In 1905, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce were busy starting a new company. They had no idea how large a role they would play in the car industry. Or, for that matter, the luxury industry.

Thousands of miles away, work was continuing at the Premier No 2 mine, in the small South African town of Cullinan. Here too, history was being made. They’d discovered a diamond. A massive one. The Cullinan diamond weighs 3,106ct and is the largest diamond ever found. After being split up, two of its biggest elements still dazzle in the British Crown Jewels.

Fast forward to 2018 and the Cullinan name is in the spotlight again, although this time it adorns a vehicle many people may regard as an automotive crown jewel.

The Cullinan is the first sports-utility vehicle (SUV) to come from the famous Rolls-Royce brand. According to Richard Carter, global communications director at Rolls, the project started with a bit of angst, a question of “Should we do it?” That is echoed by Alex Innes of the design team.

Innes chatted to Wanted at the international launch of the Cullinan, which took place in Jackson Hole in Wyoming, US. The area has the highest per capita income in the US and is also where the world’s big bankers all gather once a year.

Today it counts stars such as Brad Pitt and Kanye West among its homeowners. It’s a small town with big personalities, which is probably why it was chosen as the place to launch the world’s most luxurious SUV.

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan bonnet ornament.
The Rolls-Royce Cullinan bonnet ornament.
Image: Supplied

MAKING THE CUT

Notice we avoid calling the Cullinan an off-roader, because it is not a Range Rover or a Mercedes G-Class. Caroline Krismer, engineering project leader for the Cullinan, told us it needed to have the “best on-road comfort, but be best in class off-road on all terrains.”

Krismer and her team took the Architecture of Luxury platform developed for the latest Phantom and adapted it to suit the Cullinan. Early prototypes were tested all over the world, with the questions being asked: “Is this now a Rolls-Royce? Is this the best in class?”

This was the challenge everyone involved in designing the Cullinan had to embrace. And they did. Without doubt, it is a Rolls. The exterior design has “visual toughness”, says Innes, but it is the level of detail that counts.

Even the details are detailed. For example, the side profile features a three-box design. The main reason for this is that Rolls-Royces of old had a clear separation between the luggage and the passengers. The Cullinan is the same — allowing a glass partition between the boot space and the rear seat. The engineers have ensured enough air can get in for dogs, because this was a deal-breaker for many owners: they needed a Rolls-Royce that could convey them, their kids, and their hounds.

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan interior.
The Rolls-Royce Cullinan interior.
Image: Supplied

But convey them where? Well, off the beaten track, of course. Which is exactly what we did in Wyoming. The Cullinan features a 6.75l V12 engine that barely breaks a sweat, even when climbing Snow King mountain. The 22-inch wheels provided sufficient grip for the gravel and rocky track, and the hill-descent control system did its thing to get us down again. This was the point where we really noticed the 100kg of sound insulation. As we descended the hill, the only sound we could hear was that of the small actuator somewhere in the dash, maintaining our descent speed.

Later we found ourselves hurtling into muddy puddles to try to hear the splash beneath — but no, there was not one sound. In many ways this sums up the Cullinan, which is all about being “Effortless Everywhere”. It’s a marketing term, of course, but as you explore forest tracks, with the Spirit of Ecstasy leading the way, and not even the sound of gravel crunching beneath you, it is clear that the engineers achieved it.

- From the November edition of Wanted.

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