Rock-hop­ping Rolls

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

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

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