There's no SUV like it on the market.
The idea of an ultra-luxury SUV may not make sense to an average Joe, but then again, an average Joe isn't the one walking into a Rolls-Royce showroom. Named after the largest gem-quality diamond ever discovered, the 2021 Rolls-Royce Cullinan is a vehicle that seems befuddling at first; why would any Rolls-Royce customer want or need a practical SUV? Do they actually plan to use it for SUV tasks? It doesn't matter! Thinking about why the Cullinan exists is a fruitless task, as no one dropping $330,000 on a car needs to make practical justifications.
It's difficult to explain, but driving the Cullinan helps bring its purpose into focus. There is no SUV on the market at any price level that competes with it. We've had the privilege to test all manner of exotic luxury vehicles and we are here to tell you, the Cullinan sits in a class of its own. Rolls-Royce sent us a Cullinan to test for a few days, and it wasn't a run-of-the-mill model either. CarBuzz was privileged to sample the Cullinan Black Badge, a bolder and more exclusive variant that costs $382,000; our tester rang in at $474,175. Grab the Grey Poupon!
One thing became clear during our time in the Cullinan Black Badge; this car gets noticed. No SUV we've driven, Bentley Bentayga included, even comes close to the feverish stares this car generated. When you drive a Rolls-Royce Cullinan, even one painted in a stealthy shade of Gunmetal, people want to know who you are. Speaking of the paint, which was an $11,900 option on our tester, we think Rolls-Royce missed a huge opportunity to name the hue Grey Poupon. We would have preferred a bolder color, but after seeing how conspicuous this car is finished in grey, a bright purple one may have been a little too flamboyant, even for us.
Some of the Cullinan's so-called competitors could be mistaken for a mainstream SUV, but this car is unmistakably a Rolls-Royce. Unless you truly knew nothing about cars, we don't think anyone could look at this car from any angle and not know which automaker built it. The Cullinan is clearly a Roller, from the signature grille with Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament to the rear-opening coach doors.
Much like the exterior, our tester's interior came sporting a rather hushed Scivaro Grey and Selby Grey combination. While not the most exciting combination available, the Cullinan's interior still stands out as the most opulent of any SUV currently on the market. Every single surface looks like what it is. Is it shiny? That's metal. Soft to the touch? Of course, that's genuine leather, probably sourced from one family of cow that only lives on the shady side of one particular hill.
Oh, and that stuff you see on the dashboard is a new type of carbon fiber designed specifically for the Black Badge. The weave features a cool three-dimensional effect covered by six coats of lacquer. To make it, Rolls-Royce craftspeople need to let the piece cure for 72 hours before hand-polishing it. We've been in other fancy SUV models before, but this interior blows the rest away.
No SUV compares to the Cullinan visually or inside, and nothing on four wheels drives as smoothly. A 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V12 propels the Cullinan, producing a bit more power and torque in the Black Badge model. The total output is 600 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque, all of which is delivered seamlessly to the all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Any passing maneuver feels effortless, as if the V12 engine can defy physics to place the Cullinan far ahead of lesser vehicles.
We wouldn't call anything about the driving experience sporty, but Rolls-Royce includes a low mode on the transmission that holds gears longer and provides quicker shifts. The V12 engine sounds a tad throatier in this mode, but it still never reaches a volume that might disturb the ambiance.
Rolls-Royce calls the Cullinan's suspension "Magic Carpet Ride" for a reason; it's sublime. Even harsh road surfaces are completely erased, keeping the occupants cocooned in their own little world 22 inches off the ground. The steering feels feather-light, making it easy to maneuver the Cullinan in tight spaces. We haven't driven any luxury vehicle, let alone an SUV, that feels similar.
Though it's probably not the Rolls-Royce we'd pick (a Wraith or Dawn fits our kid-less household a bit better), we can easily understand why someone might choose a Cullinan. This is the most capable and usable model in the Rolls-Royce range, and when you spend the price of a house on a vehicle, it's nice to use it all the time. When the chauffeur is too busy toting your kids to their cello lesson, the Cullinan's trunk houses 21.2 cubic feet of space, more than a Ghost or Phantom.
It's worth noting that the Cullinan isn't very dog-friendly with the Immersive Rear Seating option. This package includes a glass divider between the cabin and trunk, which helps eliminate road noise and stops airflow in the trunk, which is why there is a "no dogs" sticker on the liftgate. On a positive note, the Cullinan's air suspension allows for up to 22 inches of ground clearance in Off-Road Mode, making it perfect for ranches and mansions without properly paved driveways.
Aside from the exquisitely crafted interior, there are a few miscellaneous items that help the Cullinan stand out; chief among them is the back seat. Our tester came bundled with a slew of pricey options, transforming the rear seats from a nice resting place to a mobile theater/workspace. The Immersive Seating package costs $18,025, adding a fixed center console (housing the champagne fridge and glassware storage) and massaging seats. For $5,150 more you get power-folding picnic tables, and $8,250 on top of that adds rear screens that mimic the infotainment system in the front. If we had one complaint, the Cullinan's rear entertainment would be more useful if it had built-in streaming services like Netflix, similar to the new Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
Some other features include the $7,500 shooting star headliner (a real crowd-pleaser), no-cost umbrellas built into the rear doors, and the $1,550 lambswool floor mats, which are so cushy that passengers will want to take off their shoes.
With a $382,000 starting price, the Black Badge costs $52,000 more than a standard Cullinan. Is it worth the money? Sure, why not? Anyone spending this type of cash on a car likely won't care about another 50 grand, but there is one reason why we might opt for a standard Cullinan even if money were no object. We love nearly everything about the Black Badge package, including the black Spirit of Ecstasy, 22-inch forged wheels, colored brake calipers, and engine upgrades.
However, we still prefer wood over carbon fiber. Don't get us wrong, the specially-designed Black Badge weave is the best use of carbon fiber we've ever seen in an automotive application, but it seems a bit out of place in a Rolls-Royce. Since Rolls-Royce will pretty much give owners whatever they want, we'd ask if the company could craft a special interior out of petrified wood or something else cool, making our cabin stand out above the rest.