Since the 1990s, the SUV segment has been growing and growing, starting off in North America and then spreading to other regions (although the Europeans have only taken a greater interest in them in the past 10 years). It was probably models like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V that started the trend; while there were SUVs like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rovers earlier, the more passenger car-like character of the small SUVs appealed to many and inspired other carmakers to also offer such models as demand grew.

From the mid-1990s, the new generation of SUVs kept appearing in more price and size segments. Lexus began introducing a premium SUV with the RX in 1997 and then Mercedes-Benz came out with the M-Class a year later, and BMW followed with its X5. Even Jaguar, Volvo and Porsche developed SUVs that became very popular while Land Rover broadened its offerings. It seemed like only in the uppermost segment – the luxury segment – was there no SUV but then Bentley also came out with the Bentayga.

The meteoric rise of SUVs began with the (top row) Toyota RAV4 in 1995 and moved up through the segments with models like the Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz M-Class and BMW X5, with the Bentley Bentayga (above) bringing it into the luxury segment.

Now, with Rolls-Royce unveiling its first SUV ever – the Cullinan – the trend would seem to have finally reached the pinnacle of the industry. Its addition to the range suggests that even customers in this super exclusive and super expensive segment like SUVs and are not satisfied with just a Range Rover – once the SUV of choice for the rich and famous.

“The super-luxury lifestyle is evolving and Rolls-Royce is in the lead. Luxury is no longer an urban concept. More and more it is about embracing and experiencing the wider world. 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. For this reason, they have asked us to create a Rolls-Royce that offers uncompromised luxury wherever they dare to venture,” said Torsten Muller-Otvos, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

Rolls-Royce initially didn’t want to call their SUV by that term, referring to it as a ‘high-bodied motorcar’. Maybe ‘HBM’ might have sounded strange and they now describe the Cullinan as ‘the Rolls-Royce of SUVs’.

Porsche tried almost the same thing too, insisting that the Cayenne was ‘not just another new SUV’ but a new Porsche. But these days, they also use the SUV term freely. BMW seems to be the only one who has successfully avoided using ‘SUV’ and instead calls its SUV models SAVs – for Sport Activity Vehicles. And of course, the industry has also moved on to start using the term ‘crossover’ more frequently…

Anyway, whatever it is, Rolls-Royce can rightfully (and be the only one) to claim to have The Rolls-Royce of SUVs. But, as would be expected, it is not a ‘mere SUV’. “The label ‘SUV’ is now applied to anything with a two-box silhouette and the least suggestion of going off tarmac. We envisioned an authentic, 3-box high-bodied all-terrain car with a convention-challenging design and absolute capability that would satisfy the adventurous urges of our clients,” explained Giles Taylor, Director of Design at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

Most importantly, it has the luxury and performance befitting a Rolls-Royce. Although many of the clientele are older, there are also man customers who are young, very successful high-net-worth individuals who are heavily engaged in the experience economy and they want a Rolls-Royce that would ‘take them to the ends of the Earth in ultimate luxury’.

Named after the largest diamond ever discovered (which now resides in the British Crown Jewels), the Cullinan has a contemporary and functional design which Rolls-Royce declares will gain iconic status in the face of increasingly bland SUV designs. It is claimed to be the first ‘three-box’ car in the SUV sector and is more family-oriented.

It is the second new Rolls-Royce to sit on the all-new aluminium ‘Architecture of Luxury’. It was designed and engineered from the ground up in such a way as to be scalable to the size and weight requirements of different future Rolls-Royce models, including those with different propulsion, traction and control systems, thus underpinning the long-term future product roadmap.  The engineering team could therefore adapt the Architecture of Luxury to the design template of a high-bodied car.

The Cullinan uses this new architecture in a wholly different manner to deliver an iconic design and presence, uncompromised comfort, space and usability, cutting edge technology and the peerless on-road and off-road driving experience and capability. The component parts of the base architecture were reconfigured into a spaceframe that was higher and shorter whilst also delivering a completely new feature never seen before on a production Rolls-Royce model – a tailgate.

Yes, it’s something radical in the design of a Rolls-Royce to have a back door but it is an essential element in SUV. The spare wheel hanging on the door used to also be essential but is no longer deemed a necessity for a SUV to be ‘authentic’. And fortunately so, as a spare wheel mounted at the back of a Rolls-Royce would certainly look very strange!

That back door isn’t called a tailgate, which would be too ‘common’; instead, Rolls-Royce calls it ‘The Clasp’ and it is composed of two sections which open and close.  The design of the rear section is such that it is reminiscent of the era when luggage was mounted on the exterior of the car so the occupants did not travel with their belongings in the same space. This is the reason for the rear profile of Cullinan being a two-part, ‘D-Back’ format, with the bustle denoting the place of the luggage.

The rear compartment offers a standard 560 litres of space, growing to 600 with the parcel shelf removed (a BMW X5 has 650 litres with the rear seats in use). Furthermore, the base of the rear seats sits higher than the boot floor, so even with both rear seats folded, the items in the boot cannot slip forward and are safely contained, unlike in any other SUV.

For those wishing to carry a long item back from their trip – perhaps a painting from an Art Gallery or a Persian carpet – a loading length of 2245 mm and load capacity of up to 1,930 litres becomes available by electronically raising the boot floor to meet the seat base, allowing the item to slide through effortlessly. Rolls-Royce notes that the loading length is longer than that in a Range Rover Vogue with an extended wheelbase.

As for seating, the rear passenger compartment of the Cullinan has been designed to offer ‘the best seat in the house’. Two rear configurations are offered – Lounge Seats or Individual Seats. The Lounge Seat configuration is the more functional of the two options. With space for three passengers in the rear, it will likely be more attractive to families. The rear seats also fold down – a first for Rolls-Royce.

The seats fold electronically in a number of configurations by pressing the appropriate button in the boot or rear door pocket. One press sees each backrest effortlessly fold down whilst at the same time moving the headrests upwards to avoid making an imprint on the seat cushion. Both seat backs can be folded completely, creating a flat load area or in a 2/3 and 1/3 split, increasing practicality even further. Rear passengers can still travel with a long load, or use the carpeted seat back as an occasional table on which to rest their precious personal items.

Knowing that the Rolls-Royce customer expects to customise his or her Cullinan, a second rear configuration is offered. The Individual Seat configuration is for those who value ultimate luxury over SUV practicality. The two individual rear seats are separated by a Fixed Rear Centre Console incorporating a drinks cabinet with Rolls-Royce whisky glasses and decanter, champagne flutes and a refrigerator. The seats also move in a number of planes to offer ultimate comfort whilst travelling in the rear.

One final feature brings Rolls-Royce’s ultimate level of luxury to this configuration of Cullinan. Inspired by the age when one never travelled with one’s luggage, a glass partition isolates the passenger cabin from the luggage compartment, creating an inner ecosystem for the occupants. In addition to enhanced and typically class-leading silence within the cabin, there is a further benefit in the hottest and coldest of environments. Thanks to the sealed cabin created by the glass partition wall, the occupants can remain at the temperature they choose even when the luggage compartment stands open.

Rolls-Royce doesn’t elaborate much on the powertrains of its cars and for the Cullinan, it’s the same. The only information is that the 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 Rolls-Royce engine delivers 563 bhp/850Nm to an all-new all-wheel drive, all-wheel steer system.

In greater detail, however, is the suspension which gives the Cullinan Rolls-Royce’s famous ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ off-road, while ensuring class-leading on-road behaviour in the SUV sector. The latest generation of self-levelling air suspension has a thorough re-engineering of the existing suspension system, including adding larger air struts with more air volume to cushion the blows of the toughest terrain.

This will give the owner the requisite luxury even while the Cullinan goes places no modern Rolls-Royce owner has travelled before. The system has been tested to destruction in many parts of the planet.

The suspension makes millions of calculations every second as it continuously varies the electronically-controlled shock absorber adjustment system – reacting to body and wheel acceleration, steering inputs and camera information. A new double-wishbone front axle and 5-link rear axle deliver exceptional levels of control over lateral roll and shear forces and deliver extensive agility and stability, as does the addition of 4-wheel steering, all contributing to drivability and nimbleness.

Cullinan owners might not subject their cars to such conditions but Rolls-Royce has made sure that if they wish to, it will be able to travel over all types of terrain while providing a Magic Carpet Ride.

A host of other cutting-edge technology makes the Cullinan the most technologically advanced car of its type in the world. The equipment list includes Night Vision and Vision Assist including daytime and night-time Wildlife & Pedestrian warning; Alertness Assistant; a 4-Camera system with Panoramic View, all-round visibility and helicopter view; Active Cruise Control; Collision Warning; Cross-Traffic Warning, Lane Departure and Lane Change Warning; an industry leading 7×3 High-Resolution Head-Up Display, wifi hotspot, and the latest Navigation and Entertainment Systems.

For those not behind the wheel, the world’s most spectacular scenery is to be seen from a privileged position. Those in the rear sit higher than those in the front of the car on Pavilion Seating, enjoying grandstand views of their surroundings through the large glazed area of Cullinan’s side windows and panoramic glass roof. And if they wish to locate themselves or their latest far-flung discovery, they can zero in on their location on the rear touchscreen map.

Further enjoyment awaits in the form a Rolls-Royce Recreation Module. This multi-part module includes a Drone Racing Module that the owner can commission from Rolls-Royce to satisfy his or her preferred recreational pursuits. Fly fishing, photography, rock climbing, snowboarding, parascending, kite boarding, base jumping, volcano boarding or simply sitting and taking in the view, anything is possible thanks to the Rolls-Royce Bespoke Collective. Easily slotted and plugged into the boot of Cullinan, each Recreation Module contains a motorised drawer housing the equipment and paraphernalia specific to each Cullinan owner’s pursuits.

“The launch of a new Rolls-Royce model is always a seminal moment in the luxury industry. We are setting a new standard by creating a new class of motoring and motor car for customers who are well-connected, highly mobile and have a global perspective. They want a new type of motor car that gives them unbounded access in ultimate luxury. Their sense of adventure and daring demands a “go-anywhere in ultimate luxury” motor car that will both take them to and meet them at the pinnacle of life. Cullinan is that motor car,” declared Peter Schwarzenbauer, Chairman of Rolls-Royce and Member of the Board of the BMW Group.

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[Chips Yap]

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