THE race to build the world’s costliest and most outrageous SUV just shifted into high gear.
Rolls-Royce is out to trump the upcoming Bentley Bentayga and has gone public with the Phantom-based headliner it will add to its range by 2017.
It’s big and ugly, but RollsRoyce says there are zero hints to the final styling — not even the giant rear wing, added to mimic the drag from an SUV wagon body — in its first test car.
Called “Project Cullinan”, the SUV was confirmed in February, around the time the Bentayga was caught in testing at the Nurburgring in Germany.
But the two British brands — although both are German owned, Rolls-Royce by BMW and Bentley by Volkswagen — are not on their own.
A growing number of highperformance and luxury companies are heading down the SUV road, although Ferrari is leaving the field to its sister company Maserati and McLaren has just emphatically dismissed any potential for an SUV in its future line-up during the unveiling of its Porsche 911‒rivalling 570S coupe at the New York auto show.
Maserati is well down the road with its Kubang, which is into final prototype stages ahead of a production preview later this year. It should be on sale in Australia next year.
Lamborghini also has its Urus, which shares the mechanical platform under the next-generation Audi Q7. It will be the first SUV from the Italian company since the V12‒powered LM002, which looked like an Italian clone of the Hummer H1 battle wagon and was built between 1986 and 1993.
Project Cullinan became much more visible when the first engineering mule drives onto public roads in Britain this week, rolling on a shortened Phantom Series II body.
The company says the test vehicle has been created “purely to begin the development of an all-wheeldrive suspension system that will deliver a ride that will be effortless … everywhere”.
“The body may hint at the size of the new car, but it features no design aspects of the eventual high-sided, all‒terrain motor car,” says Rolls-Royce. “The mule rides on the first iteration of an all-new suspension that will assist RollsRoyce engineers in developing a final all-wheel-drive system that delivers … hallmark ‘magiccarpet’ ride not only on the road, but off-road too.”
As the company gets deeper into Project Cullinan it promises development will be split 50:50 between on and off‒road testing, even though it’s highly unlikely anyone other than members of the Middle Eastern royalty will be taking the $1 million-plus SUV seriously away from bitumen.
The race is on: Rolls-Royce’s Project Cullinan (left), Maserati’s Kubang (top), and the Lamborghini Urus SUV