Not too many years ago, the idea of Rolls-Royce developing an SUV would have been hard to imagine, but with the worldwide popularity of this class of vehicle, the question now is “Why did they wait so long?”

Today there are very few luxury carmakers not selling an SUV or planning one. Arch-rival Bentley has its Bentayga and Mercedes-Benz and Lexus have years of luxury SUV experience. Even Aston Martin and Ferrari have their versions in the works. Many would argue that there are luxury carmakers that have been saved from financial disaster by launching SUVs.

In many ways then, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is not the surprise it would have been a few years back. Lots of buyers out there have been waiting for the Cullinan and the order books are said to be filling up. Rolls-Royce is, of course, a division of BMW, a company with plenty of luxury SUV experience so four-wheel drive technology transfer would have been a fairly straightforward affair. The Cullinan though, is not based on any BMW but the platform is similar to that of the R-R Phantom.

Decades ago when Rolls-Royce only supplied the rolling chassis to which bodywork would be attached by a coachbuilder, lots of customers opted for ‘shooting brake’ styles. This involved boxy and accommodating rear bodywork with bespoke lockers for your pair of Purdeys and other shooting paraphernalia. In one way at least, the Cullinan is a descendent of those splendid vehicles.

The Cullinan (it’s named after the largest diamond ever found) is a majestic vehicle with various Rolls-Royce styling features like the stainless steel hand-polished Parthenon-inspired radiator, topped by the iconic ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ mascot. Like several Rolls-Royce saloons, the back doors are hinged at the rear. Otherwise, the design is fairly straightforward SUV with the emphasis on roominess, passenger comfort and load carrying capability. Novel features include a couple of jump seats at the rear tailgate – just the place to watch a little polo or cricket.

The stately Cullinan is powered by a 563-horsepower 6.75-litre twin-turbo V-12 that offers vast amounts of torque and exceptional refinement and quietness. A new all-wheel drive system is featured, the first for any Rolls, along with all-wheel steering. The transmission is a ZF 8-speed. Rolls-Royce believes that many owners will use their Cullinan off-road, citing the Middle East markets as an example of this need.

The vehicle is thus fully capable of taking on very rugged territory. Expectedly, the interior is a total delight and no rival uses quite as much leather, fine wood veneers and plush carpets. Rolls-Royce has exceptional standards when it comes to interior trim and nothing approaches the opulent ambiance of these magnificent vehicles. As with other products from this maker, there are lots of bespoke options that help owners build a one-of-a-kind SUV.

According to Rolls-Royce, very few vehicles leave the plant with the basic specification, most buyers choosing to add bespoke touches. The Cullinan is a very expensive vehicle, but perhaps not as costly as many observers were forecasting prior to launch. In terms of prestige, there’s nothing quite like a Rolls-Royce and this one adds lots of practicality and capability to make it something very special indeed. This standout upscale SUV would probably make a name for itself even without the Spirit of Ecstasy and the Parthenon grille.

ENGINE: 6.75-litre twin-turbo V-12, 563-horsepower.

TRANSMISSION: 8-speed ZF automatic.

ACCELERATION: Zero to 100 km/h in approx. 6.5-seconds.

TOP SPEED: 250 km/h estimated.

I LIKED: Outstanding comfort and cabin ambience combined with impressive engineering. Superlative quality throughout, plus serious off-road capability. This is without doubt the ultimate in luxury practicality.

I DIDN’T LIKE: Rolls-Royce was a little late for the SUV party, but hopefully, the demand is there for what must be the leading product in its class.

MARKET ALTERNATIVES: Bentley Bentayga, high-end Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW SUVs plus upcoming luxury rivals from Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin and others.

WHO DRIVES ONE? Buyers who simply want the best of the best and are willing to pay for it.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY: Approximately €315.000. Available during the first quarter of 2019.