After decades of creating some of the world's finest cars, Rolls-Royce applies its skill to an SUV. The Cullinan offers all the grandeur and opulence double-R cars are known for, but with sport-utility capabilities and even more presence. It was introduced for the 2019 model year and might be the most luxurious SUV on sale.
In some ways the Cullinan is a major departure from Rolls-Royce tradition. Its SUV form factor is like nothing the company has built before. Yet in other ways it's as much a Rolls as any other. The luxury it offers is absolutely true to the brand.
The Cullinan's spacious, opulent cabin suits it to chauffeur duty. Yet with imperious V-12 power it's also a lovely driver's car, even if it's tuned for comfort more than sportiness. What's more, the Cullinan has some legitimate off-road capabilities—try taking a Phantom across a river or down a rocky road.
Other luxury SUVs may have more-reliable, better-developed technology and driver-assist features. But the Cullinan's few quirks hardly detract from the experience. It's an extravagant SUV with panache like no other, worthy of the Spirit of Ecstasy flying on its hood.
Much like the diamond it's named after, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is expensive—very expensive. Prices start at $335,000. Make sure to account for the mandatory $2,600 gas guzzler tax and $2,750 delivery fee before adding options. Of those there are many to choose from. Just check out the Cullinan Black Badge we tested, which stickered at more than half a million dollars. Even the Cullinan that fits on a coffee table costs more than a decent used car.
With Rolls-Royce the sky's the limit in terms of customization. The Wraith-based Sweptail of 2017 is rumored to have sold for some $13 million, and we suspect it's only a matter of time before some well-heeled off-road enthusiast pours a similar sum into a Cullinan-based one-off. Nonetheless, there are a few things Rolls-Royce won't do for all the money in the world.
Thomas Cullinan was the chairman of a South African mine where in 1905 a massive diamond was discovered. This rock weighed over 3,100 carats, which at the time made it the largest diamond ever found. The Cullinan diamond, as it came to be known, was later cut into several gems, some of which adorned regalia worn by British royalty. Rolls-Royce found Cullinan a suitable name for its first SUV, nearly as rare and rich as the Cullinan diamond itself.
Like all other Rolls-Royce models the Cullinan features a V-12 engine. In this case it's a twin-turbocharged 6.7-liter unit, producing 563 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque as standard. However Black Badge models are uprated to 600 hp and 664 lb-ft. Power is sent through an eight-speed automatic transmission to Rolls-Royce's first AWD system. In MotorTrend testing, a Cullinan Black Badge glided to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. Fuel economy may be a trifling matter for Cullinan drivers, but it's EPA-rated at 12/20 mpg city/highway.
Rolls-Royce doesn't make sports cars, but its Black Badge vehicles have a sharper edge. In the Cullinan Black Badge's case power and torque increase, while a louder exhaust system lets the V-12 make its presence known. Additionally the suspension is tuned for acute handling, the transmission shifts more quickly, and the brakes bite harder.
Although Rolls-Royce clientele can specify their Cullinans however they wish, Black Badge models aim for a sportier aesthetic. Chrome exterior brightwork is blacked out, while carbon-fiber interior trim replaces traditional wood. Black Badge-specific wheels cover red brake calipers. The Cullinan Black Badge feels more luxurious than sporty, but enthusiast drivers may appreciate its extra power and responsiveness.
Looking at pictures of the Cullinan is one thing. Witnessing it in person is a whole different experience. It's a huge SUV, measuring some 210 inches long, 79 inches wide, and 72 inches tall. For reference, the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 is 205 inches long, but slightly wider and taller at 80 and 72.5 inches, respectively. Nonetheless the Cullinan's slab-sided design gives it serious presence. It eschews a third-row seat for increased spaciousness in the second row, either in three-across bench or two-seat captain's chair configuration. Cargo capacity behind the second row measures 21.2 cubic feet, and 68.2 cubic feet with them folded, making the Cullinan actually somewhat practical. It's a dense chunk of metal and wood, tipping the MotorTrend scales at a hefty 6,242 pounds.