Bentley raised eyebrows at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show when it introduced the all-new Bentayga, its first-ever off-roader. It was a controversial model. Purists accepted it, haters stopped howling, and the Bentayga now stands out as Bentley’s most popular model in key markets like the United States and China. Former sister company and current arch-enemy Rolls-Royce has finally revealed its own SUV to compete in the same ring with the Bentayga.
Named Cullinan, the SUV rides on a platform designed in-house. This ends the rumors claiming it would share its architecture with the upcoming BMW X7. The luxury vehicle rides on an all-new aluminium “Architecture of Luxury” platform, and Rolls-Royce calls it “the most technologically advanced, and only purpose-built, luxury SUV in the world.” The underpinnings can be scaled to accommodate future Rolls-Royce models.
Lightweight materials keep weight in check, but this is a Rolls we’re talking about; it isn’t exactly a lightweight at 5,864 pounds To add context, the newest Phantom weighs over 5,600 pounds.
An unmistakable family resemblance links the Cullinan to other members of the British company’s portfolio. Up front, it gets a tall, upright hand-polished stainless steel grille and, of course, the famed Spirit of Ecstasy emblem. The thin headlights mark the beginning of a pronounced belt line that stretches all around the car. Lights and air intakes are set deep into the body, and the Cullinan rides on 22-inch wheels.
When it comes to the rear seats, well-heeled buyers can choose between a bench for three or individual seats for two. The latter comes with a fixed center console packing a pair of Rolls-Royce whiskey glasses, decanter, champagne flutes, and refrigerator. The former can fold completely flat, increasing the load area, though we can’t imagine anyone hauling lumber in a Cullinan. The rear compartment offers more than 20 cubic feet of space, and the trunk floor can be electronically raised to level longer items with the seat backs when they’re folded down.
Rolls-Royce is boasting a “three-box” design, which consists of a glass partition separating the passengers from the luggage area. The benefits are a quieter cabin and more control over the environment when the rear door is open.
The Cullinan offers ease of entry by lowering itself by nearly two inches as you open the doors. A touch of the exterior door handle or an interior button “seals” the doors shut. The SUV raises itself back to its standard ride height once the push-button start is activated.
Feedback is conveyed to the driver via a full digital display, complete with virtual needles. A central touch screen controls map views and other setup options. The Spirit of Ecstasy controller can be used to adjust the ride height, hill decent control, and off-road mode.
The Cullinan packs in the tech with night vision, wildlife and pedestrian warning, alertness assistant, a four-camera system with panoramic view, aerial view, active cruise control, collision and cross traffic warnings, lane departure and lane change warnings, head-up display, and Wi-Fi hotspot.
Rolls-Royce set out to bring its “Magic Carpet Ride” to rougher terrain without compromising on-road comfort and performance. The self-leveling air suspension makes millions of calculations every second based on acceleration, steering inputs, and camera information to make adjustments to the shock absorbers. This, combined with four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, contribute to the Cullinan’s agility and capability.
If you feel inclined to take your six-figure SUV off the highway, Rolls-Royce takes the guesswork out of fiddling with settings by offering an “Everywhere” button that unleashes the SUV’s full off-road potential. A wading depth of just over 21 inches means you can ford smaller streams and enter some deep sand or snow with confidence.
A 6.75-liter twin-turbo V12 engine delivers 563 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm. Top speed is limited to 155 mph, and Rolls Royce claims the Cullinan will get a combined 18.8 mpg.
Bentley designed the Bentayga to go off the beaten path, a claim Digital Trends has verified on several occasions. Rolls-Royce predicts the Cullinan will simply be an all-terrain vehicle, not a full-on off-roader capable of following a Jeep Wrangler on the grueling Rubicon Trail. In spite of that, the BMW-owned carmaker boldly claims the soft-roader will be better than its Bentley-badged competitor in every way.
“The Bentley SUV is clearly the No. 2; Rolls-Royce is the best in the world and will be when our model arrives. We will bring a great new car, and an authentic Rolls Royce into the market,” promised company CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös shortly after the Bentayga made its official debut. That’s fighting talk, and we can’t wait to see the two ultra-posh off-roaders duke it out.
The Rolls-Royce Cullinan will arrive in showrooms late this year or early next year with a price tag starting at $325,000. When it lands, it will compete in the same segment as the aforementioned Bentayga and the recently introduced Lamborghini Urus. It will later face competition from the Aston Martin Varekai, a model we expect to see before the end of next year.
Updated on May 10: The Cullinan’s reveal brought along more details for the luxury SUV.