There are more Cullinans for sale on PH than Astra VXRs. Here's how to get a proper diamond
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, 10 December 2023 / Loading comments
- Available for under £200,000 (just)
- 6.7-litre V12 petrol turbo, all-wheel drive
- World’s most expensive and luxurious SUV
- Brilliantly combines ‘special’ and ‘useable’
- Divisive styling
- Lots on the market but values are holding up well
Guess how many used Rolls-Royce Cullinans are available to buy on PH Classifieds right now (December 2023)? We’re not pushing our ads here, honest, this is just for a bit of fun. Go on, have a guess. Four? Five? Nine?
The correct answer is fifty-eight. Yes, 58 – and if you look elsewhere you’ll find even more. That’s a powerful indicator as to how much the luxury car market has changed in recent years. Once upon a time, Rolls-Royces were carefully – and very slowly – hand-built by horny-handed sons of toil wearing leather aprons and smoking pipes. Now, as the rich get richer and more numerous, Rolls-Royces are being banged out in numbers that would surely have boggled the minds of Henry Royce and Charles Rolls. ‘Banged out’ obviously not being the right phrase there.
The Cullinan certainly boggled the minds of the general population when it hoved into view in 2018, but it’s a fair bet that the founders of the company wouldn’t have been fazed by it. It was R-R’s first-ever all-wheel drive SUV, sure, but it still conformed to a template that would have been familiar to R-R customers a hundred years ago, when the company’s large, commodious and comfortable vehicle powered by massive – and massively torquey – engines managed to negotiate roads that weren’t really roads at all, by our modern understanding of the word ‘road’ anyway.
Rolls-Royce coined the acronym ‘XUV’ for the Cullinan in an effort to convey the level of luxury and opulence and distance it from common-or-garden SUVs, which in practice was every other SUV. They also called it an ‘all-terrain high-bodied car’. They never called it small, though. Named after the largest uncut diamond ever found, the Cullinan was huge in every dimension: over 5.3 metres front to back, nearly 2.2 metres across, taller than the average British male and weighing almost 2.7 tonnes. It could glide through half a metre of water just as easily as it could along the smoothest stretch of road. Refinement and ride comfort were off the chart and it was bloody fast too. Not so much around a B-road bend, but then it wasn’t built for that.
Public reaction to the styling was extreme, and typically not the right kind of extreme. The heavy-browed headlight/bonnet interface was meant to evoke the stirring mental image of a helmet-wearing Saxon warrior, but just about every reviewer preferred to go down the easy if less heroic route of likening the Cullinan to a London cab. In fairness, it was difficult to avoid that comparison when so many Cullinans came out of the factory with black paint jobs which, for some, accentuated the dominance of the grille.
None of that mattered in reality because another huge thing that we can attribute to the Cullinan is sales success, just like the SUVs of every other premium manufacturer have been. They were sold out from day one, or actually well before it, with a two-year waiting list in place in mid-2018, six months or so before deliveries started. In 2019 it became the fastest-selling Rolls-Royce in history, accounting for nearly half of all R-R sales and kickstarting a remarkable uplift in the company’s fortunes. By May 2022 wait times for some models extended into the second half of 2023.
When deliveries of the regular Cullinan began at the end of 2018, new prices started from £264,000, making it the most expensive SUV on the market. In 2020 a Black Badge variant was released with interior carbon bits and performance upgrades including a quad-tailpipe ‘sports exhaust’ and a ‘Low’ drive mode setting which was Rolls’s version of what everybody else was calling ‘Sport’. This remapped the throttle and gearbox for more instant pickup and snappier gearchanges. Power was up from the standard 563hp/627lb ft to 592hp/664lb ft. Various infinity symbols dotted about the car were a reference to Donald Campbell’s record-breaking speedboat Bluebird from the 1930s which was powered by R-R engines.
The BB cost £305,000, but of course nobody paid £305k for one. The BB press car had £75k’s worth of extras on it and many customer vehicles went a lot further than that. At the time of writing in December 2023, the original baseline figure of £264k had risen to over £316,000, but you can save what by any standards is a small fortune by buying used. The cheapest Cullinan we saw on sale in the UK in December 2023 was a 40,000-mile 2019 car in a thought-provoking shade of purple with two miles’ worth of petrol in the tank and a £199,995 price ticket. The most affordable one on PH Classifieds at that time was nearer to £230k than £200k, big money for sure, but it’s a big car in more ways than one.
SPECIFICATION | Rolls-Royce Cullinan (2018-on)
Engine: 6,749cc petrol twin-turbocharged V12 48v
Transmission: 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 563@5,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 627@1,600rpm
0-60mph (secs): 4.5
Top speed (mph): 151 (limited)
Weight (kg): 2,660
MPG (WLTP): 17.0-18.1
CO2 (g/km): 355
Wheels (in): 22
On sale: 2018 – now
Price new: £264,000
Price now: from £200,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The Cullinan’s mechanicals consisted of BMW’s twin-turbocharged 6.7-litre N74B68 V12 linked to the well-proven ZF 8HP 8-speed torque converter automatic.
5,000rpm might have seemed like an awful lot of revs for such a large engine to be spinning at before it produced its peak power, but power was more or less irrelevant in a Cullinan. It was set up for torque and refinement, both of which it had in abundance.
If you’re not driving it on a daily basis you will certainly want to have a trickle charger to keep the battery healthy. Apart from that, we’re unaware of any major or even minor problems with the oily bits. The V12 has a fabulous reputation, not just for its effortless urge but also for its practically blemish-free reliability record. Altogether it’s a fabulous drivetrain.
The towing capacity (assuming you had the £2,000 electronically-deployed towhook) was 2.6 tonnes, well under the range Rover’s 3.5 tonnes but probably enough for even the horsiest person unless they were hauling a couple of overfed Clydesdales.
The Cullinan’s all-wheel drive chassis was essentially the Phantom 8’s aluminium spaceframe with classic double-wishbone front, multi-link rear suspension featuring self-levelling air springing, adaptive dampers and your choice of ride heights (including a 40mm lowering facility to aid entry). It also had active anti-roll bars to minimise corner lean and rear-wheel steering to facilitate low-speed manoeuvring and boost high-speed stability.
Nothing you didn’t get in the Phantom, in other words, but there were a couple of points of difference with the Cullinan. If you wanted to mooch about on mud, snow, gravel or whatever, there was no need to battle your way through a baffling set of driving mode choices, you just pressed a big button on the centre console with OFF ROAD written on it and you were off. Just ahead of that was another button to engage hill descent control. The Cullinan was very capable off the blacktop.
It ran on a marginally firmer suspension setting than the Phantom. At speeds below 62mph, two ‘Flagbearer’ cameras above the rear-view mirror scanned the road ahead to prepare the suspension for any untoward bumps that might otherwise be caused by an unlucky earthworm or a carelessly discarded matchstick. The steering was light, unsurprisingly, but not distressingly so.
The lordly view down the bonnet from the front seats was inspiring for most, but anyone prone to travel sickness might want to give the Cullinan a good road test before buying as some brains did struggle to rationalise its extreme waft mixed in with such inordinate height and weight. It could feel a bit boaty, albeit only at very low speeds. Get going and it wasn’t a problem. That was perhaps the only caveat to a ride that in every other respect fully justified the ‘magic carpet’ trope. At normal speeds it was awesome. Despite the car’s size and weight, there was no ceramic option for the brakes. Fortunately, the standard steel system worked perfectly well as long as you didn’t mind a longish pedal.
The London cab thing is a stick that some people like to poke the Cullinan with, but it’s clearly not an issue for the majority of buyers who have happily bought black ones, perhaps as a metaphorical V-flick to the rest of us. As it happens, the Black Badge cars got you past the shininess of the grille if that was an issue for you. The only other thing to say is that the car looks a whole lot better in real life than it does in pictures or on a screen. You’ll often see the distinctive wheels from the Black Badge on non-BB cars.
Laser-assisted LED headlights with night vision could detect animals ahead and fire beams at them to clear them out of the way. Maybe. One thing that’s for definite: threading the Cullinan through narrow roads or into standard car park spaces demanded a degree of patience and care. Once parked, getting out of the Cullinan in a busy car park wouldn’t always be easy. You might well improve your general fitness through having to trek into the shops from quieter, more distant parking areas.
That size thing probably wouldn’t be a problem in roomier countries like the US (although even they think it’s a big car) but it should give you pause for thought if you’re considering a Cullinan as a worry-free do-it-all family car in the UK. No auto-parking feature is provided, and Rolls-Royce has stated that it won’t be either until the available systems come up to their standards. Cop-out? You decide.
With all the seats in place, the 560-litre boot was bigger than the Bentayga’s. With them all down there was 1,886 litres of space and a load area longer than that of a long-wheelbase Range Rover. More than enough (according to Rolls’ PR department) to stash a Mark Rothko print or archaeological artefact from your latest dig. There was a single-button electronic operation for both parts of the tailgate – a first on a Rolls – which they called ‘The Clasp’.
A raised boot floor in a car you’re looking at tells you that it’s fitted with the Recreational Module in which ultimate event comfort could be achieved via two additional seats which slid seductively out onto the lower section of the tailgate, separated by a rising comestibles table. That’s a rising table for comestibles, not a table with rising comestibles. One UK internet source quoted £13,000 for this package. Another US internetter reckoned it was $40,000. Either way, it wasn’t cheap.
Nor was the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot in optional illuminated crystal at a reported $20k in the States. That, and presumably the regular metal one, would do a Tracy Island by ducking under the bonnet if someone tried to nick it, but it needed a good yank to activate that feature. Rolls-Royce didn’t want you to trigger it while you, or your minion, were washing the car.
The normal reaction when you see the near-2.7 tonne weight of the Cullinan on the spec sheet is to laugh, but then when you see the amount of metal, wood, glass and leather in the cabin you actually start to wonder how they brought it in under that weight.
There was enough soundproofing material in the body (around 150kg) to entirely validate the ‘is the engine running?’ question. Give the engine a rev while stationary and you’ll hear it, but if you’re over a certain age and the owner of slightly defective ears there’s no easy way of confirming the presence of mechanical activity because there was no tachometer needle to look at, just R-R’s wonderfully louche ‘Power Reserve’ clock.
Throw in double-glazed windows and foam-filled tyres and you can see why the Cullinan was such a fantastically relaxing drive. Some thought that it was even quieter on the move than the latest Phantom 8, although on overall luxuriosity the Phant probably just pipped it. The Cullinan’s typically thin-rimmed steering wheel was busy with buttonery but a joy to hold. The BMW iDrive infotainment system worked very nicely through a 12.3-inch touchscreen. The instrumentation ahead of the driver looked analogue but was actually digital. A head-up display was standard.
Seating was fabulously comfortable in both shape, quality of leather and functionality (heated with eight massage settings and three levels of intensity). If the £900 lambswool carpet box was ticked you had foot bliss too.
Even if you put three people in the back seat (assuming you had the Lounge Seat bench and not the Individual Seats) those three people weren’t going to complain about being squashed. With two in there, you could through-load your skis, Ikea ironing boards or whatever. With none, the rear seats could be electronically flattened. Rear seat recline was available but you had to pay extra for it through the Opulence Pack.
The upwards view from any Cullinan seat could be Rolls’ £6,500 animated Starry Night representation of the cosmos above the Goodwood factory, as portrayed by 1,340 LEDs in the headlining, or it could be an authentic vision of the universe through a full-length sunroof that flooded the cabin with light. Only in the daytime, mind. Even Rolls-Royce couldn’t organise daylight in the dark.
The ‘suicide’ rear doors could be closed by buttons on the (visibility-reducing) C-pillars, but not opened by them. That may have been a corporate decision by R-R to protect them from lawsuits brought by cyclists who had been knocked off their bikes by carelessly opened rear doors. More likely though it was to do with what might happen to insistently opening doors and surrounding vehicles in a tight car park.
Shame really because the physical effort of opening the Cullinan’s rear doors through that arc from a reclined position was not especially natural or easy. Still, you did get umbrellas in the doors, the option of electronic blackout curtains to save you from the nastiness of glass tints, beautifully chromed air con vents by your feet and, possibly uniquely in the motoring world, chrome-plated front seat runners. Normal painted runners would have looked horribly out of place in that environment, but time will tell as to how long the chrome plating will last. Ach well, that’s going to be some cheapskate used Cullinan buyer’s problem.
With the £5,000 Rear Theatre box ticked, electronically lowering the superb rear compartment picnic tables revealed two very nice entertainment/sat nav screens. Annoyingly however these wouldn’t deploy if the plutocrat sitting in front of you had his/her seat on a sleep-recline sort of angle.
The Individual Seat configuration gave you a central chill box with an R-R spirits decanter and two champagne flutes plus a fridge/flute holder behind the back panel. The catch on this panel, which in the down position doubled as an armrest, has been known to fail.
In left-hand drive cars only you could have ‘Sanctuary’ rear seats which came with a glass panel separating you from the boot cargo. The idea of this was to maintain cabin temperature when the tailgate was opened in those often peskily hot LHD markets. Presumably, it also improved sound exclusion. Oddly, or charmingly depending on your view, you couldn’t set the Cullinan’s cabin climate to a specific temperature: you just positioned the slider to your chosen colour of heat/coolness, red or blue.
It should go without saying that, for this sort of money, all the materials on show should be ‘real’, and they very much were in a Cullinan, from the exquisite woods to the metal in the air vents. Tap a vent grille in certain Bentleys and you’ll not get the immensely satisfying ‘ting’ that you get in a Cullinan.
The Cullinan’s combination of quality, technology, comfort, quietly concentrated luxury and performance both on and off the road is little short of awe-inspiring – but it isn’t a special event car. That’s not an insult: in the context of such a historic brand as Rolls-Royce, it’s more a comment on how fundamentally one car can shift marque expectations. The Cayenne did it for Porsche, and now the Cullinan is doing it for R-R. It has been pivotal in shifting the profile of Rolls buyers from ‘retirement’ to ‘rising’. This kind of democratisation might sound appalling to a dwindling group of traditional R-R customers, but it sounds very appealing to a growing ‘new pioneers’ (R-R’s term) demographic of younger/family/female customers – as the sales figures resoundingly demonstrate.
Ultimately It’s sales that matter, not sensibilities. If there’s enough credibility and brand value to support a top-quality product, the number at the bottom of the invoice doesn’t matter. In the manner of a Range Rover, a Cullinan could easily be the only car in your life. Yes, the Range Rover could wade through twice as much water depth-wise than the Cullinan, and it is a superb vehicle in every way, but would it deliver once-in-a-lifetime experiences on a daily, self-driving basis in quite the same way as a Cullinan would?
You could go on from there to argue that the Cullinan might be the only authentic player in the super-luxe end of the SUV market. If you’ve got unlimited funds, why would you even consider a BMW, Range Rover, Porsche, Mercedes, Lamborghini, Maybach GLS 600 or Bentley Bentayga when you could have a Cullinan? Why would you want three Range Rovers for the same money?
If the Cullinan diamond came out of the Crown Jewels and onto the open market the price would be astronomical. In carat value alone it would be well over £20 million before you even got on to the provenance and historical significance, but even at £200 million there’d be no shortage of people trying to buy it. There are over 3,000 billionaires on the planet as we speak, and the number is going up. Those of us with ordinary bank balances could never justify a Culllinan, but justification simply isn’t part of the deal for those who can easily afford one.
And it’s a solid market too. As of autumn 2023, 3-year-old/36,000 mile Cullinans were retaining nearly 64 per cent of their value. The most affordable example on PH Classifieds was this 25,000-mile, three-owner car from 2019 with theatre, lounge bench seats, starry headlining and lambswool carpet.
The lowest-priced Black Badge was this 20,000 miler with the starry roof and lamby carpets at £275k. If you’re baulking at these prices, you’re reading the wrong article. Besides, you could pay an awful lot more. How about £480k for this 280-mile carboned-up ’22 model with a bodykit and battleship grey paint?
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