It has been 17 years since the Cayenne debuted to a rather cold welcome, entering the market with mixed anticipation especially from purists far more familiar with light, agile and fast two-seat sportscars that Porsche was known for. An SUV was entirely different to the norm and the Stuttgart carmaker was lambasted for launching a large, heavy, and doorier utility vehicle that could accommodate more than two passengers. How would it be accepted by enthusiasts? Well, it helped matters a great deal that it was exceptionally good to drive and coupled with changing consumer trends on a global level, it became Porsche’s best-selling model — but it isn’t any more having been usurped by another vehicle from within the family. Nope, not Panamera, and certainly not the 911 but another SUV, the Macan.

Now, almost all of the prestige brands have a family hauler of their own in the line-up and seen it become its best seller and if you think the SUV craze has no bounds well then you are right because here we see the Cullinan from Rolls-Royce proving that not even it is immune. The ultra-prestigious brand has been swayed from its time-honoured traditions; amongst the finest luxury limousines comes a people carrier, because that’s what sir demanded. The rationale was simple; introducing this model was a necessity in order to keep the storied British automaker alive and as Porsche, Bentley, Audi, BMW, Mercedes and others have demonstrated, an SUV doesn’t just add to sales it can buoy you to new levels — but the Cullinan, launched last year to great international acclaim, has pushed the luxury house to even greater heights and has completely redefined the opulent SUV.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The Rolls-Royce Pantheon grille is one of the most imposing in the business but here it is elevated as high as your chest and flanked by a pair of rectangular LED headlights. It makes for an extremely bold look — staring contests must be avoided at all costs. Speaking of costs, the price tag really depends on how big your wallet is because the standard paint, leather, and trim options can all be customized to basically whatever your heart desires. Tall, imposingly slab-sided, and with the traditional Spirit of Ecstasy adorning the bonnet, the Cullinan — heavily based on the Phantom (the fascia’s are almost identical but the character lines are exaggerated and everything is blockier and bulkier) — is clearly in another class altogether. It rides on the aluminium ‘Architecture of Luxury’ platform and the higher suspension and wagon-like roof sets it apart from the rest of the line-up, and unlike Bentley, which went with a sportier roofline for the Bentayga, Rolls’ boxy layout gives the model a totally unique appearance with the extra thick D-pillar, 22in wheels and the side detailing scoring extra points.

Nothing can rival this wealthy gentleman’s off-roader (yes, an off-road Rolls; they describe it as an ‘all-terrain, high-bodied car that makes the idea of authentic, luxury off-road travel a reality for the first time’...) with front and rear suicide doors that open electronically with the push of a button. This isn’t just Rolls-Royce’s first-ever SUV, it’s also the first-ever Rolls with four-wheel drive and it was also the first not to have been named in the conventional manner with the usage of ethereal words like Ghost, Spirit and Shadow — its moniker was derived from the world’s largest diamond, now part of the British Crown Jewels.

The cabin is on another level of opulence, as one would expect, and the leather has been taken from the least flee-bitten cows and stitched to perfection. One of the top priorities was to ensure there was ample interior space and this has definitely been achieved; in the second row, where the owner will very likely be seated, you can sit with your legs stretched out no matter how tall you are (kick your shoes off to really enjoy the thickest lambs-wool floor mats). You’ll never feel short changed back here; the higher seating position, huge panoramic sunroof and real wood and chrome trim throughout layered in a way other brands can only dream of ensures that. Between the two rear seats is a centre console which incorporates a drinks cabinet and refrigerator and the glass partition to separate the seating area from the boot is a nice touch (as is the picnic table and leather clad seats that swing out electronically from the back of the boot). The rest of it is as satisfying as you would expect — with the ‘jewellery’, Rolls’ fancy word for the switchgear, sublime to look at and to touch. The new digital dashboard does a great impression of those classic, analogue gauges replete with chrome rings (you’ve got to look closely to be sure...) and it is loaded with the latest features such as Night Vision and Vision Assist (with daytime and night-time Wildlife & Pedestrian warning), Alertness Assistant, a four-Camera system with Panoramic View, all-round visibility and helicopter view, Active Cruise Control, Collision Warning, Cross-Traffic Warning, Lane Departure, and Lane Change Warning, a High-Resolution Head-Up Display, WiFi hotspot, and new-generation navigation and entertainment systems.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

Effortless power is supplied by a buttery smooth 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 which has 563 horses and 850Nm of torque with all the oomph sent to the four wheels via an eight-speed ZF automatic. The self-levelling air suspension (double-wishbones at the front and a five-link axle at the rear) keep the ride as supple as can be and you feel as if you’re just wafting along — even when you’re pushing 100kph it feels like you’re doing 10kph. That magic-carpet ride experience is heightened in the Cullinan due to the fact you sit higher up. It can also be taken off road and with just one knob depressed — known within Rolls as the ‘Everywhere’ button — and it readies itself for any terrain, including gravel, wet grass, mud, snow, or sand. Whether you or your chauffeur would or not is another matter.

Being a Rolls-Royce owner is a lifestyle that not many can afford and if the Cullinan is going to cost over Dh2million then it must feel truly special. It does. The Goodwood carmaker may have raised eyebrows when it entered the SUV segment but it has raised the bar so high that nobody but Rolls could possibly top this...