The Cullinan has been a long time coming. Rolls, a touch snootily, says it was waiting for the SUV concept to be perfected before entering the fray on behalf of “those customers who will accept no compromise—the patrons of true luxury”. Perhaps they’re ready to trade in their Range Rovers now. Either way, design director Giles Taylor and his team began hypothesizing five years ago. “We didn’t set out to do an SUV,” Taylor says, “we set out to define and deliver Rolls-Royce luxury in a high-bodied vehicle. We know these types of cars are particularly popular in the US, in the Middle East and increasingly in China. We envisaged an elevated luxury, fusing the comfort and opulence of our cars with that sense of surveying the vista ahead and being able to take it on. We embraced the desert. This is a car that belongs at the top of a sand dune.”
More than most, Taylor has had to develop a deep understanding of the people who buy the cars he designs, navigate their idiosyncrasies while making them comfortable with new approaches. He doesn’t do crowd-pleasers, and a certain thoughtfulness is useful when it comes to understanding his philosophy. Like the Phantom, the Cullinan is a meticulous piece of work, with rigorously finished surfaces and unbelievable presence. It’s a powerful, implacable-looking machine, whose laser headlights and vertical and horizontal lines result in a face that Rolls likens to a warrior. The hood sits higher than the front wings to emphasize the car’s tougher remit. Then there’s the traditional Parthenon grille—which came in for some serious stick recently, courtesy of Aston Martin’s design director, Marek Reichman. It’s fashioned from hand-polished stainless steel, and sits proud of the bodywork here. Eleanor, the Spirit of Ecstasy retracts electrically, of course, and sits higher too, presumably so she can get a better view of the vista ahead as well. Or possibly the contents of Prada’s shop window.
Accepted notions of beauty are redundant here—if ever there was a statement car, it’s the Cullinan—but Taylor admits that a certain gracefulness was still an important consideration. Plus, this is a car aimed at a new, younger, more family-oriented and progressive demographic. “It acts on its front wheels,” he says. “There’s an energy and modernity to the Cullinan. The roofline gets faster as your eye travels across it, and there’s no sweetness to the jewelry.” There are strong metal touchpoints, and big protective spears above the sills that also break up the body side volume. The Cullinan has huge ‘coach’ doors. Finally, there’s a pronounced rear ‘bustle’, which references the '30s Rolls D-Back. Back then, one’s chattels traveled separately in a trunk; you should never sit with your luggage or your dog, says Rolls. To which end, an interior glass partition can be ordered sealing off the trunk area from the cabin. Poor Fido.