Rolls-Royce Cullinan: Tough luxury

Taking the marque into SUV territory took skill and innovation. Brummell took to the Scottish Highlands to put it through its paces

Motoring 23 Dec 2019

As with all things Rolls-Royce, it started with the customer. In 2015 – with a demand from its most loyal patrons to create “the Rolls-Royce of SUVs”, a vehicle that would look as at home filled with muddy dogs and children as it would gliding down Sloane Street – the marque set about one of its greatest challenges, combining the luxury of a Rolls-Royce with the utility of an off-road vehicle. ‘Our customers expect to go everywhere in luxury, effortlessly and without compromise, conquering the most challenging terrain to enjoy life’s most enriching experiences, wherever they may be,’ explains Torsten Müller Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce motor cars. Fast-forward to January 2019 and those loyal customers began taking delivery of the most practical of Rolls-Royces, the Cullinan – named for the largest flawless diamond ever discovered – having already been put through its paces and ‘tested to destruction’ in some of the world’s most extreme environments.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan
Rolls-Royce Cullinan

When considering the huge design challenge that lay ahead, the team were inspired its iconic Silver Ghost, and the defining moment at the Scottish Reliability Trials in 1907 that would see the marque gain the reputation as ‘the best motorcar in the world’. Head of coachbuild design, Alex Innes explains, ‘The trials challenged vehicles with extraordinary feats of endurance here in the Cairngorms and saw Rolls-Royces, including the Silver Ghost, climb extremely demanding and remote roads such as the already well-known Cairnwell Hill’. The course was so demanding 14 of the 104 cars that took part in the 1907 trials did not finish the course, while the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost took the gold in its class.

‘These cars had a sense of character to them that served as a rich source of inspiration to us in the design and development of Cullinan; as a team we were keen to ensure that this car could compete with vast scenery,’ says Innes. ‘The exterior design projects confidence, while our iconic pantheon grill sits higher than it ever has in the marque’s history, and in doing so, it forms this pronounced engine cowl, which implies the power and potential that lies beneath the skin of the car. The Cullinan has an assertive quality to it, as if it’s prepared and ready. That is achieved by way of the shoulder line, which lifts into the glasshouse of the car, pushing the car forward and priming it on its axles.’

Test driving the Rolls-Royce Cullinan in Scotland
Test driving the Rolls-Royce Cullinan in Scotland

Cullinan has a ‘three-box’ coachbuild that is unique to SUVs and provides a passenger cabin that is entirely isolated from the luggage compartment by a glass partition. Waking up the car at one touch of the unlock button and sliding into the driving seat, you immediately feel cosseted by the immense comfort and luxury of the interior, which comes in multiple colour and material configurations, with a dashboard clad in the same Italian box grain black leather used in luxury handbag and luggage design. Rear passenger’s chairs sit higher than those in the front, all the better given the eye-popping panoramic glass roof that heartily drinks in the epic scenery. The driving experience through the heather and heaths of the Highlands is unlike driving any other SUV, mainly due to the ‘magic-carpet’ effect provided by the self-levelling air suspension, cushioning the blows of the toughest terrains at the touch of a button. Once you’ve engaged this ‘everywhere’ button, Cullinan is in off-road setting and glides effortlessly over muddy tracks and rocky riverbanks.

Even though this is the ‘Rolls-Royce of SUVs’, the car is meant to be thrown around, made dirty, driven down a muddy track to a prime fly fishing spot, over tumultuous terrain to the freshest mountain biking tracks, and hurled over dunes to hidden surf beaches. Cullinan has an opening tailgate, a first for Rolls-Royce, and backseat configuration options that flatten and create a flat load boot area for any type of adventure kit.

And, as if all of this wasn’t enough, November 2019 saw the SUV move into the Black Badge bespoke arm of the Rolls-Royce family. For the customer who is undefined by the traditional codes of luxury and wants to take their motorcar to the limits of design and capability, Rolls-Royce created Black Badge, the alter-ego of the marque’s quintessential design and engineering personality. In the case of Cullinan, this means increased power and torque to the 6.75 litre twin-turbo V-12 engine and the signature Black Badge black exterior, created with the most comprehensive surface finish process ever applied to a solid paint colour. The Spirit of Ecstasy, the enduring mascot of the marque, is presented in high gloss black chrome, all of which makes Black Badge Cullinan the darkest Black Badge yet.

Sir Henry Royce’s edict was to “strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it”. In the case of Cullinan, this vision could not have been more apt.

Black Badge Cullinan is now available to commission. For more information, visit