Female buyer first to buy Rolls-Royce SUV Down Under

Female buyer first to buy Rolls-Royce SUV Down Under

MOVING into new territory can be hard to do when you’ve followed the same formula for over a century. But three years after Rolls-Royce Motor Cars announced its intention to play in the sports utility vehicle market, it might just have nailed its brief in providing something that would be “Effortless, everywhere”.

‘It has been “tested to destruction all over the planet” to prove it’s as rugged as any SUV out there.’

The resulting Cullinan puts Rolls-Royce Motor Cars involves a plethora of firsts for the company: it’s the first car from the brand to sport a hatchback, to direct power to the front wheels as well as the rear, and it’s also succumbed to our modern need for touchscreen in driving its infotainment system. And, of course, it’s the first SUV in the company’s 112-year life.

The first person to put money down on the car in Australia was a woman in Sydney, says the company’s global client sales manager, Ian Grant. While he wasn’t prepared to reveal exact numbers of orders in the region so far, he says he’s been delighted by strong early interest in Cullinan.

Not that those numbers will ever be particularly high. Last year, the company delivered a total 3362 vehicles to customers in 50 countries. Whether or not Cullinan will take over as the top-selling vehicle in its lineup - as has happened with the introduction of SUVs in other luxury car companies - remains to be seen. 

Having seen the car at its official Australian debut in Sydney today, one wonders who this car will appeal to. It’s massive, brutishly austere and even more imposing than any other Rolls is by nature. 

Named after a sizeable diamond that’s now part of the British crown jewels, Cullinan maintains the ultra-luxury look of a Rolls sedan. But it has been “tested to destruction all over the planet” to prove it’s as rugged as any SUV out there. It even has an “off road” button for anyone willing to take its 2.6-tonne (5864-pound) bulk for a wild ride out bush. 

The woman responsible for bringing Cullinan to life, Heike Caroline Krismer, the project leader for Cullinan, says the vehicle has all the power needed for effortless on-road cruising or for power-hungry progress across the roughest terrain. 

“It’s easy to drive and is designed to help you drive well,” Krismer says.

It would be a braver woman than me to take it roughshod into the dirt, however, given its drive-away price of $A685,000. Still, it’s good to know the capability is there if one needs it.

Other than that, Rolls-Royce says it has tried to build into the new vehicle everything buyers have come to expect from a brand long considered the pinnacle of automotive luxury. The trademark Parthenon grille is in place but it’s rather strange to find the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament approaching breast height. The suicide-style coach doors are still there, too, though having the doors finish before the rear wheel arch gives it a weighty look in the rear. There’s a reason for that, we learned today - passengers within the car are comfortably positioned within the wheel base to more reliably deliver Rolls-Royce’s promised “magic carpet ride”.

Otherwise, some of the details are very much in keeping with the limousine-style experience associated with the brand. The car displayed in Sydney, for example, sported a two-seat configuration in the back, replacing the standard three-abreast seating plan. Front and rear seats in this variant included optional ventilated and heated capabilities brightened by a panoramic sunroof. 

The vehicle’s Infinity Black paint job gave it a sinister air, further enhanced by the grey and black interior colour way, with pops of mandarin. Two different shades of wood used through the cabin softened things, though, and leant an air of nostalgia to the old ways of automotive construction and decoration. 

Likewise, this variant came with a glass partition which rose out of a fixed bulkhead to separate passengers from the luggage compartment - no need to have to listen to those pesky bags shifting about. Team that with rear curtains and tinted windows and Cullinan starts to look and feel like the sort of vehicle one would like to be chauffeured around in. 

The car does have a couple of playful aspects, especially when the individual seat configuration is optioned in. They’re separated by a fixed rear centre console which incorporates a drinks cabinet containing Rolls-Royce whisky glasses and decanter, champagne flutes and refrigerator. There’s also the optional lifestyle-enhancing “cassettes” that clip to the cargo floor once the split tailgate is opened. Our favourite is the Viewing Suite, comprising two rear-facing fold-out seats and a pop-up table designed for spectating at outdoor events - and for showing off to fellow viewers how clever you are to have been an early adopter of Rolls-Royce’s foray into SUV Land.

Another first for a Rolls is Cullinan’s all-wheel-steering system, surely a necessary add-on for this car to move its weight with any semblance of ease. That’s important in a brand like this, whether negotiating traffic in Toorak or blasting over dunes in the outback. 

As for speed, the twin-turbo 6.7-liter V12-powered Cullinan has a claimed top number of 249km/h (155mph) - not too shabby for such a weighty ride. The automatic all-wheel drive includes suspension which adjusts the car’s height using a road-scanning camera.

If the Cullinan were to have a rival, its most obvious would be the Bentley Bentayga which rides on a platform shared with the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne. The Cullinan won’t be sharing anyone else’s platform - the one underpinning the upcoming X7 SUV from its parent company BMW certainly wouldn’t be fitting under a Rolls. Instead, Cullinan is the second Rolls-Royce to ride on a version of the all-aluminum spaceframe that debuted with the new Phantom.

Rolls-Royce claims the Cullinan is the most technologically advanced luxury SUV in the world, which seems believable when considering its lengthy list of features. But who’s going to buy in? 

According to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars chairman Peter Schwarzenbauer, Cullinan is "a motor car for customers who are well-connected, highly mobile and have a global perspective”. They’ll be younger and more adventurous than Rolls-Royce clients of old, people who want to be taken completely off the beaten track and rewarded with life’s most enriching experiences. Quite a few are expected to be new to the brand - more firsts. Lucky them. First deliveries are scheduled for early next year.