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BT EXCLUSIVE

1,400 people in Singapore could afford a Rolls-Royce Cullinan

BT gets an exclusive peek at Cullinan, the first Rolls-Royce Sport Utility Vehicle and the brand's most casual set of wheels.

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"The rear of the car is almost a convivial space, a natural meeting point. What better than for our customers to have somewhere cool to sit to take in a scenic view, or a horse race or your kid's sports day? This car is so very informal, and it's a nice place to gather." - John Sheares, Rolls-Royce product manager

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Beijing

IT may be late to the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) party, but Rolls-Royce has finally arrived in style. The fabled brand finally unveiled the Cullinan on Thursday, revealing a car that follows on the heels of SUVs from such exotic brands as Bentley (with the Bentayga) and Lamborghini (with the Urus).

The new car is named after the Cullinan diamond, the largest diamond ever found. Given its pride of place among the British Crown Jewels, the name is an indication of the new car's importance to Rolls-Royce.

Rolls-Royce chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös told The Business Times: "It's what we call a gem of a motorcar, taking its place alongside Wraith and Dawn as another brand shaper, lifestyle cars that reflect the tastes and preferences of their owners."

BT was given exclusive access to the car at a private preview for Chinese customers in Beijing last month.

In terms of hierarchy, the Cullinan slots in between the Ghost and the top-end Phantom, both limousines which are the brand's core models. That being so, the Cullinan is likely to cost less than the S$1,778,888 needed to buy a standard Phantom, without options or Certificate Of Entitlement.

Mechanically, it shares much with the Rolls-Royce flagship, such as its basic underpinnings and its 6.75-litre V12 engine, which produces the same amount of power as in the Phantom (563 horsepower) but slightly less torque (850 Newton-metres).

The Cullinan introduces a number of firsts for the brand. Apart from being the first Rolls SUV, it's also the first Rolls with a tailgate and folding rear seats, and the first with all-wheel drive. It's also the first Rolls to resemble what a layman might call a "family car", said Mr Müller-Ötvös.

That's because buyers can specify their Cullinan with the Lounge Seat option, a regular three-person bench with fold-down seat backs. That would give the Rolls-Royce the same configuration as most family SUVs.

For customers who want the more typical Rolls-Royce experience, there is the Individual Seat option, which features two extensively adjustable seats separated by a fixed console, which contains a drinks cabinet and cool box.

However it's configured, the Cullinan is designed to be a less formal car than previous Rolls-Royces.

It has a motorised drawer in the boot called the Recreation Module that can be tailored to house hobby paraphernalia, be it gear for photography, fishing, hunting, snowboarding or even drone racing.

Rolls-Royce sees the Cullinan as a more social kind of car, which is why the Recreation Module can also house the Cullinan Viewing Suite, a nifty setup that slides out to reveal two small rear-facing leather chairs and a little table.

A natural meeting point

"The rear of the car is almost a convivial space, a natural meeting point," said John Sheares, the car's product manager.

"What better than for our customers to have somewhere cool to sit to take in a scenic view, or a horse race or your kid's sports day? This car is so very informal, and it's a nice place to gather."

For all that, expect the Cullinan to preserve the exclusivity on which Rolls-Royce prides itself. "Last year we produced around 4,000 cars. We can't suddenly turn on a tap and go to 6,000 or whatever, and anyway, that's not our mission," Mr Sheares told BT.

In comparison, Lamborghini expects the Urus to deliver enough sales to double its total volume this year to 7,000 cars.

Rolls-Royce sees the Cullinan as a natural extension of its brand, rather than a new model created just to boost sales.

Unlikely as it seems, off-roading is actually in the company's DNA. Rolls-Royces garnered a reputation for toughness and reliability in the early days of motoring, so much so that they were even used as combat vehicles in the Sinai Peninsula during World War I.

The utter dependability of his squadron of Rolls-Royce Armoured Cars is what made Lawrence of Arabia proclaim "A Rolls in the desert is above rubies".

Mr Sheares said: "We felt making an SUV fit with our heritage, and customers also confirmed they wanted something like it. There's no point simply jumping on the bandwagon. If we find our customers don't want it, we won't build it."

Singapore customers will get to decide if they want it some time in the third quarter of this year, when the car is previewed here. Deliveries commence in early 2019.

The relatively early availability of the Cullinan here is a reflection of the fact that Rolls-Royce has earmarked Singapore as an important market for the brand.

The latest Knight Frank Wealth Report counts more than 1,400 individuals with at least US$50 million (S$67.2 million) residing in Singapore, with their ranks set to grow by 40 per cent over the next decade.

The Cullinan may be a Rolls-Royce that is capable of being driven off-road, but the best chance of spotting one is still where the streets are paved with gold.

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