Last week, I saw the Rolls-Royce Cullinan in person for the first time. I liked the Cullinan when I saw the first official images Rolls-Royce revealed a few weeks ago, and I like it even more now that I’ve actually seen it in person: It’s stately, simple, clean, fresh, beautiful. It’s a gorgeous luxury SUV.
And, predictably, the complaints started the moment photos were revealed.
The moment the first photos of the Cullinan were shown, car enthusiasts began to complain about its appearance: It’s bloated, it looks weird, it looks too much like "X" SUV or "Y" SUV, it’s a segment Rolls-Royce shouldn’t be entering, whatever. There were complaints, and there were a lot of them — even though, frankly, the Cullinan’s styling is pretty docile as these things go.
But it’s how all these have gone in recent years. The Bentley Bentayga was first shown to the public, and car enthusiasts hated it: They hated the first photos, they hated the lines, the design, the idea of a Bentley SUV. The Lamborghini Urus was revealed, and, again, car enthusiasts hated it: Too weird, too ugly and, once again, complaints about the "idea" of a Lamborghini SUV. It’s been the same with a lot of new luxury SUV designs lately, from the Range Rover to the Lexus RX to the Maserati Levante. Few seem to escape the ire of car enthusiasts (though some do: See the Volvo XC90 and the Range Rover Velar, which are near-universally praised).
I have two theories about why these vehicles get so much hate, and neither of them have anything to do with the fact that these vehicles are actually ugly. Instead, I think this is going on:
Possibility 1: Car enthusiasts just don’t like anything new. This has been proven time and time again, when new designs are revealed and heavily criticized at first, then generally accepted when people actually see these things on the road. Pay attention to any car site’s comments section the next time a new design is shown, and you’ll almost exclusively see two types of comments: Those complaining about how a new car is ugly, and those complaining about how a new car looks like some other car that already exists. You’ll almost never see anyone saying they think a new vehicle actually looks good, unless the design is an evolution of something people are already comfortable with.
The main reason for this, in my opinion, is familiarity. People are instantly skeptical of new designs, almost entirely because they aren’t familiar with them — so they criticize these new designs because they look different from anything else they’ve already seen. Almost invariably, people dislike new designs of any product, flag, phone, computer operating system, website or whatever, unless it’s largely identical to what they’re used to. But then, with time, people warm up to these designs they’ve criticized.
Consider it: It’s almost hilarious how many complain about the "latest Facebook redesign" — only to eventually come to appreciate it so much that people complain, with the next Facebook redesign, that Facebook should return to the design the same people said they hated just a few months before.
Possibility 2: Car enthusiasts just don’t like luxury SUVs. The Bentayga was swoopy and grand touring-y, and car enthusiasts hated it. The Urus was angular and aggressive, and car enthusiasts hated it. The Cullinan is boxy and stately, and … car enthusiasts hate it. Manufacturers have now basically tried everything, and car enthusiasts seem to hate pretty much every luxury SUV, almost regardless of actual appearance. Luxury SUVs can’t win.
This is a more disappointing explanation, because it shows that car enthusiasts are increasingly out of touch with the car buying population. Enthusiasts may not like the look of the Maserati SUV or the idea of a Lamborghini SUV, but this is where the buyers are — and if car enthusiasts dislike luxury SUVs regardless of how they look, they’ll continue to have trouble staying in touch as the market moves further toward SUVs. Forget the enthusiast lust for manual transmissions: Soon, enthusiasts won’t just have trouble finding a transmission they like, but an entire vehicle.
And this brings us back to the Cullinan. Rolls-Royce doesn’t release vehicles on a whim, and it doesn’t release vehicles frequently — so my guess is that a lot of market research went into the creation and development of this vehicle. Rolls-Royce knows there are buyers for the Cullinan, or else they wouldn’t have made it — and I wouldn’t be surprised if a second, smaller Rolls-Royce SUV eventually joins it in the lineup. The simple truth is that it doesn’t matter if you, as a car enthusiast, get on board or get out of the way: either way, the Cullinan shows the future of the car world.
And it’s beautiful.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.