LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Our annual voyage to cover the Los Angeles Auto Show usually consists of a few extra days around road testing. This year, our lineup included the 2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan, the ultra-luxury brand’s first-ever venture into the sport-utility segment. While known for their stunning limousines, coupés, and “drophead” convertibles, it was only a matter of time before Rolls-Royce set out to compete with the likes of Lamborghini, Bentley, and now Aston Martin. The Cullinan made its 2019 debut to some controversy, but came in with a bang, offering a virtually unlimited scope of bespoke personalization.
Named after the largest diamond ever discovered, at 3,106.75 carats, the Cullinan is fearlessly a jewel in Rolls-Royce’s portfolio. Its design is unmistakably similar to the brand’s current offerings, with a large, expensive-looking fascia topped with the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament and coach doors (“suicide doors” is no longer an acceptable term). It’s not universally considered “pretty”, but the Cullinan’s profile is polarizing to all. It’s boxier than the Lamborghini Urus (reviewed here) and nowhere near as svelte as the new Aston Martin DBX, but also plays at a completely different price point than any of the other ultra-luxury SUVs on the market.
The Spirit of Ecstasy is powered, and can be raised or lowered using the car’s infotainment system. A setting we enabled meant it rises when the vehicle is unlocked or moving, and hidden away when parked to prevent any malice. With all four doors open, the Cullinan is definitely a sight in any parking lot, and each door can be closed from inside the car. Unfortunately, there is no way to do this from outside the car, and the driver has no control to close the rear doors. This is the same setup in the current Phantom VIII (reviewed here), and works fairly well. If parked on hills where gravity is working against the doors, this system intermittently will refuse to operate and require you to close the doors yourself, like you’re some kind of second-class citizen or something.
Only one engine is available on the Cullinan, and it’s a 6.7-liter V12, twin-turbocharged. Its 563 horsepower at 5,000RPM and 627 lb-ft. of torque at 1,600RPM hustle the 6,100 pound monster with some urgency, though like a Rolls-Royce, it operates with grace and composure rather than brute force. That said, it can still hit 100km/h in the mid-four second range, which is impressive in itself. The eight-speed automatic has no manual shifting capabilities, because let’s face it, who wants to worry about what gear you’re in while commandeering your Rolls-Royce down the interstate?
Ride quality and quietness is absolutely the most impressive part of the Cullinan. The aluminum architecture has two layers and sound deadening beneath the cabin, along with dual-pane glass and acoustic lamination. The result is a vehicle that feels like a bank vault, with virtually no noise making its way into the cabin. Occupants can have whispering conversations with one another at highway speeds with no issue. We transitioned from imperfect concrete to new, smooth asphalt, and the change in ride and noise was imperceptible to our ears. The Cullinan is by far the smoothest and best-riding vehicle currently in production, if comfort is the focus.
All-wheel-drive is standard, through a rear-biased system that typically sends 90 percent of available torque to the rear wheels. We actually took the Cullinan through some of the hilly canyon roads outside Los Angeles, and found the “Low” gear setting to be helpful. This holds second gear when coming down the canyon road and thusly prevents the driver from toasting the brakes trying to manage the 6,000-pound Cullinan. An “Off-Road” mode raises the standard air suspension 1.5-inches, and Rolls claims the suspension uses a camera to watch for bumps and adapt accordingly.
Steering via the thin-rimmed classic wheel is purely an estimate, rather slow, and predictably characteristic of a Rolls-Royce SUV. It can be challenging to pilot the massive Cullinan around tighter spaces, but the 360-degree camera helps. Fuel economy is rated at approximately 19.6L/100km in the city and 11.7L/100km on the highway. We commuted in and out of Los Angeles for a few days, and also mixed in some canyon driving and averaged about 15L/100km. It doesn’t really need to be mentioned, but 91-octane premium fuel is required.
The interior of the Cullinan is all opulence, with zero compromises. Remember, this isn’t underpinned by any BMW-based Rolls-Royce model. The only similarities are some switchgear and the infotainment system. The leather upholstery is stunning and feels incredibly premium, and you won’t want to wear shoes on the plush lambswool floor mats. The steering wheel and climate controls stay true to Rolls-Royce tradition, and a motorized screen will hide away the infotainment touchscreen should you find it distracting. The rear seats have two powered trays ($4,000), that open to reveal entertainment screens.
There’s enough rear seat legroom for two six-footer adults to sit cross-legged, and the floor is completely flat. No real adjustments for the seats are available, and the seats are not ventilated or massaging. It’s a focus on superb comfort rather than technology and gizmos that could just go wrong as the vehicle ages, costing an arm and a leg. The front seats are heated, ventilated, and offer a variety of massage settings, which is curious but reinforces the fact that there is a significant number of buyers that will opt to drive the Cullinan themselves rather than be driven in.
An available option not equipped on our test vehicle is called the “Viewing Seat”, which consists of two powered seats and a tray table that pop out of the rear cargo area, ideal for tailgating in your Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Since our model wasn’t equipped with this feature, a neat party trick in the cargo area is a button that raises the load floor to angle a few degrees upward, to match the point where the rear seats fold down, creating an almost-flat floor for all of the lumber and dirty kid gear you’ll be transporting in your Rolls-Royce.
Electronics and infotainment are courtesy of a two-generations old version of BMW’s iDrive system, re-skinned for the Rolls-Royce application. It’s functional and easy to use, moreso than most newer vehicles’ systems, but the real loss is a lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available. The screen is touch-friendly, responsive, and capable of streaming Bluetooth audio and making calls, but the lack of full smartphone connectivity is an omission at any price point, let alone deep into the six-figure range.
Pricing for the Cullinan starts at $399,000 Canadian, though Rolls-Royce claims that at least 96% of their new vehicles include some form or another of bespoke tailoring. Our test vehicle had U.S. pricing, and consisted of a Magma Red paint job at $11,500, Rear Theater Configuration ($8,000), Rolls-Royce Bespoke Audio ($9,950), an up-lit Spirit of Ecstasy ($4,500), contrast seat piping, coloured stitching, lambswool floor mats, and much more. The sticker, including conversion, crossed the $550,000 CAD number. It’s difficult to gauge exact pricing because of how much personalization is available, but we would estimate a well-spec’d Cullinan to come in around the $500,000 mark.
A few years ago, before the Cullinan was even announced, we had a Range Rover Autobiography in the test garage and came to the conclusion that it rode so well that it was the closest thing to a Rolls-Royce SUV in existence. The idea that an SUV could be smoother and more comfortable than the Autobiography was simply unfathomable. This 2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan takes the sensational Range Rover and makes it feel no more special than a Honda CR-V, and there’s something to be said about that. This Cullinan is quite literally the ultimate in luxury motoring, with the ability to venture off the beaten path. Well done, Rolls-Royce.