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It began a new era for the brand, but now Goodwood’s big, bold super-luxury SUV braves the road test microscope

Park your indignation for a moment. The Cullinan might be yet another obscenely large and heavy capitulation to the market’s appetite for SUVs but, in the world of ultra-premium manufacturers, Rolls-Royce stands on firmer ground than any other in terms of precedent.

From 1914, armoured cars built upon its Silver Ghost chassis were equipped with water-cooled .303 Vickers machine guns and sent to serve in the First World War. Squadrons a dozen strong made it as far afield as the Middle East, where they helped TE Lawrence conquer Turkish forces in the desert.

The black on silver colour scheme of the classic Rolls-Royce ‘Double R’ badge has been inverted for these edgier Black Badge models. It looks delightfully inappropriate when caked in mud

“More valuable than rubies” was how Lawrence of Arabia famously described these fantastically ugly 7.5-litre 4.7-tonne machines and, in one form or another, Rolls-Royce’s front-line service endured until 1941.

Even during the time between Rolls-Royce’s 1904 founding and its involvement in conflict, its vehicles often functioned as what would now be called SUVs. They had to be luxurious and reliable but were expected to deliver those attributes on often appalling ‘road’ surfaces.

Fitted with shooting brake bodies, they also provided motorised support for the many off-road activities of the privileged. European aristocracy needed ground clearance and roomy cabins for hunting excursions and one Indian maharaja later ordered his 1925 Phantom with taller wheels, searchlights and an elephant gun mounted on the rear bumper.

We think it’s unlikely modern Rolls-Royce would entertain such a request (although surely it receives them from time to time) but the 6.75-litre 2.7-tonne Cullinan nevertheless has true utilitarian lineage. And even if it didn’t, as the management watched the Bentayga instantly outsell all Bentley’s other models combined, and the Urus double Lamborghini’s output in its first year, an SUV must have seemed from a commercial standpoint the only sensible option for the brand. So that is what we now have.

The Cullinan line-up at a glance

Customers who move in the rarefied atmosphere where new Rolls Royces are sold don’t use anything as ordinary as equipment levels with which to define their cars. Through its Bespoke Collective, the company will do its best to produce any kind of equipment or accessory in your car that you can design, conceive of or might have a use for. You can also commission your own paint colour, should none of the available 44,000 ‘ready to wear’ hues be suitable.

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The firm’s Black Badge extra-special design and performance treatment, as featured on our test car, first appeared with the Wraith in 2016 and has since been applied to the Ghost and Dawn.

Price £306,935 Power 591bhp Torque 664lb ft 0-60mph 4.9sec 30-70mph in fourth na Fuel economy 18.6mpg CO2 emissions 343g/km 70-0mph 48.0m

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