First Drive: 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan
A Diamond Among Gems
Take Montana’s “Big Sky” country, sprinkle in lots of cows and plenty of snow, and add a $325,000 Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV into this unlikely recipe for a testdrive. The result turns out be a breathtaking backdrop for the world’s most expensive sport-utility.
The Cullinan’s eye-opening price should automatically wear an asterisk, because it’s only the starting point for one of the most exclusive automotive ownership experiences. The model we spent most of our time driving had a price tag of more than $400,000; we’ll get to how and why in just a moment, don’t be impatient.
This first encounter with the mighty Cullinan was spent traversing wind-swept and increasingly snow-covered country roads surrounding Philipsburg, Montana: population 900. Needless to say, cows handily outnumber human inhabitants in this neck of the woods.
But why place the ideal Rodeo Drive shopping-spree SUV in such a jeans-and-flannel atmosphere? Let’s not forget, the Cullinan also happens to be named after a baseball-sized diamond, the largest gem-quality stone ever discovered. That’s about the biggest mic-drop name you can put onto a vehicle!
The goal, according to Rolls-Royce, was to showcase the brand’s newfound capability of meeting the needs of more active clientele. So if you’re a Rolls-Royce owner who prefers outdoor adventures that entail more than simply transporting a pedigreed Pekingese to the park, this is the SUV for you.
In our case, the adventure-themed destinations included stops for snow shoeing, skiing, skeet shooting, fly fishing, or whatever else we decided to accomplish at our event headquarters, located at The Ranch at Rock Creek resort. Spread out over 6,600 acres, the resort delivers five-star luxury, and like the Cullinan, each guest is invited to create a highly personal and entirely customized experience.
While we drove several examples of the Cullinan over two days, the spec sheets always made for surreal reading. Order the Andalusian White paintjob, for example, and expect to hand over $11,550. Rear picnic tables and lamb’s wool floormats? Combined, those cost an extra $4,500. A customized stereo and rear entertainment system—called the Rolls-Royce Theatre Configuration—adds another $17,950 to the price. Once the destination fee ($2,500) and gas-guzzler charge ($2,600) are included, the price swelled to $417,075 for one example.
This is normal for a Cullinan, and yes, those lamb’s wool carpets are wonderful!
But is it worth it?
That’s the question you hear a lot when driving a vehicle with a sticker price that could double as a home listing. From behind the wheel, staring over the Cullinan’s prow and seeing the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament pointing proudly forward, this Rolls-Royce SUV makes an imposing first impression. It helps that it forces its way down the road with speed and finesse, courtesy of the twin-turbocharged 6.7L V-12 that delivers a total of 563 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm.
Rolls-Royce estimates the 0-60 mph time at 4.8 seconds, while the top speed is limited to 155 mph. This places the Cullinan’s sheer performance specs a few ticks behind high-powered opponents such as the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Bentley Bentayga, and Lamborghini Urus. The Urus, for example, now holds the title of being the world’s fastest production SUV, with its top speed of 190 mph.
Separating the Cullinan from these more outwardly athletic rivals is the dignified way in which it gets down the road. The engine is whisper-quiet, the acceleration it provides is sublime, yet so is how the motor fades into the background like the most efficient butler when it’s not being summoned to full attention.
Based on the same platform that underpins the current Phantom sedan, the Cullinan is supported by an air suspension that works in conjunction with multi-link setups at the front and rear. Bumps and ruts in the road are smothered with ease, though it’s probably worth mentioning the prodigious 5,800-pound curb weight plays a role in how the Cullinan travels down the road like a bank vault on wheels.
The handling feels deceptively light, however, at least until you build some confidence. It’s certainly accurate and the Cullinan doesn’t feel anything but controlled, especially with the standard all-wheel-drive system helping keep us clear of snow drifts and patches of ice. Spinning a $400,000 luxury SUV is not how we wanted to spend our time in Montana, thank you very much.
The cabin is fitted with the highest-quality leather, organ-pull air-vent controls (with vents made of actual metal), and perfectly matched wood veneers. Depending on what options you check, there is seating for four or five people onboard. The rear seat is available as a traditional bench or as two individual seats with a console extending between them. This can contain goodies such as a crystal decanter with matching glasses, heating and ventilating controls, massage functions, and a small refrigerator to keep your champagne nicely chilled, of course.
Fun fact: Rolls-Royce cabins are made using only bulls, since the leather will not have stretch marks that might occur with a cow. Farmers raising these Rolls-bound bovines are required not to use barbed wire, as it could injure the animals and lead to imperfections in the hides. Still not impressed? To avoid leather squeaks that occur when you slide along the seats—you know, the sounds that make some of us laugh like eighth-graders—the engineers at Rolls-Royce HQ use a unique surface finish, so your entry and exit will be free of unbecoming noises.
While the Cullinan is undeniably opulent and extremely desirable, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. After all, even A-list movie stars sometimes get a piece of kale stuck between their teeth. In the Cullinan, this errant leafy green turns out to be the steering-column-mounted control for the eight-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox itself is excellent, rowing through gears with ease and precision. It’s the stalk itself that feels out of place; it’s awkwardly angled and should be made of solid metal—or maybe diamond-encrusted moon rock—not black plastic.
And while the coach-style rear doors look fantastic, they can be reluctant to swing open easily when you’re the one perched in the backseat. You can close them with the simple touch of a button, which is classy. But opening them can require the rear passenger to give the door an extra knee nudge, since they’re hefty and rear-hinged pieces of equipment. These are small details, but hey, if Rolls-Royce can engineer no-squeak leather surfaces, anything is possible, right?
We didn’t go rockcrawling in the Cullinan and, to be honest, we doubt many owners would attempt a run on the Rubicon. Yet, on some seriously wintry roads in near white-out conditions, the Rolls never put a wheel wrong. Our own nerves were tested when the flakes intensified and memories of the MSRP floated to mind. However, in terms of how it coped with sub-zero temperatures and slick road surfaces, the Cullinan proved a gentle giant.
Is this SUV worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than something like a fully loaded Ford Expedition? Hey, ramen noodles fill you up just as well as beluga caviar (maybe even better!), but you wouldn’t serve them to the Queen of England if she dropped by for a snack. The Cullinan is intended to keep Rolls-Royce customers within the same dealership when they need an SUV to add to their fleet of vehicles.
Does it mean it out-Jeeps a Wrangler or out-Lamborghinis a Urus? Absolutely not. This is the Rolls-Royce of SUVs and, for once, what could be flowery marketing language turns out to be the very best summation of the Cullinan.
2019 Rolls-Royce CullinanVehicle type: 5-passenger SUV
Base price: $325,000
Price as tested: $417,075
Engine: 6.7L V-12
Transmission: 8-speed Automatic
Horsepower: 563 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 627 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Curb weight: 5,800 pounds
Towing capacity: 7,275 pounds
EPA mileage rating: 12 city/20 highway/14 combined mpg