SUVs

Does the 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan stack up to its ultra-luxe competition?

SUVs for the upper crust are a superhot market right now, and Rolls-Royce is no longer content to let Bentley and Range Rover have all the fun.

Roadshow/Rob Weber

The 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan is a vehicle that we've heard whispers and rumors about for a long, long time. Many believed that it would never actually happen, that Rolls-Royce, that most conservative and staid of car companies, would not cave to popular demand and build an SUV, but as of today, those people have been proven completely wrong.

The Cullinan takes the same formula that Range Rover pioneered decades ago, which Bentley perfected, and makes it uniquely Rolls-Royce. If you're expecting a four-wheel drive Phantom, then you're going to be a little disappointed, but if you want a nicer Ghost with all-wheel drive and you have a little over $300,000 on hand, then friend, you're in business.

How does this new bespoke off-roader for oligarchs compare to its closest rivals? Let's find out, shall we?

First, we must establish what the competition is. With Bentley, the obvious choice is the top-spec Bentayga W12, but with Range Rover, things get a little more challenging. For price parity, let's go with the just-debuted-at-Geneva Range Rover SV Coupe.

When it comes to drivetrains, the Bentayga is definitely the brute of the bunch with 600 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of torque on tap from its W12 engine. The Cullinan ranks second in terms of outright muscle, just squeaking past the Range Rover with 567 hp and a robust 627 lb-ft of torque coming from its twin-turbo V12. The Range Rover SV Coupe has just eight cylinders to help move its great bulk around, but they are eight very, very good cylinders that, thanks to a supercharger, produces 557 horsepower and 516 lb-ft. All three possess a now de rigueur eight-speed automatic gearbox.

What about fuel economy, you say? Pish-posh, good man, that is a peasant's concern and not fit for discussion here.

How about off-road capability? This is a stupid question, because who is going to take a massive $300,000-plus SUV off-road -- but we'll answer it anyway. Where the Range Rover and Bentley both have several off-road modes to select from, based on what kind of terrain your fancy mall parking lot is constructed on, the Rolls just has one button labeled as "Off-Road." The Cullinan uses a series of cameras, sensors, GPS data and more to analyze the terrain ahead of you and automatically adjust to the proper settings. Cool? Yes. As cool as a river-fording button? No.

Price, luxury and exclusivity are much more important at this end of the SUV spectrum than capability or performance, and to wit, these three valet vaqueros have all those traits in spades. Let's start with price. While the Bentley is the most powerful and has some truly silly options (can you say Breitling tourbillon dash clock for $170,000?) it actually has the lowest starting price at "just" $229,100. The Range Rover line is positively bargain-priced by comparison, but the SV Coupe has a starting price of $295,000 because fewer doors mean more money. The Cullinan starts at an eye-watering $325,000 with plenty of room to go up, thanks to a nearly limitless options list and myriad opportunities for customization.

Exclusivity doesn't always mirror price, and that holds true for our British power trio here. By far, the Range Rover SV Coupe wins this category, thanks to its production cap of just 999 units. Next, owing to price, we'd list the Cullinan, followed by the Bentley (which we already see on the road pretty frequently in places like Los Angeles).

Outright luxury is subjective, but you'd be hard-pressed to go wrong with any of these. The Bentley offers the aforementioned dash clock and of course, the dreamy lambswool floor mats. The Rangie features leather from a 113-year-old tannery and more walnut and sycamore veneers than you can throw a gold brick at. The Cullinan is a little less zany than the Phantom, lacking the gallery feature on the dash, but the interior materials quality and fit-and-finish appear to be of typical Rolls-Royce quality aka second-to-none -- plus it has freaking suicide doors!

So, which would we buy if we all of a sudden sold an app or found out that we were in some kind of King Ralph situation? It's hard to say, without having driven either the Cullinan or the SV Coupe, but for our money, the Rolls is the best-looking of the bunch.

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