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CULLINAN-ARY DELIGHT

ROLLS-ROYCE CULLINAN AT DUSK |

Named after the largest diamond ever discovered, we at long last had the opportunity to sample the Cullinan-ary delights of the Crown Jewel in the ultra-luxurious Rolls-Royce line-up on local soil; in the company of award-winning homegrown culinary experts Darren Badehnhorst and Callan Austin.

When originally introduced over four years ago, it was described as the “Rolls-Royce of SUVs”, with the type of comfort, performance, and usability claimed to have not been seen before in the SUV market – appealing to highly successful high-net-worth customers in the experience economy wanting a vehicle that will take them to the ends of the earth in ultimate luxury.

Named Cullinan – after the locally discovered largest diamond in the world – the big, slab-sided “high-bodied car” (as Rolls-Royce prefers to call it) also pays homage to the century-long pedigree of adventurous quests and campaigns successfully carried out thanks to a vehicle that in the words of Lawrence of Arabia was “above rubies” in the desert.

Following the Rolls-Royce Architecture of Luxury design direction, the Cullinan is big and imposing, with a commanding stance, its pantheon grille standing slightly proud from the surrounding bodywork, deep set lights and air intakes, and strong vertical and horizontal lines, with minimal jewellery, create a powerful visage.

The sheerness of the profile lines accentuates its purposefulness, with the roofline dropping away towards the rear, resolving in an elegant boot lid reminiscent of the D-Back Rolls-Royces of the 1930s, and finished off by simple, upright taillight units and exposed metal exhaust pipes. Striking and attractive? Perhaps not, but conspicuous it is, with a distinguished and stately presence.

The behemoth lowers itself by 40 mm when unlocking, for effortless entry through the wide aperture coach doors. Once inside, there are individual buttons front and rear to ensconce you within the sanctuary of the opulent, super sumptuous cabin.

Up front, the layout of the digital instruments, with clear and beautiful virtual needles, jewellery-like chaplets and clear lettering for the displays, are pure Rolls-Royce, but also driver-friendly thanks to its commanding driving position. 

These functions and the high-definition HUD can also be controlled from the Spirit of Ecstasy controller on the centre console, where the control buttons for Off-Road, Hill Descent Control and Air Suspension height adjustment system nestle.  

Hand-finished metal pillars bridge the upper fascia – clad in contemporary, high-quality black leather – and middle console. Leather pads cover the entire dashboard, and, of course, as probably the most advanced car of its type, the Cullinan has every cutting-edge tech and system you can think of.

CULLINAN TO WARWICK

Starting our journey from The Cullinan Hotel on the Cape Town foreshore, with barely a whisper from the bespoke 6.75-litre twin-turbo V12 engine sourced from BMW, the colossal SUV quietly coasted towards the highway leading to Stellenbosch and the Cape Winelands.

The celebrated Magic Carpet Ride from the famed marque was impressive on the smooth tarmac of the N1, and the Cullinan literally glided over the road surface – thanks to the new lighter architecture of the system, the latest generation of self-levelling air suspension and the sheer smoothness of the engine.

Ensconced in the tranquil cabin, with only some subdued road noise from the 22” tyres audible, one felt far removed from the busy surroundings. The comfortable bolstered leather seats heightened the sense of detachment, and the smooth, effortless power of the V12 – making it challenging to stick to the speed limit, as at 120 km/h, it felt like it was just ticking over.

Taking the turn-off towards Stellenbosch, the so-called “Flagbearer” system – using a stereo camera integrated into the front windscreen to scan the road ahead and proactively adjust the suspension at speeds up to 100 km/h – smoothed out the undulations on the road to Warwick Estate.

DYNAMIC DUO

At Warwick, we met chef Darren Badenhorst and talented young chef Callan Austin. The dynamic duo has worked together for nearly a decade and recently opened Dusk, their new restaurant in Plein Street, Stellenbosch.

Much like the Cullinan in a motoring sense, Dusk, according to Badenhorst, promises an immersive and experiential concept with a hyper-focus on the seasonality, locality, and indigenousness of the culinary ingredients. Dishes are crafted from seasonal produce, and pay homage to local ingredients.

Setting up at Warwick, the Individual Seat configuration in our Cullinan test vehicle, with two individual rear seats separated by a fixed rear centre console incorporating a drinks cabinet and refrigerator, came in handy as we could use the champagne flutes for our photo session (whisky glasses and a decanter are also available).

LUXURIOUS VERSATILITY

The Cullinan is also available with a Lounge Seat configuration, providing space for three passengers and fold-down rear seats – a first for Rolls-Royce.

The rear compartment offers 560 litres of space (600 with the parcel shelf removed. Its loading length of 2,245 mm is longer than that of a Range Rover Vogue long wheelbase, and its boot with a capacity of 1,930 litres is easily accessed by the tailgate, called “The Clasp”, that opens and closes in two sections at the touch of a button. A glass partition isolates the passenger cabin from the luggage compartment.

Enjoying the delights prepared by Chef Darren and Chef Callan, we could have put the optional Recreation Module (not supplied with our unit), a motorised drawer cassette fitted into the boot floor, or Hosting Service module and Viewing Suite – deploying two rear-facing seats and a retractable cocktail table on the open tailgate – to good use.

Even so, we had a delightful time sampling the delectable homegrown cuisine and washing it down with some of Warwick’s finest Sauvignon Blanc while enjoying the Spring sunshine and the company of the Dusk team and Darren’s lady friend, Layla Ochse.

Having finished our mid-morning snacks and our hosts now relaxing in the luxurious Pavilion Seating rear seats (and thoroughly enjoying the experience), we took a more twisty road section towards Stellenbosch. With a double-wishbone front axle, a five-link rear axle, electrically-actuated active anti-roll bars, and a four-wheel steering system from the Phantom VIII, the big Cullinan is surprisingly manoeuvrable and stable in the corners.

Power delivery feels discreet, but with 420 kW and 850 Nm underfoot, the Cullinan is imprudently quick for a 2.6-tonne colossus (zero to 100 km/h in a claimed 5.2 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h). Still, its weight is noticeable in the curves as it shifts from side to side, and even more so under severe braking.

Mindful of its low-profile rubber, we did not subject the Cullinan to any serious off-roading but did sample it on gravel. With its air suspension system re-engineered with larger air struts and strengthened drive and prop shafts to all four wheels, the SUV’s ride quality was still impressive, as was the immediate torque delivery from its engine.

We did not see the need to engage the “Everywhere” button (finessing the off-road setting to unleash the Cullinan’s off-road capability, whether it be rough track, gravel, wet grass, mud, snow, or sand) but to be honest, this will probably be the most underutilised button in most, if not all, units sold.

LAST WORD

With its undeniable presence, uncompromised comfort, space and usability, cutting-edge technology and ultra-comfortable on-road and off-road driving experience and capability, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is one of the most versatile super-luxury SUVs available today. At a price (starting from R13 million). 

Given its exalted credentials, the Cullinan will take its owners to places no modern Rolls-Royce owner has travelled to in luxury before. It is highly capable on-road, too, given its heftiness, but is not a real driver’s car. Instead, it is a vehicle you want to be driven in, as enjoying the trip from the comfort of the back seat is the real experience.

Report by FERDI DE VOS | Images © RYAN ABBOTT / ROLLS-ROYCE

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