What a Rolls-Royce Cullinan roadtrip taught me about life
When Rolls-Royce calls you and asks whether you'd like to take their first SUV out for a spin, you immediately answer with a loud 'YES' no matter how short the trip might be. That was my reaction when I got that call, asking whether I'd like to go on an all-expense paid trip from Bucharest to Budapest, aboard a 380,000-Euro Cullinan. Curious about what this would later entail and the opportunities it would provide, I also was more than excited to properly experience what the ultimate luxury means and how it can change the way you view life.
The challenge ahead was to make this trip in one day, a 10-hour drive, with intermittent pit stops for a picture or two and maybe a couple of videos being shot along the way. The distance between the two capitals is about 1,000 kilometers, depending on the road you take but since we were riding in such cars, we decided to take a scenic route, to enjoy the trip, not just cover countless highway miles.
After all, that's exactly what the Cullinan was made for, covering any kind of road, in ultimate comfort, not just for highway cruising. Whether that's how prospective patrons will use it or not remains to be seen, even though the chances of it seeing any kind of mud are very slim. It was interesting to test how the car would perform and, even though I dared not take it off road, the trip turned out to be one of the most comfortable I ever took, despite the long distance that was to be covered. I guess a lot of the credit goes to the utter, maddening quietness inside, even at speeds in excess of 100 mph. In short: this would be the perfect car to choose if you want to arrive refreshed at your destination.
A lot of it has to do with the interior of the Cullinan, which is basically a sound-isolated cocoon, that rides so high it makes you feel like the king of the world. The 'high-riding' vehicle from Rolls-Royce is truly an impressive machine as soon as you see it and especially when you step inside. Because, in this case, you have to step inside, as the floor is rather high. The sides of the car have been thought through and built to make sure you don't even get dirty, in case you decide to take it through a couple of puddles. The doors are tall, covering the side sills, so that if you car gets dirty for some reason, and you get out or get in, once the door is open, the sills are clean. Oh, and there's a huge rubber stop in between the two doors, which is meant to seal the cabin, allowing you to drive through 50 centimeters of water, without any issues.
The spectacle begins once you're in though, as the usual Rolls-Royce materials will sway you into basically wanting to move in, possibly without paying rent if possible. The leather is of the best quality and is made of the cow hide of a special breed, which is raised at a certain altitude, for secret reasons. Furthermore, to make sure the leather is not ruined, these cows are not confined using barbwire so as to avoid any scratches. Yes, that's the kind of details Rolls-Royce pays attention to.
Then there's the wood. In order to make sure the color is exactly the same throughout the cabin, the people in Goodwood use the same tree for all the trims inside, just to be safe. Oh, and it's real wood, not some thin slice of pressed up residue you find on other cars. Everything inside any Rolls-Royce is exactly what you think it is. If it looks like stainless steel, it's stainless steel, not some plastic made to look like it. Glass is glass and the wood is well.... wood. Open pore wood in this particular Cullinan that feels rugged to the touch but authentic. In fact, it's so authentic you might be afraid of getting splinter stuck deep in your fingers. It's not the case, but that's how it feels to some degree.
Normally, the rear seats of a Rolls-Royce are where you want to be and the Cullinan is no exception. There's ample room in the back and you get a bottle of water and a couple of crystal glasses in the center armrest, to make sure you're well hydrated. That same bottle could be used in the back, where secret seats unfold themselves at the touch of a button, allowing you to take in the view. If you want to enjoy some champagne, that's cool, as the armrest also hides a refrigerator and a couple of crystal champagne glasses, if you're in a celebratory mood. However, unlike the Phantom, where the rear seats are the highlight, in the Cullinan I felt like you might want to take charge of the steering wheel. That's because you feel like you can simply drive over anything in the Cullinan, thanks to the isolation inside and the massive torque of that V12 under the hood.
There's an Off Road button next to the infotainment system controls, that tells you this is no ordinary Rolls-Royce. The all-wheel drive system on the Cullinan is based on the xDrive solution which means it will send most of the power to the rear and you can feel that when you push the car on the road. It's kinda funny to think that anyone would push the Cullinan hard on the road and yet I did, unknowingly. The thing is, this car is so well insulated from the elements you barely realize just how fast you're going.
The suspension is extremely soft and, from behind the wheel, it feels like you're navigating on the sea rather than driving on public roads. Acceleration is smooth, the 570 HP of the 6.75-liter engine being right there with you all the way. Thanks to the two turbochargers, the 850 Nm of torque arrive at 1,600 RPM which is almost as low as idle, and you get away from any situation in a hurry, without feeling like you rushed things at all. It's quite peculiar. However, since accelerating is so seamless, you immediately reach illegal speeds and find yourself having to stop.
That's when you start feeling the weight of the car. The Cullinan tips the scales at 2,660 kg and all that weight sits rather high. Chip in the fact that the braking has been set up to be smooth as well and you get a small sense of panic once you try and stop this behemoth. That's because at first, you'll feel like nothing is happening, due to the smooth suspension and low wind noise. The car is braking perfectly but you don't notice it, just like you don't notice it when accelerating. Once you get used to it though, you can revel in the magic carpet ride the Cullinan provides.
The road took us through some small villages and on the shores of the Danube river. This is where we finally met with some twisty bits of road, where we could start leaning on the throttle and the gas pedal, alternatively. What I learned here was that even though you felt like you were barely doing the speed limit, the car was actually pushing triple digit speeds, carrying it through corners too, without flinching or, better said, effortlessly. Sure, there's a lot of body lean but, according to Rolls-Royce that was done on purpose, as customers are accustomed to a certain feeling once seated inside. Truth be told, once you get used to it, it's pretty sweet. It feels wrong, like this car isn't supposed to be going this fast through such tight corners and yet you never feel afraid or anything, you just feel comfortable. It's kind-of like indulging in the sweet ecstasy of a forbidden fruit.
I guess, the whole trip was about doing things that are normally reserved for billionaires and thus not easily attainable. Driving such an expensive car through some of the poorest regions of the country did make me feel a bit weird, as the attention this car got was something normally reserved for Lamborghinis or Ferraris. And yet this is a Rolls-Royce, and I should've expected such a reaction, especially out on the open road. That wasn't the only place where we would be gawked at though. At the border crossing, one of the guards told me this is a really nice car and I seemingly broke his heart when I told him it wasn't actually mine. He did seem a bit disappointed as he said 'Still a nice car though'.
We pushed on as we entered Hungary and on our way to Budapest, the scenery changed completely. Gone were the curvy roads and the breathtaking scenery. Instead we ended up cruising on the highway through some wide open terrain, as Hungary is mostly made of green plains and not much else. It all changed when we arrived in Budapest though.
Budapest is a beautiful city, filled with historic buildings from the Austro-Hungarian Empire times, which has about four bridges across the Danube and plenty of castles to show off. We took the car to the Bazaar and started taking pictures, after we checked in at the Ritz-Carlton. Even as we were dropping off our bags at the hotel, a number of people simply stopped to take pictures of both the cars and us, prompting me to feel like some sort of superstar. I'm sure that's what I must've looked like to unknowing pedestrians in the area. Even the girls around the hotel started paying a lot more attention to us. Going out and waiting for the valet to bring around our cars became a highlight of the day once we got settled in. That's because we were dressed plainly and nobody paid any attention to us. However, once the cars pulled up and we got in, the attitude of the people around us changed completely. It's very interesting to experience that sudden change of mind and it certainly makes you wonder.
Going out at night to shoot some pictures of the car, we had to wash it and, even though it was the middle of the night, we still managed to get a crowd around us for the process. The same happened when we reached our perfect spot for the pictures, making taking photographs a balancing act between shooing people away and sprinting back to the camera to catch the perfect light setting.
However, to be fair, seeing a Rolls-Royce on the road doesn't happen that often so I do understand the curiosity of certain bystanders. Driving one is even a more seldom occurrence and that's true even in the automotive journalism world. Truth be told, Rolls-Royce doesn't really have to advertise its cars. It doesn't have to give it to journalists such as myself, because the cars are selling themselves. Thus, whenever a test drive opportunity with Rolls-Royce arises, it's usually for a couple of hours. Driving it for 1,000 kilometers, between two countries is truly something that almost never happens and it has been an eye opening experience, one that taught me that there are premium luxury cars like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Maybach or Bentley and then there's Rolls-Royce. There's a reason why the name of this company is typically used to define the best of the best in a certain field. I understand now.