Charles Rangeley Wilson tries out Rolls-Royce's new SUV and declares it to be the best of all the cars he's reviewed for Country Life, winning out over the other Rolls models for 'sheer chutzpah'.
What could be better for a motoring swan song than the snow white and seraphic chariot I chauffeured for my wife’s birthday from the flatlands of East Anglia to its spiritual homeland, the rounded slopes of Derbyshire? What a car! Of the 48 I’ve reviewed for Country Life, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is the most audacious, outrageous, stupendous and luxurious by far. All those ous-es and more besides can be yours for a mere quarter of a million English pounds, making it the most expensive-ous car I have driven, too.
Journeying in a Rolls to the Dales did have something of the shipping coals to Newcastle about it, or diamonds to Gauteng, where the 3,000-carat rock the car is named after was mined, but it felt like the right place to go. The cars might now be made at Goodwood, West Sussex, but Derbyshire is where the Rolls belongs, where the first Silver Ghosts were built in 1908 and where so many were sold back in the day when mill and mine owners occupied enormous piles and wanted ‘the best car in the world’ in which to pootle down to the Riviera after the shooting season.
This might explain the warm welcome we received more or less everywhere we went. I have to admit I was half-expecting to be on the receiving end of vulgar hand gestures, as has been the case from time to time when at the wheel of other opulent vehicles. Well, if everyone hates you in a Porsche, clearly, everyone loves you in a Rolls. Workmen, car-park attendants, policemen, old ladies: all stopped and waved and gazed in uncynical, joyous appreciation of this marvel of social division and engineering excellence as it rolled by in near silence, the enormous V12 pulsing once every lamp post.
‘I have no doubt that it could put Glasgow behind it 27 times, if not 270 or 2,700’
One hundred and ten years ago, the Ghosts that slackened the jaws of Derbyshire’s goodly pedestrian folk had seven litres, six cylinders, were good for 30bhp to 50bhp and, in a horseless carriage kind of way, were very handsome indeed. One was used to drive between London and Glasgow 27 times to demonstrate the imperious ride and reliability. In 2020, the Cullinan’s engine is a bit smaller, has double the cylinders and 10 times the power. I have no doubt that it could put Glasgow behind it 27 times, if not 270 or 2,700.
As for looks, only its mother could love the Cullinan, which, aesthetically speaking, has a wee bit more in common with the armoured Silver Ghosts produced in 1914, complete with rotating turrets and Vickers machine guns. I can’t see the Cullinan being put to such use today, but it will get you to the top of any grouse moor and you could always shoot from the Panorama Glass Sunroof. It has room enough to swing a Purdey and for a loader, too.
The list of amazing things about this car is not a short one: the road-workers at the A14 service station where we stopped for a coffee, who generously offered to swap their van for the Cullinan, were charmed to bits by the umbrellas in the doors, the Champagne fridge and crystal decanter, the home cinema, the deep-pile carpet – ‘I could lose my dog in that’– the curtains in the back windows, the absurdly comfortable seats and the pièce de résistance, the coach-doors complete with closure buttons that save one the effort of doing anything so vulgar as reaching out to pull them shut.
Reduced to cooing over a stationary vehicle, admirers never got to appreciate what bowled me over every time I turned the wheel: how effortless this behemoth was to drive, how light and communicative the steering and how it flew when I pressed the loud pedal all the way to the hessian backing of that luscious Wilton.
Rolls had given me the pick of the garage for this little outing and it was no easy choice: I was sorely tempted by the deliciously svelte Wraithe, the ‘yes, m’lady’ Phantom. By everything, frankly. But the world’s SUV sine qua non, a category of motor now so fashionably disliked, won the day for sheer chutzpah.
No, I really can’t claim that the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is in any way the greener choice, but as a thing of intimidating wonder it knows no equal. And, of course, being a Rolls, it will still be on the road 100 years from now, when all those Priuses of Hampstead are so much toxic landfill.
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