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Cars with Jan Coomans. Rolls-Royce Cullinan review: the pinnacle of…

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Rolls-Royce Cullinan

It had to happen sooner or later. Despite endless delays and scheduling conflicts, I eventually found myself taking temporary possession of a Rolls-Royce Cullinan for a real life review on Moscow’s streets. Up until that moment, it had seemed that the Cullinan and I were two magnets facing each other the wrong way, experiencing a strong repelling force which could not be seen with the naked eye.

What is a Cullinan? Depending on who you ask, most likely Google, it’s either the largest gem-quality diamond ever found or Rolls-Royce’s attempt at creating the world’s most superlative SUV. There’s no prizes for guessing which one I’ll be talking about. By now, my personal aversion towards the whole SUV concept generally is well documented, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t suck it up for a moment and deliver a professional review of a very expensive piece of machinery with a Spirit of Ecstacy on the bonnet. So I will give that a shot. In just a moment. First I will point out for the umpteenth time that for the purposes of nearly everyone, SUVs are simply worse than regular cars. Even if I preferred a higher seating position (I do not) I certainly wouldn’t want to sacrifice part of the handling, ride quality and fuel efficiency to achieve it. I know, I know. Cue the eye rolls. I’m clearly out of touch.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

There are some benefits to the SUV format, if you look hard enough. On the off chance that you want to drive through a recently plowed field or smash through some snow banks, for example, the massively increased ride height will come in handy. The fact that they emit more CO2 than a lighter and more aerodynamic car of similar proportions is also really helping the cold Russian climate become slightly more bearable. Clouds and their silver linings. Apologies if that last bit sounded a bit too snarky, let’s turn back towards the topic at hand. Rolls-Royce can credibly claim the Cullinan itself to be the most capable car they’ve ever built. It can go places where its other models cannot, and that has to be worth something in certain parts of the world. And let’s not forget that, even in the olden days, Rolls-Royce motor cars were famous for their ruggedness. Referring to the original Silver Ghost, introduced in 1906, Lawrence of Arabia wrote "a Rolls in the desert is above rubies" and wished that he could have one with enough petrol and tires to last his entire life. As far as referrals go, that’s certainly up there. And I can’t deny that, if I was going to take a ride in the desert and given any choice of car, I might gravitate quite strongly towards a Cullinan myself. Either because it’s inherently suitable for that purpose or because its weight rivals that of a small planet. Take your pick.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

When you climb into a Cullinan for the first time — and it is something of a climb even for someone of above-average height — you do feel where all your money went. The quality of the leather is unmatched, there’s lots and lots of metal bits in places where you’d expect plastic in a lesser car and the whole thing feels positively gigantic. I’m not trying to be insulting when I say that feels more like you’re driving a boat. This is a luxury yacht with four wheels, and in that context one could say that it’s not only reasonably priced but more useful than most actual boats as well. Not to mention a lot faster. The bonnet is so high up and stretches so far out in front of the car that the Spirit of Ecstacy appears to be doing her best Kate Winslet impression. It all adds up to a truly unique driving experience. It’s enjoyable, though parking it in spaces designed for more ordinary cars of less impressive proportions presents the odd challenge. At that stage, a tug boat or two would actually come in handy. Those aren’t available on the options list (yet?) but there is a rather clever system of parking sensors and cameras which makes the docking parking process a lot easier than it otherwise would be. That is, of course, assuming that you’ll be driving your Cullinan yourself.

In the not unlikely case that you prefer to spend most of your time on the back seats, life is just as luxurious and peachy as it is at the front. You’ll be expecting someone to open the doors for you, which is sort of necessary if you actually want to get out of the car in a dignified manner. Because the rear "coach style" doors are hinged not at the B pillar but rather right next to you, you have very little leverage to push them open without leaning way forwards, at which point you’ve probably run out of extra body length to push the door outwards. There is a nice button you can press to close the door, but for safety (and legal liability) reasons there’s no button you can press to swing the door open. I imagine this won’t be an issue at all for actual customers for whom there ought to be staff on hand to facilitate graceful egress wherever you go. And this unusual arrangement does have the advantage of being able to swing the doors a full 90 degrees open, which means the door itself never gets in the way of getting out.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

The most remarkable thing about driving the Cullinan must be the silence. And the buttery smoothness of the suspension, of course. It’s a Rolls-Royce. But is it quite as buttery smooth as the new Phantom with which this car shares its platform? Not entirely — even Rolls can’t escape basic SUV physics — but realistically speaking it’s close enough. Like the latest Phantom, there are cameras looking at the quality of the road surface ahead and adjusting the suspension accordingly. As with any sufficiently advanced technology, it’s difficult to distinguish it from magic. In any case, I can’t think of many ways to be much more comfortable than sitting in a Cullinan, other than lying in bed. Which tends to be unproductive and a trifle dull, whereas your Cullinan can whisk you to your next polo match or business meeting in style. A particular kind of style, to be sure, but who has time to argue about the subjective at this point.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

The 6.75 liter turbocharged V12 is inaudible most of the time, and makes only the faintest of hums once you start tapping heavily into its power reserves which measure 571 horsepower and 850 Nm of torque. The V12 is a naturally balanced engine layout, so there isn’t even the faintest hint of vibration. When you put your right foot down, which seems a bit rude somehow, the massive Cullinan accelerates in a way that would have been thought impossible for anything of this size and mass not too long ago. The invisible hand of V12 simply pushes you towards the horizon at an inappropriate rate of knots. It’s not exactly blisteringly fast, to be fair, but saying it has "ample" acceleration would be an understatement in its own right. 0 to 100 only takes about 5 seconds. Somewhat amusingly, there is a "low" button on the gear selector switch which seems to act like a "sport" button tends to do in other cars. Whereas traditionally the throttle pedal in a Rolls would act a bit like the engine order telegraph on old ships, the "low" button puts the engine response into hyperactive mode. Which is strangely amusing, and something akin to what might happen if a rogue staff member mixed cocaine into the Queen of England’s breakfast porridge. I don’t mind that they give the driver this option now, I’m all for it, it’s just a little out of character albeit in a delicious and entertaining kind of way.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

There are a couple of strange little quirks that will probably bother no-one except a journalist looking for something to nitpick. For instance, there is a lovely clock embedded in the dashboard but it is placed in such a way that the driver can effectively only tell time when both clock hands are on the far side of the dial. If it’s a quarter to nine for example, the best you can do is guesstimate that the time must be somewhere between 6:30 and 12. One could probably make a more accurate guess by looking out the window at such astronomical clues as the sun and/or moon. Meanwhile, the new digital panel inside the dashboard looks fabulous, displaying super crisp impressions of analog indicators, but somehow the dashboard pieces which surround it are asymmetrical. The bottom half isn’t at all horizontal, unlike the top part, and this triggered my usually dormant OCD tremendously. From the company which went through massive lengths to engineer wheel caps that always stay upright, it’s a bit odd. Maybe I should get a job looking for imperfections in the diamond business.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

So what is the point of the Cullinan’s existence? As with nearly any other human-built object in the world, there is the rather mundane reason of money. Large corporations have shareholders and they like to see large numbers in green ink. It makes no sense for Rolls-Royce not to produce a car for which there is huge demand even if it does look like a bit like a London taxi on steroids. Not that any of it matters for anyone who actually wants to buy it, anyway. People are right to get what they want when they want it. Rolls-Royce deal in luxury but they’re not the taste police. And, it’s not like anyone else in the car business is immune to the SUV virus either. Bentley, Aston Martin, Maserati, Lamborghini, Porsche... and soon we will add Ferrari to that long list of brave souls who could not think of a better way to grow their sales and balance sheets. At the end of the day, you can’t blame a company for doing what they are meant to be doing, especially when they are still also building cars which keep the snobby purists (guilty as charged) happy. Rolls-Royce did entirely succeed in making the Cullinan by far the most luxurious SUV in the world. If the automotive equivalent of Versailles is your cup of tea, it’s brilliant. The best of them all, by most metrics. But for me it’s not the best Rolls-Royce. And if I was a Rolls-Royce customer, which admittedly requires stretching the concept of imagination to its breaking point, the best is what I would want. And from that perspective, I think nothing has changed over the past century. Give me a Ghost and enough fuel and tires to last me a lifetime and I’d live happily ever after.

02 марта 2020
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