Rolls-Royce's Cullinan is divisive in its looks, its price and even — for some — in its very existence. Yet one thing is undeniable, says Toby Keel: it's a marvel of automotive engineering.
Within ten minutes of the Rolls-Royce Cullinan arriving, my phone started pinging constantly.
It was the neighbours. ‘Toby, that wagon you have is off the scale,’ read the first. ‘Awesome great beast!!’ was another. ‘Like a Sherman tank with heated seats,’ came the third. And then my personal favourite: ‘You should go full rapper, gold chains, booming tunes, shades when it’s raining…. Just drive round and round the block.’
It’s fair to say that the Cullinan isn’t your usual Rolls-Royce. Nor is it a choice for shrinking violets: the only thing modest about this car is the way the Spirit of Ecstasy retracts bashfully beneath the bonnet when the doors are locked. Everywhere you go, people will stare, probably slack-jawed, and not only because this ‘awesome great beast’ has blocked out the sunlight. True, the Sherman tank comparison was tongue-in-cheek, but the specs aren’t all that far off: the most widely-used Allied tank of the Second World Was was 5.84m long and 2.62m wide; the Cullinan is 5.34m by 2.16m. (The original Mini, by way of comparison? 3.05m long and 1.42m wide. And a VW Golf is 4.26m by 1.79m)
Eyebrows were raised by Rolls-Royce when they first announced half a dozen years ago that they were entering the SUV market. How could the luxury car market build an off-roader, came many cries; the Goodwood-based firm countered, entirely fairly, by pointing out that they’d been doing so practically since their inception, most notably with the armoured vehicles they made during the First World War. ‘A Rolls in the desert was above rubies,’ wrote T.E. Lawrence — better known as the soldier, adventurer and writer Lawrence of Arabia — of the converted 1909 Silver Ghost which transported him through the Middle East and into Damascus.
It’s one thing, of course, to drive through the wilds of the Arabian desert; but is the Cullinan fit for driving through the potholed strips that pass for B-roads in this little corner of West Sussex? The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. For whatever else it is — a curiosity, an object of lust, a status symbol for its huge worldwide fan base — the Cullinan is a staggering piece of engineering. Though sitting behind the wheel is initially terrifying, you quickly get used to the size, just as you adjust to driving a Range Rover or a big Toyota after pootling round in hatchbacks. And once you start out on the road, it’s a car that is almost effortless to drive: the steering is light, direct and accurate, and the V12, 563bhp engine able to blast this 2.7-tonne beast to 60mph in a tiny smidgeon more than five seconds.
You don’t even have to take your eyes off the road, since there’s a fighter jet-style heads-up-display that projects speed and sat-nav directions into your eyeline. The end result is a car that inspires confidence: the first few minutes on Monday might have been nerve-wracking, but by Friday I was chucking the thing round happily, my mind having made peace with the fact that cost of the specced-up model I was driving was £333,925.
Sorry: £333,925 plus VAT. That’s comfortably more than I paid for my house.
That is a lot of money, naturally, but to be fair to the Cullinan it’s substantially more luxurious than my house. It’s not so much a car as a five-star hotel room on wheels: there are big-screen TVs in the back, exquisite wood finishing, a sound system that would shame most small concert venues and two-inch thick shag-pile carpets (they’re probably a nightmare to clean, but suffice to say that there won’t be many Cullinan owners hoovering out their own crumbs).
There are all manner of options to push things further, from a cocktail-and-picnic set hidden in a secret compartment in the boot (my car had this) to a ‘balcony’, in the form of a pair of seats which fold out from the back of the car so that you can sit in comfort watching the polo. You can even get a massage in this ‘room’: the hand-crafted leather seats hide within them a mechanism to help ease any aches, pains and strains in your back.
Not that you’re likely to get aches and pains from driving, though, because Rolls-Royce’s suspension is one of their great USPs, the so-called ‘magic carpet ride’ which smoothes out bumps and hollows of pretty much any size, even the worst potholes on the A283, turning any jolts into a sort of bobbing up and down motion that’s more like being on a yacht than in a car. It’s not ideal for those prone to car sickness, but ideal for making sure that your pen doesn’t jump across the page when you’re in the back seat, signing the multi-million pound deal that you need to fund the Cullinan’s purchase.
It won’t be everyone’s glass of Cristal champagne, but the Cullinan’s formula is clearly working. Its launch coincided with the best two years of car sales in Rolls-Royce’s history — namely 2018 and 2019 — and securing the company’s financial future, if not saving it from serious trouble. The rappers and global businessmen might be buying Cullinans for the image and prestige, but they’re also getting a truly incredible car into the bargain. Even if we’re not 100% sure the word ‘bargain’ belongs in any article about a Rolls-Royce.
On the road: Rolls-Royce Cullinan
- Priced from: £250,000+VAT
- Combined fuel consumption: 18.6mpg
- Power: 562 bhp
- 0-60mph: 5.1 seconds
- Top speed: 155mph (limited)
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