Scaling a trail with the same incline as a neighbouring—and incredibly steep—ski run, my wheels claw over loose rocks and gravel in Grand Teton National Park. There’s an incredible drop into the valley below just inches off my passenger side as I negotiate the trail’s switchbacks. I may be climbing a ski hill toward the endless skies of Wyoming, but I’m still in a Rolls-Royce.
Long, wide, and imposing from any angle, the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan is a huge step for the luxury brand whose name has become shorthand for no expenses spared. Spoiler alert—the Cullinan is nothing less than the Rolls-Royce of SUVs. Prior to the launch of the Cullinan, Rolls-Royce produced some 4,000 vehicles a year. When you make so few cars, you tend to get to know your customers very well, and Rolls-Royce’s were demanding an SUV in the spirit of the Phantom. So, the company set out to design a full-size SUV that ported the extreme luxury and poise of the Phantom into a vehicle that could be used like an SUV, be it for driving to a ski resort, a weekend cabin, or even on the ranch.
With the Cullinan, despite the seemingly straightforward brief of “make a tall Phantom with four-wheel drive,” the design took years to develop. In its production form, the Cullinan is monolithic, its sharp proportions giving it a visual weight even more imposing than that of the Phantom. It’s huge—a vertical nose, a long dash-to-axel ratio, and a sharp sloping rear. Drama and wealth on four huge wheels, the Cullinan takes its name from the largest diamond ever mined.
Thankfully, even if the average owner won’t need to call upon its most trail-ready abilities, the Cullinan has the tech and design to back up its SUV claims. The interior is spacious and bright, and offers good visibility. The rear seats can be optioned for outright luxury (limousine seat option) or enhanced practicality (bench seat configuration) with an available fold-down bench and twin-split automatic tailgate.
With an aluminum spaceframe, the Cullinan rides on a bespoke platform intended to limit compromise and ensure the vehicle is what it needs to be—a capable and comfortable Rolls-Royce that can go just about anywhere. All the required kit is in play; from a full magic-carpet-ride air suspension system to four-wheel steering, torque vectoring, and a trio of stabilization bars, the Cullinan feels like a dream on-road and a true SUV off-road. When the ground becomes questionable, there’s no fiddling with a bunch of settings, as there’s just one button for Off Road. Press it and the Cullinan rises some 40 millimetres, so you’re ready to cross streams, navigate muddy trails, and quite literally climb mountains.
The Cullinan is legitimately fast. A seemingly endless supply of motivation is provided by Rolls-Royce’s well-known 6.75-litre V12 engine. Like any Roller—especially one with 563 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque—the power comes on as though it’s all torque: smooth and without drama. The Cullinan is powerful and relaxed, and feels entirely in control.
Over a full day of driving the Cullinan on- and off-road, the other element that continually surprised me is just how quiet the cabin is. While that comes down to a number of factors, it’s hard to overlook the glass, which is dual pane, insulated, and 6 millimetres thick—the most substantial in the industry—for the quietest SUV on the market. On all sorts of roads, the Cullinan remained insanely silent, never requiring a passenger to adjust their voice.
Its 22-inch wheels covered by bespoke tires, the Cullinan turns heads, especially among the pickup trucks that populate the landscape of Jackson Hole. Locals stopped to gawk, ask questions, and put their cowboy boots on the Cullinan’s shag carpeting. While I wouldn’t describe any SUV as beautiful, this one has endless road presence and the interior can be customized for a wide range of aesthetics, covering its expansive architectural shape with a variety of leathers, gorgeous woods, and metals.
Interior colours range from the muted to the rather bold, but no matter what you choose, the materials are, as you’d expect, first-rate. From the buttons, knobs, and switches to the seats, the headliner, and the steering wheel, the Cullinan feels thoughtfully designed and well made. There’s a deep tray along the top of the door that doubles as a door handle and a handy spot for your phone or sunglasses. There are USB-C ports for all passengers, and the rear seats have optional folding tray tables. If you’re looking for something a cut above a Range Rover, a G-Wagon, or even the Bentley Bentayga, the Cullinan is the only game in town.
With Ferrari and Aston Martin preparing their own SUV offerings, the Cullinan is a direct response to the demands of the market, something from which not even Rolls-Royce can be insulated. Priced from $370,500 in Canada, the Cullinan is the adventure-ready Phantom. A supremely capable, spacious, easy-driving, thoughtfully designed, unobtrusive battleship of an SUV that is every part a Rolls-Royce.
The Cullinan seems oddly at home against the backdrop of Jackson’s dramatic mountainous horizons, like a large ship in a vast ocean. Something about its stance and weight feels reassuring within the severity of a wild landscape. Where other luxury cars would appear conspicuous or out of their depth, the Cullinan is comforting. And really, what more could we ask of a Rolls-Royce?
Photos by James Stacey.
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