The Most Impressive SUVs on the Road

21st January 2019 // By Alexandra Cheney

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Elite Traveler.

Utility vehicles continue to gain momentum as the world’s favored family car, so automobile manufacturers remain resolute in diversifying the sector. A trio of first drives demonstrate the breadth and depth of possibility; from impressive off-road capabilities to bespoke refinements, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar and Bentley are on a mission to seduce future buyers.

The off-road behemoth:
Rolls-Royce Cullinan

It’s downright imposing. From the wide-open dusty trails of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to the palm tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills, California, the Cullinan looks, frankly, out of place. On one hand, it’s a Rolls-Royce, a moveable work of art that is always attracting sideways glances or mouth-agape stares, depending on locale. On the other, it is out of place; Cullinan marks a series of firsts for the Goodwood, England-based brand. First SUV. First all-wheel-drive vehicle. First Rolls-Royce to break the traditional naming convention (christened “Cullinan” after the famed 3,106-carat diamond that became part of Queen Elizabeth II’s crown jewels).

In the great outdoors, it feels dauntless to dirty it up, like a dare. In the city, the
6,069-lb SUV seems to rise above traffic. Valets take up two parking spaces, just in case. In both instances, and for very different reasons, the 563-horsepower, 627 lb-ft torque V12 delights.

Ascending Snow King Mountain in Jackson Hole, Cullinan bounds over rocks thanks to its foam-filled tires, comfortable-yet-controlled steering and 6.75-liter twin-turbo. A depression of the ‘Off Road’ button engages stiffer shocks and raises the suspension 1.5 in. Navigating west to east in Los Angeles rush hour traffic, the four-wheel steering eliminates as much as three feet off Cullinan’s turning radius by automatically steering the rear wheels up to three degrees. The addition of 220 lbs of sound-deadening material to the cabin means that, even with the vast sunroof fully open, the quotidian city sounds feel distant.

Exactly six millimeters of glass separate interior from exterior, rectangular buttons assist with all four massive suicide-styled doors (the rear two of which include mounted umbrellas), and the split tailgate/trunk was purposefully designed to  eliminate packages from sliding. A duo of seating options exist: five-seat, three-across and four-seat with fixed console and massaging rear seats, although Rolls-Royce expects the first option to be the favored.

Prior to launch, Rolls-Royce referred to Cullinan as an “all-terrain high-sided vehicle” as opposed to a mere sport utility vehicle. This differentiation is important; the sport and utility of Cullinan have yet to be fully realized. Neither roof racks nor towing capabilities are available.

Inside, Cullinan does not offer Apple CarPlay, lane centering or semi-autonomous cruising. While some may argue Rolls-Royce owners still prefer chauffeurs, this
technology-first experience transcends tax brackets.

Cullinan encourages its owners to take a turn in the driver’s seat, should the desire arise, on account of the new double-wishbone front axle and five-link rear axle, which control and tame body roll. It took 300 engineers three years to fully embody the “effortless everywhere” moniker, whether off-road or on pavement.

From $325,000,