Due in full-scale production in the second half of this year for first sales just before Christmas, Cullinan is one of the principal reasons why Rolls-Royce has been investing heavily to re-configure its two key manufacturing facilities — the aluminium body “centre of excellence” at Unterhollerau near Munich, where there will soon be two body lines for all models, and at the flagship engine and final assembly plant at Goodwood, southern England, where every Rolls-Royce, regardless of body style, will in future be made on a single, high adaptable production line.
Cullinan is Rolls-Royce’s first SUV in 112 years - if you discount some extraordinary armoured saloon-based fighting vehicles of the World War One era and after — and it is also the company’s first-ever 4x4, a great leap forward especially if you consider that Cullinan’s system is a latest-tech, electronically controlled, highly configurable permanent all-wheel drive set-up. This is only the second new Rolls to use the all new, highly flexible “Architecture of Luxury” aluminium spaceframe introduced recently with the latest Phantom 8 limousine and earmarked for every future Rolls-Royce including the second-generation Ghost saloon, next to arrive after Cullinan.
Q&A: Torsten Müller-Otvös - Rolls-Royce CEO
In its current form the Ghost saloon uses BMW 7-series parts extensively because when it was announced back in 2006, Rolls bosses reckoned that was the best way to go. They have since concluded that designing a uniquely versatile aluminium space frame that can support all designs is a far better way of meet Rolls-Royce’s uncompromising requirements. In Cullinan, body rigidity is a particular feature: the new Phantom’s spaceframe is already 30% stiffer that its predecessor’s, and the Cullinan is stiffer still.
Though shorter by over 400 mm and higher (by nearly 200mm) than the new Phantom, the Cullinan is still a very big car against the standard length Bentley Bentayga and the extended wheelbase Range Rover. The Cullinan’s quoted kerb weight is 2660kg, 100kg more than the Phantom’s official figure and 200kg more than the Bentley.
The Cullinan’s self-levelling air suspension, all-independent by double wishbones at the front and a multi-link layout at the rear — with active anti-roll bars acting on wheels — is a “thorough re-engineering” of the Phantom’s layout. Mostly, it gets air struts with more volume to provide relaxed ride rates over a longer travel plus reinforced and axles.
The 4x4 system’s drive runs forward to the front wheels from the rear of the gearbox, but there’s no high-low range split. Given the presence of a torque converter, the ZF automatic gearbox’s surfeit of ratios, and the engine’s impressive low-end torque, no low ratio set is needed. A so-called Everywhere button switches a dozen powertrain and suspension elements to meet any bigger challenges, and it’s possible to sharpen your Cullinan’s behaviour more by special settings for conditions like snow, rock-crawling and sand.