Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila
PURISTS may have screamed “Sacrilege!” at the mere idea of uber-luxury brand Rolls-Royce deigning to put out an SUV, but the fuss all surely looks like much ado about nothing now. It was a logical next step, anyway.
That’s what Sven Grunwald exclusively told BusinessWorld at the Philippine launch, held on March 13, of the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, the car maker’s first entry in the highly popular sport-ute market.
“If you look historically, we’ve had patrons that have been using the Rolls-Royce off road [such as] Lawrence of Arabia [T.E. Lawrence], the Maharajas of India. People have been taking our cars off-road because of their quality and durability.”
It’s hard to argue with that kind of history, of course. But it’s also impossible to ignore the fact that the format has gained an incredible amount of traction among car buyers. The Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Asia Pacific product and operations manager said that the Cullinan represents a “natural continuation” and a “logical next step that comes certainly from customer demand.” Still, he averred; “We don’t jump into the next trend. For us, it’s a long-term strategy and development, and we make sure that the product is in its absolute perfect stage before we bring it to the market.”
Named after the world’s largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found, the Cullinan was systematically and deliberately developed over some of the harshest of environments such as the Scottish highlands, ice-blanketed passes of the Austrian Alps, and sand dunes of the Arabian peninsula.
All-wheel drive and all-wheel steering lends further confidence and credence to an already compelling 6.75-liter, 48-valve, twin-turbo V12 engine generating a robust 563hp and 850Nm. Designers and engineers made sure the Cullinan looks every inch a Rolls-Royce — with the signature long hood and an execution of the familiar Parthenon grille. The number of customization options is expectedly high.
And as one would correctly guess, a large part of the Rolls-Royce allure lies in its unmatched riding and driving comfort. The British brand even has a name for it: “magic carpet ride.” Mr. Grunwald explained; “From an engineering standpoint, that was the hardest challenge. To make sure that the on-road experience is still the same as what you’d expect from a Rolls-Royce, while you’re able to venture out on rougher terrain.”
The Cullinan suspension system is second to none in this regard. According to the company’s news release, it performs “millions of calculations every second as it continuously varies the electronically controlled shock absorber adjustment system — reacting to body and wheel acceleration, steering inputs and camera information.” Meanwhile, a double-wishbone front axle and five-link rear axle controls lateral roll and shear forces to deliver incredible agility and stability, as does the addition of four-wheel steering, all contributing to incredible drivability and nimbleness. An electronically controlled shock absorber adjustment system uses an air compression system to actively push down any wheel it detects losing traction to ensure every wheel is constantly in contact with the ground and maximum torque is being provided to all wheels.
“All of these systems help the car perform to a level that you would expect a Rolls-Royce to — particularly on the off-road side, previously an unknown factor. Everybody who’s driven it is amazed by the on-road capability because it drives like a Ghost sedan,” explained Mr. Grunwald. “When you take it off-road, you have the capability to go up steep inclines and over gravel, mud and rivers. That is achieved through increased space in the air suspension by 40%.” The Cullinan reportedly touts a water-wading depth of 540 millimeters.
The executive described how the SUV “blends beautifully” into Rolls-Royce’s current portfolio. “We’ve got the Phantom, which is always the pinnacle [and] the car for special occasions; Ghost, the luxury, business sedan; Wraith, the ultimate grand tourer for self-driving pleasures; and Dawn which is the very sociable convertible… [In the Cullinan] we now have a car which is sociable as well, and is extremely practical due to its interior options, and which is actually targeted at families as well.”
Perhaps most important of all, the Cullinan is proving to be a popular (well, popular by Rolls-Royce standards) gateway into the brand. Of the customers who have so far bought the Cullinan thus far, “50% is conquest, or new to the brand,” revealed Mr. Grunwald. “People who previously might not have considered a Rolls-Royce before are now saying this is exactly what they’re looking for.”
In concert with its Black Badge editions, the Cullinan (available in four- and five-seat configurations) onslaught is enabling Rolls-Royce to target younger customers and self-drivers. “For our brand it’s incredibly important to develop with the times, to make the car interesting to more people.”
For Autohub Group president Willy Q. Tee Ten, whose company is the authorized distributor of the Rolls-Royce here, the Cullinan’s arrival is timely.
“The Philippines is an SUV country,” he said in a speech, “And the Cullinan is the car our customers have been waiting for, perfectly suited for this market with unmistakable presence on and off-road. This is the car that will set the new benchmark for super-luxury in the SUV segment, an all-purpose Rolls-Royce for our captains of industry.”