Mountain Wheels: Rolls-Royce’s Cullinan SUV is a whole different world
I am always intrigued by the neighbors’ reaction to the many new vehicles that grace my driveway for a few days at a time. In recent weeks, the biggest excitement was focused on a giant 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter van — the High Country dream escape vehicle — or a blazing red Toyota Supra, which a woman literally sprinted across the street to look at when I backed it out from the driveway.
I was expecting perhaps the same sort of reaction when, in maybe the ultimate automotive irony, the most expensive vehicle I’ve ever driven appeared on short notice, right in the middle of the pandemic lockdown.
Elegantly looking more like some sort of radar-dodging modern British tank than a real car, the 2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan came for a four-day stay, right during safer-at-home time in Colorado, making it absolutely impossible to show off to anyone I knew. Priced at an astonishing $394,275 — including a list of Launch Package options more than most regular cars’ total cost — the Cullinan was an incredibly surreal and magnificent automotive experience. And in the words of Meat Loaf, all revved up with no place to go. Almost.
Better yet, the neighbors couldn’t care less, apparently. One, the guy with the new Infiniti sheepishly came over on day four to check things out; the Jeep outfitting couple next door did not so much as bat an eye the whole time. Later, the mayor, who lives across the street, did mention that he’d seen the Cullinan but was, of course, more interested in the Sprinter.
Maybe it was the luxuriously understated Jubilee Silver color, with a single blue pinstripe (the same color as the magnificent interior). Maybe they’re waiting for the Bugatti Veyron to show up. Who knows.
The curious juxtaposition presented by a vehicle that cost roughly the same as the home in which it hung out for a weekend was absolutely brilliant, either way. Named after the largest diamond ever found, it’s Rolls-Royce’s successful entry into the SUV market. The winter-ready SUV part is true, as it’s complete with full-time four-wheel drive and an automatic lift system to more gracefully carry you over rocks and streams. Plus the entirely understated power of a six and three-quarter liter, twin-turbocharged V-12 engine, putting out a tree-flattening 571 horsepower and an awesome 627 foot-pounds of torque.
Immediately, my most car-hating online compadre smirkingly asked about the gas mileage but later mentioned he could not tell if the vehicle was a Rolls or a Bentley — just some big ugly box, in his reckoning.
He, and those of his ilk, are of course not the target market for the Cullinan. A vehicle priced approximately 10.7 times more than the average 2019 automotive transaction in the U.S. appeals to a select few who desire the ultimate in presence, power and driving (or riding) luxury.
Cullinan delivers on all three fronts, though its makers hope the massive vehicle will actually be driven by more of its owners than most Rolls-Royce products. I don’t know how true that has ended up being. There were only about 700 Cullinans in the entire world when I got to do a press preview in Santa Fe last fall, but I can certainly see advantages to being either behind the wheel or blissed out in the most opulent (but, oddly, not physically largest) rear seat in all of God’s green Earth.
Your very, very tall price tag does get you some super-cool features, such as doors that can all be automatically closed from the driver’s seat, including two suicide-style rear doors that magically close with a touch of the over-chromed door handle. There’s also pop-out umbrellas in those coach doors, useful for protecting your guests from the elements. Your guests, of course, being of the Kim and Kanye variety, or their children.
Cullinan’s raw enormity is pretty stunning. It just barely fit into my garage, and in traffic, it has such mass and gentle malice that I quickly forgot the sheer horror of being entrusted with an outrageously expensive vehicle — on my brief drive in the fall, an off-duty law enforcement officer was always aboard with us during our drives.
Yes, the V-12 makes things happen really quick, despite a total tonnage just over 6,000 pounds, and the Cullinan actually defied all the laws of physics and space-time during a spirited run up Georgetown Hill. You gently grip the edges of a thin but not dainty steering wheel — the gear selector is still as thin and simple as Rolls of a long-ago era, plus left-hand-side ignition, light and night-vision controls — and away you fly. No problem. The suspension, aided by a forward-looking radar system, really does level out even the most heinous of weather-beaten Interstate 70 potholes and bumps, and the thing corners like a champ when you absolutely do not expect it to do so.
It’s also unbelievably quiet inside, even at highway speed. Whisper quiet. The level of sound deadening is remarkable, allowing you to have a conversation with someone in the rear. Or you can crank up the bespoke, 16-speaker sound system and do the exact opposite.
That sound system, plus mapping and other details, also can be controlled from a pair of power-folding touchscreen monitors in wooden picnic-table-styled trays attached to the seat backs.
Therein lies the collision between the Cullinan’s two worlds. Up front, it’s fantastic, with the acres of single-hide leather work (mine in a giddy Charles Blue), beautiful wood paneling, the hand-crafted air vents and tiny church-organ-styled air flow controllers, and, actually, very few other geegaws. The “power reserve” indicator — think a tachometer, in reverse — and other instrument panels are electronic, and if you look closely, you’ll notice how much is borrowed from high-end BMW builds.
The rest of it is absolutely one-of-a-kind, however, and in the luxurious but not fantastically oversized rear seats, your high seating position gives you a decent view of the road. Tiny air vents in the door frames are a cool touch, and you roll along in the ultimate in cushioned comfort.
Best part? In this build, it’s an actual SUV, with fold-flat second-row seats, a powered cargo ramp and a huge, luxuriously carpeted cargo space for a Home Depot trip.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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