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Rolls-Royce Takes the Sport-Utility to New Heights

A smooth ride and bells and whistles galore make the Cullinan more than outdoor-ready

We’re not sure if Rolls-Royce customers are tailgating types, and of those who might be, it’s hard to imagine many of them getting their pregame buzz on in a college stadium parking lot, grabbing cold, wet beers—or even a bottle of Cristal—from the boot of their Rolls. Certainly, better choices for such shenanigans exist among the seven to 10 other vehicles owned by the typical Rolls-Royce customer.

Or is there? Among the numerous amenities of the all-new Rolls-Royce Cullinan that far surpass the realm of necessity is the “Viewing Suite”—two folding seats that, at the touch of a button, motor out from the “Recreation Module” cartridge mounted beneath the cargo floor and unfold, facing outward, while a small cocktail table rises between them. Homecoming will never be the same.

Rolls-Royce has designed various other modules that may be stored at home and swapped into the Cullinan on a lark, should the customer prefer drone photography, hiking, rock climbing, BASE jumping, snowboarding, wakeboarding—even volcano boarding (!). And in case Rolls has not, in fact, anticipated one’s specific sybaritic desire, customers may spec out their own custom Recreation Modules to suit whatever activities they consider “recreation.”

But that Viewing Suite—an estimated $25,000 expenditure on top of the roughly $325K starting price for the Cullinan—should prove particularly popular, we surmise, especially to drivers who are comfortable driving off-road. As the company’s first-ever model to come standard with all-wheel drive, adjustable air suspension informed by stereoscopic cameras, hill descent control, four-camera surround view with “helicopter mode,” infrared night vision that detects both pedestrians and wildlife, water-fording capability of 21 inches, and an “Everywhere” button that sets the Cullinan up for optimal traction based on terrain, the vehicle may take them places they could never reach in a Phantom and where the Viewing Suite could be put to very good use indeed.

We got the chance to reach some of those places in the Cullinan during its global media debut in gorgeous Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where we experienced, among other things, what it’s like to drive a Rolls-Royce that is—clutch pearls—dirty. While we’d never wear the record-breaking mega-diamond for which the Cullinan is named out on trails this muddy and strewn with debris, we would happily climb Snow King again in this Rolls, even on the standard all-season tires; ditto any of the miles of muddy, rutted Wyoming trails, which, in spite of their rocks, water crossings, and undulating surfaces, never pitched the Cullinan’s body into a fit of shuddering or tossed our heads around violently. For tougher stuff, the eight-speed automatic has a “Low” button that holds second gear. Sure, the Cullinan is the most expensive production SUV in history, but powered by Rolls-Royce’s trusty, torquey, and silent 563-horsepower 6.75-liter V-12 and aided by technology, it is not as precious as one might expect.

The Cullinan is also not as numb on the road as one might expect, given that it’s a three-ton SUV, and a Rolls-Royce SUV to boot. Indeed, the vehicle feels taut—never harsh, just mannerly and crisp—more like a Ghost than the pillowy Phantom. Steering is well weighted and accurate, but at 79 inches across—roughly the same as a full-size pickup—the Cullinan always feels big, especially on narrow two-laners. It’s arguably at its best where there are no lanes—i.e., off-road.

It even looks better with a little grit, because, to be candid, the elegance for which Rolls-Royces are known is muted to some degree in this high-bodied form. Its aluminum-intensive “Architecture of Luxury” structure also underpins the $100K-pricier Phantom, but a foot and a half less length and seven inches more height give the Cullinan a chunkier profile. All traditional Rolls-Royce cues are present—the Pantheon grille, stern-looking headlamps, pronounced shoulder, power-operated “coach” doors, small rectangular taillamps, tapering bustle-back rear end—but the proportions seem somewhat awkward, like those of the high-roofed Bentley limousine the Queen of England uses when Her Majesty allows herself to be seen being transported in public. That said, those high walls make great canvases for splattered mud, and the Spirit of Ecstasy, a.k.a. Eleanor, looks rather awesome with mud on her face. Good thing each Cullinan is coated with three coats of paint and two layers of protective clear coat.

There’s little to question inside. Like most Rolls-Royces, there isn’t much of the interior that’s not covered by unspeakably soft bull hides (at least nine per Cullinan, according to Rolls-Royce), gorgeous wood veneers, or authentic metal trim, with the ambience changing considerably depending on the color scheme and level of sheen on the wood and metal. Whether in front or back, one sits upon what feels more like a personal cloud than a chair, and as with Rolls’s Ghost and Phantom sedans, the rears can be combined bench-style for three-across capacity, or as individual thrones separated by a refrigerator and cabinetry containing whiskey glasses and other bar items. Stadium seating and tall, vertical windows provide a commanding view, and should the paparazzi attack, power curtains are available to shut them out. Buttons on the front seatbacks deploy motorized tray tables that feature integrated touchscreen tablets for in-seat entertainment, navigation, or web browsing via the Cullinan’s 5G-capable hotspot. And, of course, there’s no pleasure quite like running one’s toes through the deep lamb’s wool carpets in a Rolls-Royce.

Deliveries of the 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan are slated to begin about the time you read this. Watch for them on the road, on a trail, or perhaps at a tailgate party near you.

The 2019 Super-Sport-Utilities: Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne

While the Rolls-Royce sport-utility vehicle featured in this issue is neither sporty nor all that utilitarian, Lamborghini’s new SUV, the Urus—pronounced “ooo-rus”—promises to be at least the former. Lamborghini is even characterizing it as a super-sport-utility vehicle. And that’s a fair comment coming from Lamborghini, which knows a bit about super-sport things.

Starting around $200K, the Urus isn’t Lamborghini’s first SUV, but it’s the company’s first since the tanklike LM002 of the late 1980s/early 1990s, a.k.a. the Rambo Lambo. Unlike the LM002, which used the Countach’s sonorous but persnickety V-12, the Urus uses a wickedly powerful turbocharged V-8 with 641 hp, roughly 200 ponies mightier than the LM002’s V-12. Thus equipped, the Urus should be good for 0-to-60 mph sprints of about 3.5 seconds, half the time it took the LM002. The Urus’s hexagon-driven cabin decor is stunningly different from those of the similarly priced Bentley Bentayga and similarly sport-oriented Porsche Cayenne, corporate cousins of the Urus within the Volkswagen AG family.

Lamborghini Urus Dynamic Launch in Palm Springs, California.

Speaking of the Porsche, the Urus might not exist if not for the Cayenne, which was the first SUV to prove that a truly sporty sport-utility vehicle was possible. For 2019, the Cayenne is all-new and, like the Urus, designed for sportier-minded drivers. While the top dog Cayenne Turbo shares much of its turbocharged V-8 with the Urus (and the Bentley), it’s limited to “just” 550 hp, so as not to upstage the others, both of which are roughly $75K pricier. The Cayenne and Cayenne S models will also be offered with turbo V-6s with 340 and 440 hp, respectively, starting around $75K.

Visually, the new Cayenne appears thicker but is actually lower and narrower, yet still as sleek as a missile. It’s more spacious and far more refined inside. Both of these particularly sporty sport-utes are on sale now.