As I press down on the gas pedal and feel the muscular twin-turbo, 6.7-litre, V-12 engine engage all 563 horses under the enormous hood, the devil on my shoulder urges me to indulge.
I submit, sinking deep into the hand-tooled leather seats, my feet cushioned by the lamb’s wool floor mats, and the multisensor air suspension system delivering a ride so soft it is like sitting on a feather pillow on a supertanker on a sea of marshmallows. No matter how fast I go, the noise level inside the cabin remains the same – almost nothing.
Zero to 60 in a glacial 4.5 seconds? Who cares? This is the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, the car reviewers have called, literally, the Rolls-Royce of SUVs. It says you have arrived long before you get to where you are going.
Floating along in sublime luxury, separated from the real world by a massive almost three-tonne superstructure, I understand why some people want to be buried in their Rolls-Royces – if they don’t make it to heaven, this is a nice place to spend eternity.
The base price of the 2022 Cullinan is about US$330,000, a steep ticket to go to the supermarket or the kids’ hockey practice. But what self-respecting Rolls buyer gets a base model?
Add the custom paint, bigger wheels, gold-plated Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament and a centre console fridge with champagne flutes and a whiskey decanter – and, of course, a custom headliner that displays a starry night sky. All in, somewhere north of US$400,000. Now we’re talking.
And if you believe a little is good, more is better and too much is just right, why not go for the top-of-the-line Black Badge package for about US$600,000? My devil nods at the excess.
To be sure, the car clearly states that its owner probably doesn’t worry about much, including the planet. The Cullinan’s fuel consumption rating is an ozone-crushing 12 miles per gallon (five measly kilometres per litre) in the city and 17 on the highway. The angel on my other shoulder winces.
At those prices and with such unabashed disdain for the environment at a time when electric cars are gaining market traction, you might think Rolls-Royces would be collecting dust in showrooms.
Quite the contrary. Uber-luxe autos such as Rolls-Royces are flying off dealers’ lots. Earlier this month, the British automaker, now owned by BMW, reported 2021 annual sales that were the highest in its 117-year history, selling more than 5,500 vehicles. The flagship Phantom model, starting at US$455,000, was the top seller, but the Cullinan SUV accounted for 30 per cent of sales. Order a Rolls today and you won’t take delivery for a year.
While the boom may seem counterintuitive, company management attributed it to a burning COVID-19-driven sense of carpe diem among wealthy consumers.
“Many people witnessed people in their community dying from COVID and made them think life can be short and you’d better live now rather than postpose until a later date,” CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos said in announcing the sales record. “That has helped Rolls-Royce.”
“It is very much due to COVID that the entire luxury business is booming worldwide,” he added. “People couldn’t travel a lot, they couldn’t invest a lot in luxury services, and there is quite a lot of money accumulated that is spent on luxury goods.”
To be fair, Rolls will introduce its first electric car, the Spectre, in 2023, part of its commitment to have a fully electric model line by 2030.
My angel can’t wait that long, so I head off in search of a worthy rival for comparison and find myself behind the wheel of the new electric Mercedes-Benz EQS 450+.
With a base price of US$103,000, plus a US$30,000 dealer fee tied to inventory shortages, it is one of the most expensive virtue signals on the highway. A more powerful model, the 580, is due out next year and priced around US$120,000, plus fees. Add to that about US$2,000 to install a home supercharger and the price of a social conscience starts to add up.
Despite the fact the EQS is a fraction of the cost of the Cullinan – and a very capable car – it is hardly a fair fight.
Still, I feel righteous, enlightened and a little smug knowing that my carbon footprint is an extra small in the EQS, even if the feeling only lasts about 600 kilometres between charges.
The fit and finish of the EQS are superb, consistent with the high standards that have made Mercedes-Benz a global luxury brand. The cockpit is all business, not as simple as a Tesla’s, but brimming with Teutonic efficiency.
The ride is tight and athletic, and the pickup surprisingly peppy, especially when you tap the centre control screen and shift from Comfort to Sport mode. There is no lag in acceleration, and the EQS is nimble and agile around corners and in tight spaces.
At the end of the ride, my angel and I agree: The EQS is a lovely quality automobile, surprisingly quick and fun, and an encouraging – if pricey – glimpse into the future. Still, no matter how much I appreciate the car, I don’t think I would want to be buried in it.
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