two-strong range thanks to its beefier outputs of 592 hp and 664 lb-ft.
The Rolls reminds you it is still a useful SUV with an ability to tow up to 7,275 lbs - not quite as good as the Bentayga's 7,716 lbs, but not far off, either.
In lesser cars, aspects like fuel-efficiency and straight-line performance are often the top priorities when developing their engines. In the Rolls-Royce, these aspects are likely secondary to refinement and effortlessness; above all else, a $325k luxury SUV should be motivated by an engine that disappears into the background most of the time, but also has a sense of occasion when extended. The 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V12 fits this description to a tee. A mildly reworked version of the engine in the Phantom, it produces 563 hp and 627 lb-ft - that torque output is available from below 2,000 rpm, so there's rarely any need for wide throttle openings. Such is the Cullinan's refinement that it doesn't actually feel as fast as it is, so the speedometer is more useful in this SUV than in most other vehicles. Passing slower traffic is a breeze thanks to the engine's power and the responsive, yet silky smooth, eight-speed automatic transmission. The Black Badge version develops 592 hp and 664 lb-ft. It features a recalibrated shift pattern for the transmission and a fruitier exhaust note - the bump up in power is more discernible than you'd think; this is the model to choose if you'll be behind the wheel yourself.
Without question, this is the smoothest-driving SUV in the world. That's not surprising since the Cullinan shares the Phantom's "Architecture of Luxury" platform. The setup makes use of a double-wishbone front axle, along with a five-link rear axle and together, Rolls-Royce promises improved stability. The air suspension also features self-leveling and what the marque calls Magic Carpet Ride - this tells you everything you need to know about how serene and quiet the Cullinan experience is. Competing with the tranquil ride is the total absence of road and mechanical noise - it really needs to be experienced to be believed.
The steering is also unlike the systems in most other modern cars. With no attempt at all to come across as sporty, the Cullinan can be turned with the most gentle touch, so minimal is the effort needed to turn the wheel. It's just another aspect that encourages you to settle into a dignified, easy rhythm with this SUV. This doesn't mean that it can't handle, though. The Cullinan's body control is exemplary and the electric power steering allows you to place this SUV with accuracy, even at higher speeds. It's just rare that you'll ever be encouraged to hustle something so smooth.
Off-road, the Cullinan acquits itself surprisingly well, although its ability over rough terrain will likely be more of a conversation piece at the golf course than anything approaching reality. For what it's worth, activating off-road mode raises the suspension by just over 1.5 inches and torque is sent to all wheels to improve traction on loose or slippery surfaces.
When you can spend over $300,000 on an SUV, fuel-efficiency is unlikely to keep you up at night. For most of us mere mortals, the Cullinan's EPA-rated figures of 12/20/14 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles would necessitate a desperate recalculation of monthly expenses, but they're in line with the Cullinan's size, weight, and power. According to the EPA, you'll spend around $3,350 on your annual fuel costs based on 15,000 miles covered. With its heavy drinking habits, the Cullinan is also subject to an additional gas-guzzler tax.
Despite the BMW parent company, it's immediately apparent that the Cullinan is a lot more Rolls-Royce and a lot less BMW inside. That means a cabin that is unmatched for quality and opulence. At this level, it's the methodical detailing that captures your attention: the aluminum door sills with the Cullinan insignia integrated into it, the Spirit of Ecstacy delicately embroidered into the leather-lined door panels, the perfectly weighted joystick that controls the side mirrors, and leather-wrapping on the climate control dials. The seats are sumptuous and the rear compartment has stretch-out space, even for taller occupants. Every possible luxury feature is available, from power-adjustable headrests to rear coach doors that softly swing closed at the touch of a button. Ergonomically, it's not always easy to find the button you're looking for, but the Cullinan's cabin is certainly a showcase of what can be achieved if no expense is spared.
The Cullinan seats five passengers before ticking any options, with a rear bench accommodating three occupants in comfort. However, we expect that many customers will go for the 'Immersive Seating' option - this replaces the rear bench with two indulgent seats. These seats feature massaging comfort fit for a king, along with a center console housing either a champagne cooler or a whiskey decanter. Two whiskey glasses or champagne flutes are then neatly held in place by cupholders with fixtures that clip onto the bottom of the glasses - of course, your drink tipping over in the back of a Rolls would be a most unseemly event. The legroom on offer is exceptional.
For the driver - or should we say, chauffeur - the seat and steering wheel are also infinitely adjustable. The high-set, commanding driving position provides a clear view of most other road users. In front, the headroom and legroom are also ample, a result of the Cullinan's epic dimensions. Large door openings make it easy to board this luxury ship, and of course, being able to press a button to close the doors is an excess that few won't savor.
From the fine leathers to the gorgeous wood trim, everything you see and touch in the Cullinan's cabin feels upscale. As with the exterior, there's no end to the level of customization available inside. You can choose from primary leather colors like Navy Blue, Ardent Red, and Seashell, but there are also some eye-popping options like Tailored Purple and Mandarin. The secondary leather shades are just as comprehensive. Even the armrests and seat inserts can be individually optioned in a color of your choice. A variety of leather detailing options includes adding the RR monogram to the headrests, an instrument panel with top-stitching, and contrast seat piping.
Veneers range from Black Badge Technical Carbon to Piano Black, with extended veneers available along with a color steering wheel. One of the most spectacular options is a shooting star headliner with fiber optic tracks that mimic the appearance of shooting stars. Leather or unbelievably soft lambswool floor mats are also available and, overall, creating your perfect Cullinan interior is probably a job best left to a professional interior designer.
Despite the Cullinan's extended length, it's evident that most of that went into freeing up as much passenger space as possible rather than prioritizing trunk capacity. Cargo capacity varies between 19.8 cubic feet and 21.2 cubes (if you remove the parcel shelf removed). Although this isn't small, a BMW X3 provides up to 28.7 cubes of space behind the second row, but like every other SUV on the planet, it can't match the Cullinan's rear-seat opulence. The trunk area is as beautifully finished as the rest of the cabin, but the wheel arches do intrude significantly so overall width can be an issue for broader items.
A power-operated split-tailgate design sees the bottom section open individually, making for a comfortable perch from which to watch the sunset. If sitting on a well-carpeted tailgate is too crude, you can option on a viewing suite which comprises two electronically deployable seats trimmed in leather. Also available is an underfloor storage compartment. The rear seats can fold at the touch of a button and, while this creates a hump in the floor at the base of the second row of seats, this is easily alleviated by automatically raising the trunk floor for a flatter surface that allows you to slide large items inside. The cabin features various cubbies for small items and cupholders front and rear - there's more attention to detail on display here with a softly damped lid covering the small storage compartment ahead of the central armrest. Picnic tables in a range of veneers are available at the back, too.
Every imaginable luxury item is fitted to the Cullinan and if it isn't, Rolls-Royce will likely find a way to include it for you. The base price will get you four-zone automatic climate control, a cooled glovebox, a panorama glass roof, a headlight washer system, adaptive LED headlights, power-adjustable and heated front seats with a memory system, a heated steering wheel, and more leather and wood trim than you'll know what to do with. Seat massaging is also standard, and it goes without saying that conveniences like a power liftgate, keyless entry, and remote engine start are also included. Customization is endless, starting with the replacement of the rear bench with two captain's chairs that are ventilated and which have massaging functions. A glass partition is available to separate the passenger compartment from the trunk area entirely, while electrically deployable seats can be fitted - these are situated on the trunk lid when it is opened. The doors can also be closed at the touch of a button, while you can personalize another Rolls-Royce trademark: umbrellas stored in the doors. Forward-collision warning and lane departure warning are among the standard driver safety aids.
The Rolls-Royce doesn't have the most advanced infotainment system in the world - it's essentially BMW's iDrive, but not the latest version that you can find in the 3 Series. Still, using the rotary knob is reasonably intuitive and there are eight buttons at the base of the 10.25-inch color screen which can be programmed to jump straight to, for example, the settings for the navigation system. Most of the connectivity features you'd expect are in place, from Bluetooth to HD Radio, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio input, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. Apple CarPlay isn't available and the same goes for Android Auto, just one example of how the Cullinan isn't quite at the cutting edge of technology integration. On the plus side, the 18-speaker audio system can be enjoyed in all its glory thanks to the superb sound insulation, and a Rolls-Royce bespoke audio system is available as well. You can also opt for the rear theatre configuration which includes two 12-inch electrically deployable high-definition screens on the front seatbacks. A rear central controller allows you to easily control this system.
J.D. Power hasn't yet given the Cullinan a rating, but the luxury SUV was recalled twice last year. In one instance, there was an issue with the rearview camera which potentially wouldn't display an image - this is a problem shared with some BMW models. The second recall was for brake lights that were found to be too dim, decreasing visibility for following traffic.
Other than these issues, the Cullinan hasn't had any serious known maladies. The impressive warranty carries no mileage limitation and includes powertrain coverage for a total of four years. Maintenance and roadside assistance are also for four years, while corrosion coverage runs for six years.
Both the IIHS and the NHTSA tend not to crash-test exotics, so we've all been spared the trauma of a Rolls-Royce Cullinan being obliterated by a concrete barrier. It does mean that there are no official crash ratings for the SUV, but it's hard to imagine that it won't effectively protect occupants if the worst happens.
As standard, the Cullinan is fitted with cornering brake control, brake assist, a full suite of airbags including side-curtain airbags, a hill-holder function, tire pressure monitoring, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
An available Driver Assistance package bundles together night vision, park assist (with ultrasonic sensors in the bumpers), and active cruise control. Other safety features include forward collision warning (with emergency braking) along with lane departure warning, an alertness assistant, and cross-traffic monitoring. An advanced four-camera system with panoramic views provides superb driver visibility when negotiating tight spots and is much appreciated considering the Cullinan's size, while a high-resolution head-up display projects key information into the driver's line of sight.
The Cullinan was built to be the best SUV in the world and, for the most part, Rolls-Royce has succeeded in creating exactly that. Customers clearly agree because the Cullinan contributed to 2019 being the best sales year ever for the British brand. All the traditional Rolls-Royce virtues are firmly intact here, from the imposing styling to the breathtaking cabin and the Cullinan's otherworldly ability to isolate driver and occupants from the outside world. We've said it before and we'll say it again: no other SUV rides as well as this one. Its vast customization potential is precisely what buyers at this price point crave - they'll be able to create a bespoke product that they're unlikely to encounter anywhere else on the road. At over $300,000, the Cullinan has no competition, at least in terms of cost and status. The Bentley Bentayga is perhaps the closest competitor, but even that isn't as polished as the Rolls, and the Bentayga was built with a greater emphasis on the driver. So, despite the Cullinan's sky-high price, average infotainment system, and ostentatious nature, we can't deny that it's Rolls-Royce at its best, and that means everything else pales in comparison.
A starting price of $325,000 ensures that the Cullinan is the preserve of a small elite. This price excludes tax, registration, and licensing, and doesn't take into account the $2,750 destination charge and the myriad of available (and extravagantly priced) options.
If the 'base' model isn't quite enough, you can always opt for the Cullinan Black Badge at $382,000. Not only does it boast even more power, but it has its own range of bespoke trim and color options.
No other SUV is priced at the Cullinan's level. The closest you'll get is the Bentley Bentayga Speed, which carries an MSRP of $240,400, qualifying it for the title of the world's most expensive bargain - relatively speaking, of course.
Technically, there are just two trims: the Cullinan and the Cullinan Black Badge. We say technically because the boundless customization potential essentially means you can create your own trim, with a range of materials and features that are entirely different from another Cullinan. Nevertheless, both the Cullinan and Cullinan Black Badge are fitted with a 6.75-liter V12 engine with twin-turbocharging. In the Cullinan, the engine produces 563 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque, while the Black Badge's engine has been retuned for peak outputs of 592 hp and 664 lb-ft. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard on both models, along with all-wheel-drive and a self-leveling air suspension.
The Cullinan's dramatic exterior is defined by a long hood, 22-inch wheels, and a glass roof. The coach-style rear doors are a Rolls-Royce trademark and, at the press of a button, can be closed from the inside. Sumptuous leather upholstery is standard, along with power-adjustable and heated front seats. The four-zone climate control system keeps all occupants comfortable, and they'll also appreciate the 18-speaker audio system. A rearview camera, navigation, cruise control, and a power liftgate are also standard. Aside from the wide selection of colors and trims, you can also specify options like electrically deployable viewing seats which pop out of the back, a rear-seat entertainment system with dual 12-inch monitors, and a four-seater option with two magnificent captain's chairs at the back.
The Cullinan Black Badge makes even more of a statement and will appeal to the marque's younger clientele. As the name dictates, the Spirit of Ecstacy and other external trim elements get a gloss black finish. Uniquely styled 22-inch wheels and colored brake calipers are part of the upgrades, too. In the cabin, carbon tech fiber trim evokes a more modern feel than the wood that is typical of a Rolls. The clock hands and instrument needles feature red tips, another subtle hint at the Black Badge's increased power and retuned chassis.
Even though the base price may lead you to believe that everything is included, it's not the case. An available Launch Package contains upgrades like lush lambswool floor mats, an enhanced audio system, and seats with contrast stitching. This package also adds the rear theater system and an upgraded clock face, along with more safety features like night vision. Hold your breath, though, because it costs over $50,000 - put another way, it's almost the same price as a top-line BMW X3. Likely to be one of the most popular options is the Immersive Seating with Center Console, transforming the three-seat rear bench into an oasis of opulence with two individual captain's chairs. These seats feature massaging and the lucky occupants in them will have access to a cooled central compartment and gorgeous champagne flutes, but the upgrade is nearly $20,000. The rear Viewing Suite (two rear seats that deploy electronically with a mini table between them) goes for $19,900, based on the latest available pricing. The bespoke audio system costs $9,950, the rear theater configuration goes for $8,000 (two electrically deployable screens), and rear ventilated seats are $1,775. That's all without mentioning the host of special-order leathers and paintwork choices. It's not unrealistic to spend $100,000 above the base price when customizing the Cullinan.
We're going to assume that anyone shopping in this lofty arena wouldn't notice an extra $50k here or there, so we'd go for the Cullinan Black Badge. Its more powerful engine provides a surprisingly noticeable increase in performance and responsiveness, yet it's just as cossetting as the regular Cullinan. The Immersive Seating configuration is a must-have for looking down upon lesser executives in their dowdy BMWs while in the lap of luxury, and the shooting star headliner is an indulgence that perfectly complements the extravagance of this SUV. The final price is way over $400,000, but we're not on a budget, right?
The primary difference between these two - besides a price gulf of nearly $100,000 - is that the Bentayga is better-suited to an owner who prefers to do the driving himself, whereas the Cullinan is all about that magnificent back seat. The Bentley's rear bench is actually quite plain, and no matter how much you spend on upgrades, it can't match what the Cullinan can afford those riding at the back. The top-line Bentayga Speed is comfortably quicker than the Cullinan and, while still beautifully refined, is more of an engaging machine to pilot. The Cullinan does have another layer of refinement that is out of reach of everything else besides, perhaps, the Phantom sedan. Both SUVs have truly special cabins with splendid materials and a range of trims and colors that is second to none. If your choice of SUV comes down to these two, we have little sympathy for the decision that lies ahead as you can't go wrong with either of them.
Even in its most lavish SVAutobiography trim - and with a long wheelbase - the Range Rover is still $115,500 less expensive than the Cullinan. The Range Rover's 557-horsepower supercharged V8 will see it reach 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, just two-tenths of a second off the pace of the base Cullinan. As capable and versatile as the Cullinan is as an SUV, the Range Rover is even better with a much larger 31.8 cubic-foot cargo area and incredible off-road capability. Both have ultra-luxurious cabins, but the Cullinan's finishes are next-level. The Rolls also glides down the road with a serenity that even the smooth Range Rover simply can't compete with. But probably the biggest difference between the two is the sense of accomplishment you get from behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce; it may sound silly, but at this price point, exclusivity matters. In that regard, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan leaves everything else for dead.