Rolls-Royce is progressing its project to build a super-luxury SUV, according to design boss Giles Taylor. He told Autocar that his design team was still “sketching to assess the viability of the concept. We are not yet grappling with three dimensions and proportions.”

Taylor said he didn’t accept that the SUV project would “undermine the Rolls-Royce brand”. He added: “I’m interested in function and functionality. I’m looking to create a properly functional vehicle – a shooting brake, not a crossover with a sloping roof. A proper SUV.”

Other Rolls-Royce sources described the project as “a kind of Mercedes GLK-plus-plus” and said it would be priced at £200k and above. Autocar understands that the model would most likely be a member of a future Ghost family rather than a Phantom spin-off. 

The Rolls-Royce off-roader is unlikely to appear much before late 2017, but that does mean that it won’t be far behind the new Bentley SUV in arriving on the market.

Taylor also talked about the way that the interior of this and other new-generation Rolls models might evolve. “In the future, the key words will be ‘cool’ and ‘modern’," he said. "It will retain aspects of the current interior but will remain luxurious and a sanctuary. We are not talking about ostentation.”

Taylor also pointed out that since the relaunch of the brand in 2003, Rolls-Royce’s customer base has started to shift, with China becoming an ever more important market for the British car maker. 

“Many customers are now Chinese entrepreneurs – savvy and self-made with a young spirit,” he said. “They might be as young as 30 years old and are very interested in authenticity, Chinese heritage and prestige.”

All car makers now predict a rapid take-up of SUVs in the Chinese market following a muted reception over the past few years. This has the potential to make the proposed Rolls SUV even more relevant to the expansion of the BMW-owned brand.

There had been speculation that the new SUV would be based on the same platform as the upcoming seven-seat BMW X7. However, it is understood that BMW is preparing a much more sophisticated steel, aluminium and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic architecture for the future Ghost and a possible 9-series family.

The new architecture was previewed at the recent Beijing motor show, where it underpinned the BMW Vision Future Luxury concept. Like the Phantom, this concept used rear-hinged rear doors for ease of access. Rolls-Royce has also shown its range of personalisation options with the launch of the Bluebird-inspired Phantom Drophead Coupé Waterspeed Collection.

What is Rolls-Royce planning in the next four years?

Between now and 2018, the Rolls-Royce line-up will be completely refreshed – with a new Ghost, new Phantom (and spin-offs) and an SUV – as the company continues its expansion plans. Here’s how its timetable of renewal looks.

Ghost facelift - 2014

Displayed at the Geneva motor show in February and due to arrive in showrooms later this year, the facelifted Ghost has a consciously more modern appearance. There’s even the choice of a Dynamic Driving Package, hinting at a more sporting mien for the model.

New Phantom - 2017

Early work is under way on a replacement for the 11-year-old super-luxury saloon and its coupé and cabriolet spin-offs, with sketches already being done at the company’s Goodwood design studio. A new BMW i-style carbonfibre and aluminium architecture is a strong possibility.

New SUV - 2017

Described as a “Mercedes GLK plus plus” by one company source, the Rolls SUV will be a proper, functional off-roader and not a sloping-roofed crossover, according to chief designer Giles Taylor. It is likely to be part of the second-generation Ghost family and first into the showroom.

New Ghost - 2018

BMW’s sophisticated part-carbonfibre structure, seen at last month’s Beijing motor show, is thought give big clues to the architecture that will underpin the next-generation Ghost family. It will replace today’s steel monocoque, which is loosely based on that used by the current 7-series.