The Spirit of Ecstasy. A peerless, ostentatious, opulent, and commanding symbol that has always been — and will most certainly always be — the pinnacle of motoring perfection.
I understand that ‘perfection’ is a word thrown around quite loosely. It can be used to describe an event, a piece of art, a scent, haute couture, or a beautiful lady, but never has the word been more befitting than when describing a Rolls-Royce. I am not quite sure when exactly the world’s richest people had an afternoon tea party and when they all of a sudden decided that they need all-wheel-drive vehicles, but they have. And because the number of one percenters without taste outweigh those that actually do, in less than 24 hours, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Bentley presented theirs. What a world we live in.
Henry Royce once said, ‘Take the best has exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it’. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the bewitching Cullinan. I understand that many of you cringe at the idea of a Rolls-Royce going off-road. I suppose it’s like seeing Queen Elizabeth lacing up some gloves and sparring with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a boxing ring, but before you do, remember that Rolls-Royce had been making cars long before paved asphalt roads existed. The legend was built on bulletproof engineering and bespoke craftsmanship, both of which had to endure its fair share of dirt, gravel, and mud abuse.
It is without question that the Cullinan is the most polarising automobile the British marque has released yet. If I am completely honest, forcing traditional Rolls-Royce lines and design cues on an SUV shape makes for an unusual looking vehicle. I have no qualms with it from the rear 3/4, although it can pass as a new Lincoln. From the side, it is unmistakably a Rolls-Royce SUV, with exposed coach doors and a single piece window frame. The front, however, lacks inspiration.
In this particular spec we had, which is in my eyes, as close to perfect as you can get, the front fascia’s dull expression is only disguised by this dark shade of blue. In a lighter tone, it is as interesting to look at as a nun’s closet. I think it has a lot to do with the shape of the headlights, which could use some contour. There is no denying its presence, though. It is imposing. I don’t know if it’s because it’s gargantuan or simply because I know it costs as much as a row of houses.
Many will argue that the true testament of a Rolls-Royce is in the way that it rides, and it is in that regard that the polarising traits of the Cullinan end, and the legendary qualities of the British marque begin. Let no one persuade you otherwise, this is as much of a Rolls-Royce as the Phantom is. It may not have the flagship’s over-indulgent ‘Gallery’ in the dashboard, where you can commission artists to create a bespoke piece for your car nor does it have its timeless elegance. However, the build quality and meticulously selected materials have not been seen in a car of this category. It is a Ferretti super yacht on wheels, only more luxurious and palatial.
The Range Rover Autobiography is the best and most luxuriously appointed SUV that money can buy, in the real world at least. Yet, it has never felt so cheap and so… RTW. That’s ready-to-wear, for you folks. We drove them back to back, and I’ve always maintained that driving a Range Rover is like cruising in the sky. You don’t feel much at all. The Cullinan is the same thing but several notches higher and without turbulence. The insulation and isolation from the outside world baffles the mind. Jeepneys, tricycles, and other noisy peasantry things are non-existent in this British bubble. I have heard more noise in a meditation room.
This 4-seat configuration with the acoustic glass that separates the boot from the cabin is the only way I’d have it. The glass partition isolates the passengers from the noise the Rimowa suitcases or Winchester rifles may make on the journey to the equestrian estate. I know that many of you will say that the Bentley Bentayga comes close. Let’s end that right here, it doesn’t.
The Bentley is still haunted by the ghost of Le Mans past, whereas the Rolls-Royce is too aristocratic to be bothered by anything related to performance and sportiness. Besides, if you were in a Bentley and this pulled up next to you, your life would be over. Done. You’d be a social-climbing peasant. There are even buttons to automatically shut each door, because pulling it on your own is for the impoverished.
The Cullinan comes with an off-road mode too, and it works with the effortless push of a button. The car raises its ride height and you leave it up to the computers to sort out what to do once you’ve run out of road. After all, it’s what you’ve paid for. While it is equipped with a 6.75-liter V12 engine with 563 thoroughbred stallions, they have been trained for utmost smoothness. And this is why you have all 850 Newton Meters of torque available at just 1,600 rpm.
It’s like asking Usain Bolt to simply walk across to the other side of the room. There’s so much power in reserve, it’s basically idling — yet it can power the entire Metro Manila should a blackout occur. The engine at full chat offers staggering performance at no more than a whisper. I know there’s a gearbox somewhere in there, but I don’t ever feel it changing gears. The combination is so smooth, it might be fuelled by liters of Macallan M single malt whisky.
The Cullinan weighs about the same as Manila Cathedral, yet it is featherlight when you’re behind the wheel. The steering input is so delicate and creamy that changing direction around the city is almost a sensual experience. As you get on with the business of driving and look straight ahead towards the endless bonnet, your eyes gravitate towards Eleanor, a flirtatious lady that sits atop the radiator grille connecting you to over a century of motoring folklore. Driving the Cullinan is unlike any other automobile I’ve ever driven.
It allows me to experience the world around me in the lap of utmost intoxicating luxury in weather and terrains where the Phantom and the Ghost would have to turn around. The leather in the cabin is pure butter and the wood is cut from the same grain. And yes, from some angles it has looks that only its mother could love, yet inside it is so cosseting and perfect — it is blessed with a mother’s touch. People stare at you in a Rolls-Royce, but never with even the slightest bit of hatred. The world is enchanted by it, and I am too.
The Cullinan was a vehicle that I so badly wanted to hate, yet I am smitten by its charm and grace. The Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus both feel like upscale Audis dressed for different occasions, whereas the Cullinan feels like no other. It is unmistakably a double R. It offers a truly magical, magical experience, with exquisite engineering and attention to detail that has immortalized the legend of Rolls-Royce as the pinnacle of the automobile for over a century.
Enthusiastically named after the largest uncut diamond in history, the Cullinan sits beautifully as the most sinfully indulgent crown jewel in this category of automobiles. The undisputed diamond in the rough. And in this polarizing epidemic where supercar makers are finding themselves taking part in the SUV arms race, the most exclusive automotive brand in the world has just built — and there’s no other way of saying this — the Rolls-Royce of SUVs.
A diamond in the rough.