Although the final decision is still pending, there are moves afoot to get the proposed Rolls-Royce SUV under way by 2017. Why is the decision-making process taking so long? Because low production volumes and the lack of an obvious donor car are still troubling the business case.
BMW looked at various different options. One was to tap the architecture of the Phantom replacement, which would have been commendably light, sufficiently flexible, and, most importantly, prepared to accommodate extra-large 21- and 22-inch wheels. But even though engineering could have adapted the height-adjustable air suspension, the platform and the body architecture were deemed unsuitable for a crossover. An ever bigger hurdle was the Phantom-related price point that would have made the higher-roof R-R about twice as expensive as the recently signed off Lamborghini Urus. Also, for cost reasons, developing a bespoke platform for the British luxury brand never was a serious option.
That’s why research and development decided to check out the F15/F16, the second-generation BMW X5 and X6. Although adapting this DNA won't be a home run either, the Rolls-Royce case may be helped by the fact that BMW is contemplating a high-end X7 (F17). True, chairman Reithofer himself shot the X7 down several years ago, but the market has changed, and new contenders like the latest Range Rover, the Bentley SUV, and the Audi Q8 earmarked for 2016, and an evolution of the Mercedes GL-Class could help to pave the way for a high-end BMW SUV. If the X7 gets the nod, it would boast an extended wheelbase and a cleverly integrated third row. The Rolls-Royce would, in contrast, be a four-seater with an optional third seat in the back. It would share the longer platform with the stately X7, offering notably more space, comfort, and luxury than the BMW.
The main change required by the R-R product planners is an adaptive (air) suspension designed to cope with the higher weight, the bigger 21- and 22-inch wheels, and the more ambitious ride quality requirements. Says a senior manager familiar with the project: "It can be done, but the investment is not exactly negligible, and the chassis is only one area that needs attending. The other big issue is to define and develop a suitable drivetrain. Although it is theoretically possible to shoehorn the V-12 in the F15 platform, adapting the existing twin-turbo V-8 would be a lot easier – but how would the target audience respond to the first modern Rolls-Royce not powered by a 12-cylinder? Option number three is a bespoke plug-in hybrid, which may not yet be sufficiently sophisticated and refined for this ultra-luxury brand."
Although Bentley, Lamborghini, and Porsche all make do with V-8s, Rolls-Royce is reportedly looking for an even more exclusive application, which may be a new type of hybrid or an uprated 12. The brand managers have, for some time, been pitching a new V-12 with a common displacement for all models, capable of a maximum power output of 600 hp and a torque peak of at least 737 lb-ft of torque. This engine would probably come in three different tuning stages, including a sporty version for the two-door models and a low-end torque derivative for the crossover. Alternatively, the still nameless soft-roader could feature a 450-hp 4.4-liter V-8 in combination with a couple of electric motors rated at close to 200 hp.
If all goes according to plan, the SUV would be priced fractionally below the Ghost when it goes in sale in late 2017. While the body in white and the chassis would probably be sourced from the Spartanburg, South Carolina plant that builds the X5 and X6, the installation of the driveline and the electronic platform as well as the final assembly would take place in Goodwood. As far as the design goes, the two proposals named Coach and Pullman have now been fused, which we weren't expecting. Although management is still evaluating several different options, subtle styling changes are said to include a lower roofline, more elegant proportions, and a relatively understated interior. According to a person in the know, "the current favorite is a tall five-door shooting brake with stunning proportions and a presence second to none."
Renderings courtesy AUTOBILD/Larson