‘Reaction to the Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV has been mixed’

Controversial doesn’t really sum it up, but the reaction to Rolls-Royce building an SUV, and then to the car itself, has been somewhat mixed.

A few weeks ago, I was invited down to Rolls’ sprawling headquarters in Goodwood to see the new Cullinan. I’ll admit to being apprehensive; the camouflaged spy shots hinted at a brute of a car that would be less private club and more club hammer. Could Rolls-Royce, the most luxurious car maker on the planet, really produce an SUV with the grace that’s become synonymous with the brand?

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The answer is yes and no. Rolls-Royce’s design boss Giles Taylor told me that he was encouraged to “go big” with “a functional aesthetic that offers no apology”. He’s done that alright. So can such a ‘high-sided’ car that weighs 2,660kg be graceful?

As the covers came off that morning in Goodwood I was surprised by two things: firstly, the car looked more compact than I was expecting (and than the pictures would lead you to believe); it’s roughly the same length as a Rolls-Royce Ghost. And secondly, there’s some of the nicest detailing around the car that I’ve seen in a long time. So has Taylor designed a graceful car? No. But has he designed an SUV that is every inch a Rolls-Royce? Absolutely.

What I admire almost as much is the bravery to build this car – and credit must lie with BMW, the guardian of two great British brands, MINI and Rolls-Royce. Sure, the business case for Cullinan probably stacked up quite nicely; people will buy it, for sure, and it’ll make money.

But the more difficult question was surely whether Rolls-Royce should’ve made it. For me, it was clearly the right decision; a progressive decision. And proof that, under BMW, both Rolls-Royce and MINI have never been in better shape.

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