Rolls-Royce Cullinan: a new frontier in coachbuild design
A luxury ride in this decade's most talked about SUV release
When a prestige car is named after the biggest raw diamond ever discovered, you expect to be dazzled. When the car in question is a Rolls-Royce, you know it’s going to be big news. Add to that the fact that it’s an SUV and you have yourself a seismic release in the automotive world.
As you can imagine, the prestige 4 x 4 Rolls-Royce ‘Cullinan’ - with an entry price of £250,000 - ruffled a good few feathers when the first cars glided out of Goodwood earlier this year. Rolls-Royce has never subscribed to the notion of utility, so how was this off-road crossover going to maintain the enigmatic allure of the marque? One which, it should be added, pitches itself as a maker of luxury goods rather than a luxury car manufacturer.
In truth, Rolls-Royce didn’t need to make this car - the company only builds around 4000 vehicles a year, so ‘need’ is not a word that has ever entered the R-R vernacular. Rather, the Cullinan is a statement of luxury, designed for modern adventurers who are naturally drawn to the robustness of 4X4 vehicles.
More specifically, the Cullinan's development was seen as an opportunity lay claim to leadership in the world SUV design and engineering, a goal built upon a sentiment expressed by Sir Henry Royce himself. “Strive for perfection in everything you do,” he famously declared. “Take the best that exists and make it better. If it doesn’t exist, create it. Accept nothing as nearly right or good enough.”
Sat inside this stately cruiser, the craftsmanship is evident in crème-de-la-crème fillings: the smooth wooden panels, buttery soft leather seats and texturised ‘box grain’ black leather on the dashboard and doors, apparently sourced from the same specialist factory that supplies Prada. And let's not forget the panoramic glass roof which affords a greater sense of 'oneness' with the outside world particularly when travelling off-road. This advancement in spatial dynamics is heightened by the seating: passengers at the back sit higher than those in the front of the car, for that ultimate viewing experience that tallies with the limousine-like feel of all RR models.
“The proposition of this car is an engineering masterpiece, its off-road capability, whilst maintaining the world-famous ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ of Rolls-Royce,” explains Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
Indeed, The Week Portfolio took it along the scenic winding roads of the Cairngorms in Aberdeenshire (as seen below) and it truly felt like we were hovering above the tarmac.
The real challenge faced by the Goodwood design team was the shape - i.e the small matter of creating a high bodied car that remained faithful to what Rolls-Royce call “The Architecture of Luxury”. During our Scottish road trip, The Week Portfolio spoke to Alex Innes, Heaf of Coachbuild Design, about the Cullinan’s unique construction.
“It was in Braemar, not too far from here, that Rolls-Royce sealed its reputation as ‘The Best Car in the World’,” explains Innes, a 34-year-old Scotsman who was born and bred in Aberdeenshire. "In 1907, a Rolls-Royce [Silver Ghost] won gold [in the Scottish Reliability Trials administered by the Scottish Automobile Club] when it travelled up the Cairnwell Hill which is still the highest pass in the UK and notorious for its double-hairpin bend known as ‘The Devil's Elbow’. If you look back at that car, as well as early models from the Rolls-Royce stable, they have such a visual robustness to them by way of their aesthetic, and that is something we wanted to capture in the Cullinan.
“Therefore, the main thing we wanted to convey was a strength of character. We wanted to make sure the car would have an immediate impact and if there’s one area that achieves this above all other [design elements] it’s the front of the car. The grill sits higher than it ever has done in the marque’s history, which is a nice visual nod to the engine power that lies beneath the skin of the car. All of the [front] surfaces are offset and recessed back to project visual strength and toughness to the car.”
The silhouette of the Cullinan, unlike most SUVs, is a three-box high-bodied profile. “It was essential that we captured the grace and majesty through volume and proportion. This is particularly evident when you look at the rear of the car with its distinctive bustle-back appearance.” A split tailgate, which R-R calls ‘The Clasp” can also be equipped with bespoke picnic seats and pull out trays.
“In terms of the cabin space itself, the notion of feeling protected and cosseted remains a priority but we also wanted [occupants] to sit very high up, so that they have the best vantage point from which to admire all the terrains that they are exploring,” says Innes.
If you are lucky enough to drive one of these 'rare diamonds' of the car world, make a bee-line for the Scottish Highlands, where Rolls-Royce first earned global fame as a purveyor of effortless comfort and authentic luxury.