Comparing the world’s most expensive SUVs!

Premium SUVs have been around for quite some time now. Many claim that the first luxury hauler arrived in 1984 as the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, but the modern era began in 1999 when BMW introduced the X5. In 2016, Bentley reshaped the segment with the Bentayga, the first full-blown luxury SUV that gathered fine upholstery, state-of-the-art tech, fancy features, and high-performance under one roof. At the time of its launch, it was the quickest, fastest, and the most expensive SUV. Two years have passed and Rolls-Royce delivered its first people hauler, just like it promised a few years back. It’s called the Cullinan, and although it’s not faster than the Bentayga, it’s definitely the more expensive choice.

While the premium segment is packed with SUVs from European, American, and Japanese automakers, the range-topping luxury market is still very small. With no other products around, Bentley and Rolls-Royce are the only firms fighting for supremacy here. The Cullinan and the Bentayga will go against each other for the richest, most pretentious customers out there for years to come. Who will win? It’s hard to predict at this point, but we set up a thorough comparison for the most luxurious SUVs ever built as of 2018.

Continue reading for the full story.

Front

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The Bentayga has a sportier design with round features and more muscular front fenders

If you feel like you’re looking at a comparison between the Rolls-Royce Phantom and the Bentley Continental GT, you’re not doing anything wrong. Both SUVs are based on existing vehicles from the British brands, borrowing most of the styling cues, but sitting higher above the ground. The Cullinan is heavily based on the Phantom VIII sedan, featuring similar grille and headlamps and a slightly revised, sturdier front bumper. As a result, it has a boxy design that’s fitting for a large SUV, but somewhat against current trends of making everything look sportier.

Unlike the Cullinan, the Bentayga is more similar to the Continental GT grand tourer rather than the Flying Spur sedan, which is significantly older. What’s more, the Bentayga actually introduced the updated design that found its way on the third-generation Continental GT one year later. Sure, it’s still heavily related to the old Conti GT, but it was the first vehicle to use the new design language. It also has a sportier design with round features and more muscular front fenders.

Side

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While many carmakers use sloping rooflines for a sportier stance, Rolls-Royce went with a 1990s-inspired design

The differences are pretty big on the sides too. The Phantom’s boxy lines were carried over all the way and are further enhanced by the wagon-style roof. While many carmakers use sloping rooflines for a sportier stance, Rolls-Royce went with a 1990s-inspired design with a vertical tailgate, a thick D-pillar, and an almost vertical rear window. In many ways, the Cullinan looks like the Cadillac Escalade, employing an old-school SUV design that’s appealing to some enthusiasts, but it strays away from current trends. The tall glasshouse and the massive wheels also contribute to the SUV’s boxy looks. On the other hand, the rear-hinged rear doors add uniqueness to the design.

Again, the Bentayga is a sportier proposition, as Bentley used most of the Continental GT’s features on the SUV, including the muscular rear haunches. The roof not only sits lower, but it also has a coupe-like design toward the back. Likewise, the tailgate has a noticeable slope and an integrated spoiler. The quarter window is really small, reminiscent of two-door coupe designs. While the Cullinan is a full-fledged SUV in the traditional sense, the Bentayga is moare of a blend between a grand tourer and a sporty wagon.

Rear

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There's nothing wrong with either SUV, it's pretty much about what you like in a car's design

When I look at the Cullinan from behind, I see a bit of Cadillac Escalade. I’m not sure this is what Rolls-Royce intended, but the rear section is boxy, massive, and reminds me of old-school SUVs. But while this may be good for enthusiasts hooked on traditional SUV designs, it might not be a popular choice among younger customers who want a sportier crossover. It’s definitely of the "love it or hate it" variety, but I’m sure Rolls-Royce has an entirely different audience that doesn’t care much about such details. And after all, it’s very similar to the Phantom, makes it an authentic Rolls despite the unique rear end.

The Bentayga’s rear section has Continental Flying Spur written all over it. The taillights and the lower tailgate are very similar, as is the clean bumper with the wide exhaust pipes. Of course, there’s no deck lid, and the rear window and the longer roof cancel the sleekness of a grand tourer or sedan design, but the Bentayga is definitely the sportier proposition here. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to taste. There’s nothing wrong with either SUV; it’s pretty much about what you like in a car’s design.

Interior

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Both vehicles look modern inside the cabin and both benefit from state-of-the-art tech and the best luxury features on the market

Needless to say, both vehicles look modern inside the cabin and both benefit from state-of-the-art tech and the best luxury features on the market. It’s something you’d expect from Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

But the layouts are far from unique. The Cullinan borrows almost everything from the Phantom and add very few individual features. This is somewhat disappointing, but it’s far from surprising. Most automakers chase that "brand identity" design strategy, so it doesn’t come as a shock that Rolls-Royce stuffed the Phantom’s dashboard and center console inside the SUV. However, it does have a larger infotainment display, a revised passenger-side section of the dashboard, and remodeled seats.

2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Interior
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This is the first three-box SUV, though
The Cullinan can haul up to 68 cubic feet of luggage and can be fitted with a glass partition to separate the seating area from the trunk

But the British made no compromises in the luxury department. The cabin is draped in fine leather that’s also water resistant and features expensive trim from genuine wood and polished aluminum. The rear compartment offers plenty of room when the two-seat Individual configuration is selected, which also adds a center console incorporating a drinks cabinet with whiskey glasses and decanter, champagne flutes, and refrigerator. A three-seat layout is also available, and this configuration comes with a 60/40 split to create an almost flat loading surface. The Cullinan can haul up to 68 cubic feet of luggage and can be fitted with a glass partition to separate the seating area from the trunk.

The tech package is also rich and includes a host of driving assist features, WiFi hotspot, state-of-the-art navigation, and all the settings you need to the take the Cullinan off-roading.

2017 Bentley Bentayga High Resolution Interior
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Much like the Cullinan, the Bentayga can be ordered with either four or five seats, but a seven-seat version is also available

Unlike the Cullinan, the Bentayga features a more unique interior when compared to the car it borrows its exterior features from. Sure, some of the dashboard, the A/C vents, and the center console are similar, but the overall layout has just enough unique features to stand out. For instance, in the Conti GT, the infotainment screen sits at the top of the center stack. In the Bentayga, it’s placed between the A/C vents at the top and the HVAC control panel below. The door panels are also significantly different, featuring bigger pockets and wider door trim. The leather-covered dash top is also split into two sections, leaving room for a wooden center stack. So far, the Bentayga gets some bonus points.

As far as luxury features go, the Bentayga is on par with the Cullinan. The cabin is packed with handcrafted leather, wood, and metal trim, available in multiple combinations on the options list and at the company’s bespoke Mulliner division. Much like the Cullinan, it can be ordered with either four or five seats, but a seven-seat version is also available. The latter ruins the SUV’s luggage hauling capability, which is a tad inferior to the Cullinan’s due to the sloping roof, but it enables the Bentley to carry more people in relative comfort.

Tech includes a rear-seat entertainment system with a 10.2-inch Android tablet, a 1,950-watt audio system, adaptive cruise control, hill descent control, electronic night vision, and head-up display systems. The Bentayga is also off-road capable.

Drivetrain & Performance

2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Exterior Interior
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It gets its motivation from a 6.75-liter V-12
The Cullinan uses the already familiar, 6.75-liter V-12 to cruise on highways and climb slopes

The British SUVs don’t have much in common under the hood beyond the fact that both have big-displacement, powerful engines. The Cullinan uses the already familiar, 6.75-liter V-12 to cruise on highways and climb slopes. Borrowed from the Phantom, the twin-turbo unit generates 563 horsepower and 627 pound-feet, a 36-pound-foot deficit compared to the sedan. An eight-speed ZF automatic transmission channels the power to the wheels through an all-wheel-drive system, a first for a Rolls-Royce.

There’s no word as to how long it takes the Cullinan to hit 60 mph, but don’t expect it to reach in benchmark in less than 5.5 seconds. Top speed is probably limited to 155 mph, just like every Rolls-Royce out there. The SUV is also equipped with four-wheel steering, which improves stability. Other highlights include a self-leveling suspension, electronically controlled shock absorbers, and an off-road mode. The SUV can wade through up to 21.3 inches of water, 1.7 inches deeper than the Bentayga.

2017 Bentley Bentayga High Resolution Drivetrain
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The Bentley also draws its juice from a big engine, in the form of a 6.0-liter W-12

The Bentley also draws its juice from a big engine, in the form of a 6.0-liter W-12. The massive unit, shared with other Volkswagen Group vehicles, cranks out a whopping 600 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of twist. This is enough to make the Bentayga one of the quickest SUVs on the market, needing only four seconds to hit 60 mph from a standing start. The Bentayga is also one of the fastest haulers with a top speed of 187 mph. But unlike the Cullinan, the Bentley can be ordered with three more drivetrains.

Next on the list if a 4.0-liter V-8. Also found in Porsche and Audi models, this engine is almost as powerful as Rolls-Royce’s V-12, generating an impressive 540 horsepower and 570 pound-feet of torque. A similar engine, but working on diesel, cranks out 429 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque in the company’s first-ever diesel vehicle. I bet we won’t see an oil burner in a Rolls-Royce anytime soon. Finally, Bentley has already taken the electrification path with a hybrid system that mates a 3.0-liter V-6 gasoline engine and electric power for a total system output of 456 horses and 520 pound-feet. Rolls-Royce is also set to offer hybrid drivetrains in the future, but for the time being, the Bentayga is your only option if you’re into electric motors in luxury SUVs.

While it doesn’t have four-wheel steering, the Bentayga uses an all-wheel-drive system and can be taken off the beaten path thanks to its adjustable air suspension, electronic active roll control, and the Responsive Off-Road setting.

Final Thoughts

2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Exterior
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While both the Cullinan and the Bentayga can be labeled as full-size luxury SUVs, the two vehicles are actually significantly different. While the Cullinan is just as boxy as the massive Phantom, the Bentayga boasts the sportiness of the Continental GT grand tourer. While the Cullinan is almost identical to the Phantom inside the cabin, the Bentayga benefits from unique features of its own compared to other Bentley models. The Cullinan has the larger trunk and the fancy mini bar, but the Bentayga can offer seating for seven people. Under the hood, Rolls-Royce went all traditional with just one V-12 engine. Bentley, on the other hand, kept the familiar W-12 and the V-8 but turned the Bentayga into a path breaker by giving it the company’s first diesel and hybrid drivetrains. If you got the cash, you can’t go wrong with either of them. It comes down to what you need inside the cabin and what kind of fuel you want to use.

References

2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Exterior Interior
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And if you have to ask you probably can’t afford it

Read our full speculative review on the 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan.

2017 Bentley Bentayga High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2017 Bentley Bentayga.

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Read more Rolls Royce news.

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Read more Bentley news.

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