2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan review: The top-shelf SUV – CNET

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2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan review: The top-shelf SUV


Say hello to the Cullinan, the first SUV from Rolls-Royce. This uber-premium automaker has a storied history building some of the finest luxury sedans and coupes in the world. But fear not, you well-heeled readers — the Cullinan SUV is as decadent a Rolls-Royce as any other.

That’s because Rolls-Royce builds the Cullinan on the same (aptly named) “Architecture of Luxury” that underpins the new Phantom. And with an air suspension, all-wheel drive and a wealth of usable cargo space out back, the Cullinan is simply better equipped to not only take you places other Rolls-Royces can’t, but bring all of your finest gear along, as well.

Power comes from a 6.75-liter V12 engine, producing 563 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. There’s more than enough power for quick acceleration, and it all comes on with an effortlessly elegant rush. As I make my way up to cruising speed, the eight-speed automatic transmission does its thing invisibly — seriously, I never feel it changing gears. And as I approach a curve or hill, the transmission uses GPS data to preemptively downshift (again, smoothly) so I’m always in the correct gear for what’s ahead.

Why don’t you come with me…

A characteristic feature of all Rolls-Royce cars is the so-called “magic carpet ride,” and while that sounds like a gimmicky term, I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Stereoscopic cameras read the road ahead and adjust the air suspension every millisecond. I feel like I’m driving on freshly poured, super-smooth asphalt, and nothing breaks the spell. Potholes? What potholes?

Once I’m on the highway, however, the incredibly soft suspension can make the Cullinan feel floaty at speed. Sure, this is a very luxurious car with a serene ride, but it’s sometimes hard to get a sense of exactly what’s happening underneath you. Adaptive cruise control makes highway slogs a lot easier, and willingly keeps the Cullinan at a set distance from the car ahead, smoothly bringing me to a stop as I reach heavy traffic on the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

Lane-keeping assist provides extra guidance as well, and gives a slight vibration through the steering wheel should I stray out of the lane. Thankfully, unlike some manufacturers, there’s no audible warning to go with the lane-departure system. After all, Rolls-Royce has packed 220 pounds of sound-deadening material into the Cullinan. You think it’s going to run all that with some loud beeping?

On winding roads, the Cullinan certainly shows its size. This is a 6,000-pound, 17-foot-long SUV, and not intended for spirited backroad blasts. Still, rear-axle steering helps the Cullinan feel more nimble than you might expect, and the air suspension keeps the body level while cornering. There’s a decent amount of feedback through the steering, too. Plus, I love how I can see the hood rise up under hard acceleration like a ship cutting through ocean waters, and the big brakes have ample stopping power with solid pedal feel.

Oh yes, it has coach doors.


Emme Hall/Roadshow

There are no drive modes, save for an off-road setting that raises the Cullinan by 2 inches over its standard ride height, and adjusts the transmission, throttle, engine and steering calibration. Editor-in-chief Tim Stevens had a chance to do some light off-roading when he first drove the Cullinan last year. And I’m pretty stoked to put it through a very thorough off-road test this fall.

I’ll touch on fuel efficiency only briefly, because it’s not really one of the Cullinan’s strong suits. Of course, if you’re buying a Cullinan, fuel economy probably isn’t high up on your list of purchase considerations. The EPA rates Rolls-Royce’s SUV at 12 miles per gallon in the city, 20 mpg highway and 14 mpg combined. During a week of mixed driving, I saw right around 12 mpg.

Ultra-luxe interior

Instead, you’re buying a Cullinan because it’s one of the finest luxury cars available anywhere. The leathers are so beautiful and so soft, and the surfaces that aren’t covered in hide are made from open-pore wood and exquisite textiles. Lambswool floor mats just make me want to curl my toes in the carpets, and every surface around me is heated for added comfort.

Rear-seat passengers have it really sweet. My tester has the available bench seat configuration which can fold down to, as Rolls-Royce says, “carry a long item back from their trip — whether it be a Mark Rothko from the art gallery or a newly discovered artifact from the latest archaeological dig.”

Leather, leather everywhere.


Rolls-Royce

Behind the rear seats you’ll find 21 cubic feet of cargo space. That isn’t a ton, but there’s added versatility to be found in the clamshell hatch, which can be optioned with a pair of slide-out seats for the absolute finest tailgating you can imagine. The rear seats can fold down at the touch of a button, giving you 68 cubic feet of space and a load length of 88 inches. That’s longer than a long-wheelbase Range Rover, by the way.

If you want to get really fancy, you can spec a two-seat layout with adjustable chairs, as well as a cooler in the middle for — what else? — champagne. The seats have a massage function, as well as an electronically deployable tray table, which houses a 12-inch tablet that can control the Cullinan’s infotainment system.

Therein lies my only real issue with the Cullinan: the infotainment system is somewhat lacking. This is essentially a reskinned version of BMW’s iDrive software, controlled by the Spirit of Ecstasy-adorned rotary dial in the center console or by touching the 10-inch screen in the center of the dash.

I’ve never really been a fan of iDrive — it’s full of menus and submenus that make things far more complicated than they ought to be. Neither Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are available, though you can use screen mirroring to get your Android-powered phone’s interface to appear. However, resident Android expert Antuan Goodwin tells me the most popular phones running this software don’t support screen monitoring.

The BMW iDrive-based tech is a mess of menus and submenus.


Emme Hall/Roadshow

The embedded navigation system is clunky and not very intuitive, and while I can use voice commands to enter a destination, it has a hard time recognizing many words — especially California streets with Spanish names. There isn’t a one-box entry function, either, so you have to toggle through many layers of navigation data before setting off. For a vehicle with a tagline “Effortless Everywhere,” this infotainment setup is overly complicated.

But it’s not all bad on the tech front. Five USB Type-C outlets are available throughout the cabin, as are three 12-volt outlets and a wireless charging pad inside the center console.

Like any Rolls-Royce, the sky’s the limit in terms of customization, and the company will do almost anything you ask it to — for a price, natch. My tester starts at $325,000, but adds things like a $5,000 bespoke clock, $4,025 for contrasting piping on the seats, $9,950 for an upgraded audio system and a whole lot more. Add in $2,500 for destination, $2,600 for a gas-guzzler tax, and you end up with the $399,275 as-tested price of the Cullinan you see here.

Nothing else in the world really competes with the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. A Land Rover Range Rover offers good luxury with substantial off-road chops, and you could certainly compare the Bentley Bentayga, though it’s not nearly as nice to drive or be driven in. Expensive as it is, the 2019 Cullinan is arguably the finest SUV in the world. But what else would you expect from Rolls-Royce?

The Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament hides out of sight when parked, then pops back up on ignition.


Emme Hall/Roadshow



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