After years of teasing and testing, Rolls-Royce has unveiled its first SUV, a boat of a vehicle called the Cullinan that’s named after the largest diamond ever discovered. “The most anticipated car of 2018 and, quite possibly, the most anticipated Rolls-Royce of all time,” according to Rolls-Royce, the Cullinan goes on sale later this year for around $325,000 — roughly 1/100th of the estimated value of the diamond.
The all-wheel drive Cullinan will be plenty powerful — with a 6.75L twin-turbo V12 engine that makes 563 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque — and it’s being positioned by Rolls-Royce as an adept offroad vehicle. (The company says the Cullinan has been “tested to destruction all over the planet.”)
Rolls-Royce finally embraces touchscreen tech
But this won’t sacrifice the ride that Rolls are known for, the company argues. Touches of luxury abound: the rear seats are separated by a center console that houses whiskey glasses, a decanter, champagne flutes, and a fridge. The vehicle can lower itself by more than an inch and a half to make for easier entry. There’s a heated steering wheel, as well as heated (and ventilated) seats. There are technological flourishes, too. Rolls-Royce is including its first touchscreen infotainment system, wireless charging, five USB ports, a Wi-Fi hot spot, and a heads-up display in front of the driver. Safety features include night vision cameras, active cruise control, and collision and lane departure warnings.
Because it’s an SUV, there’s about 22 cubic feet of storage space in back, which Rolls-Royce says should be more than enough for you to stow a “Mark Rothko from the Art Gallery or a newly discovered artefact from the latest archaeological dig.”
Knowing that SUVs are often employed for more, um, practical adventures, though, the company also suggests some other uses. In the Cullinan’s press release, Rolls-Royce upsells the idea of “recreation modules” that can easily plug into the back of the SUV, making it easy to quickly outfit the vehicle with tools for various activities. Here’s one:
Imagine the scene. Having chosen your adventure you call down to your garage. “Jason, we’re going to go drone racing today. Can you load the Drone Module into the Cullinan?” Downstairs, Jason selects the Drone Racing Module from the rack containing several other Recreation Modules that the owner has had commissioned from Rolls-Royce to satisfy his or her preferred recreational pursuits.
Those other modules could be for “fly fishing, photography, rock climbing, snowboarding, parascending, kite boarding, base jumping, [and] volcano boarding,” but it also promotes the folding tailgate seats it teased earlier this year for people who enjoy “simply sitting and taking in the view.”
Rolls-Royce is far from the first luxury car brand known for sedans and coupes to make an SUV. In fact, it’s one of the last major holdouts. Bentley, Maserati, and even Lamborghini all make SUVs. At the lower end of the scale, SUVs make up huge portions of the sales for Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Cadillac, Lincoln, and BMW. Ferrari and Aston Martin have both announced plans to enter the market, too.
SUVs (and trucks) have become such a dominant force in the automotive market that Ford recently announced it is essentially abandoning sedans in favor of them. The only things closely resembling a “car” as we typically think of it (low profile, two to four doors) in the Ford lineup going forward will be the Focus Active, which is sort of a large hatchback (or a small crossover) and the Mustang, which will be the only surviving sedan.
SUVs are eating the market
With such high demand — SUV sales in the US rose last year, despite an overall dip in vehicle sales — that could mean great profits for these companies. But it could also uncover unintended consequences. While most major automakers have pledged to reduce the emissions of their fleets going forward, SUVs present a challenge for all-out electrification since they are inherently bigger and heavier. (While an SUV does theoretically present more space for a bigger battery, there is a potential for diminishing returns on battery life — and therefore ultimate range — the heavier the battery gets.)
Automakers could focus on working hybrid technology into SUVs in the meantime as battery technology advances. But ambitious emissions targets around the world could still be threatened if the majority of automakers shift too much focus to SUVs and trucks, even if they are hybrids.
Will any of this concern Cullinan owners as they sip whiskey on the way home from their victorious drone race or successful BASE jump or a hard-fought purchase of a Rothko? Probably not. And if that’s not the definition of luxury, I don’t know what is.