Rolls-Royce Cullinan Shines at Texas Off-Road Invitational

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The Goodwood crew wasn’t afraid of getting the Cullinan dirty. Neither was the Texas Motor Press Association.

The Texas Motor Press Association recently held its first ever Texas Off-Road Invitational. It was a day-and-a-half event in which 24 of my fellow writers and I drove 19 pickups and SUVs up and down the trails of General Sam’s Offroad Park in Huntsville, Texas to determine which manufacturer(s) made the Off-Road Truck of the Year and Off-Road SUV of the Year.

Most of the usual suspects were there. Toyota brought the TRD Pro versions of the Tacoma and Tundra, as well as the all-new RAV4. Nissan showed up with the Titan and Titan XD PRO-4X models, and the Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition. Its corporate cousin Infiniti put its money on the QX80. Lexus directly challenged that with its LX 570; it also provided a GX 460. GM entered the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison and GMC Sierra 1500 AT4. Land Rover rolled in with a trio of all-terrain vehicles: the 2020 Evoque, Discovery, and Range Rover Sport SVR. The Ram 1500 Rebel was ready to get dirty (and wound up driving off with the Off-Road Truck of the Year trophy). Kia introduced many of us to its new Telluride (which went on to win the top SUV prize). And our romp through the outdoors wouldn’t have been complete without a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Rolls-Royce Cullinan at Texas Off-Road Invitational

The flagship Lexus and Infiniti rigs and the supercharged Rover were pricey and flashy, but I’m used to seeing them in some capacity at automotive press events. The Rolls-Royce Cullinan (named after the world’s largest uncut gem-quality diamond unearthed in 1905), on the other hand, was a total surprise. I had never seen one in the metal and certainly never thought I was ever going to get the chance to drive one. But I wasn’t just going to take it on a carefully chosen and precisely timed highway route. I was going to use the first Rolls-Royce off-roader to do just what it was built to do. Rolls-Royce Cullinan at Texas Off-Road Invitational

Before I climbed behind the wheel, I had Elizabeth Williams, Product Communications Manager for Rolls-Royce in the Americas, take me on a short tour of the Cullinan as I recorded footage for my YouTube channel, There Will Be Cars. As Williams explained it, Rolls-Royce went straight to the top of its lineup for the Cullinan’s underpinnings. She said it “rests on the all-new aluminum ‘Architecture of Luxury’ that is specifically dedicated for Rolls-Royce. And it made its debut on the Phantom [VIII] and it is now here on the Cullinan.”

As foreign an idea as a Rolls-Royce SUV may seem, the Cullinan is not the first vehicle of its kind. Williams said Rolls-Royce has “a long history of off-road, taking vehicles out into the wilderness, all the way back to … when Lawrence of Arabia took his car through the desert” during his fight against Ottoman Empire forces in World War I. Rolls-Royce Cullinan at Texas Off-Road Invitational

Like other Rolls-Royces, the Cullinan has a V12 engine under its hood. It’s a combination of enormous displacement (6.75 liters) and twin turbochargers. Output is 563 horsepower and a stump-pulling 627 lb-ft of torque. A GPS-linked eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive put that power to the road.

Prices for the Cullinan start at $325,000, but there’s really no such thing as a standard Rolls-Royce. They loaded their media rig up with roughly $75,000 worth of options. Some of those included $11,500 Magma Red paint and a variety of bespoke additions, such as a $9,950 1,300-watt, 18-speaker sound system upgrade; $4,025 contrast piping on the tan seats; $4,000 picnic tables; and $1,500 umbrellas that pop out of a special opening in the doors. Williams pointed to the rear seats and added, “This is actually the lounge seat configuration in the back. These seats are able to fold down.” They made the Cullinan more cargo-friendly and added $8,000 to its price tag, which, after the addition of $5,000 in gas guzzler tax and destination/handling charges, came to $406,225. Rolls-Royce Cullinan at Texas Off-Road Invitational

Sitting behind the thin-rimmed wheel was like being in a sort of photo negative of a regular vehicle. In any other SUV, I would’ve wondered, “Is that real wood? Is that stuff that feels like leather really leather or a convincing synthetic?” In the Cullinan, the only question that came to mind was, “Is there any plastic at all in here?” I was surrounded by a tannery’s worth of hides, gleaming chrome trim, and wood veneers. Williams pointed out the cross-grain leather on the center stack. Rolls-Royce even made the air vents below the front seats look expensive and elevated them to what I saw as Art Deco hand dryers.

Williams had mentioned that the Cullinan has Rolls-Royce’s signature “Magic Carpet Ride.” It was not an overstatement. Out on the trail, nothing seemed to upset its suspension. Whatever bumps in the terrain the Cullinan’s 5,864 pounds didn’t flatten into brown tread marks, its air suspension responded to with polite disinterest. There was nothing that Mother Nature had to say that the Cullinan deemed worthy of telling me through the bottom of my seat. I could’ve driven it through the apocalypse in total serenity. Rolls-Royce Cullinan at Texas Off-Road Invitational

Despite their shallow tread blocks, the Continental ContiSport Contact tires had no traction issues in the messy portions of the course. I kept my foot light on the well-tuned throttle and they just kept me and Williams rolling forward through whatever water and mud happened to be in our way. Rolls-Royce Cullinan at Texas Off-Road Invitational

In the tighter portions of the trail, I could feel the Cullinan’s substantial heft. It’s not light on paper or in real life. The Cullinan masked its size well, though. Even though it’s 18 feet long, it didn’t feel huge. I had an easy time keeping track of its extremities, especially the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament at the end of the hood.

At one point during my drive with Williams, I needed to make a sharp left to clear some tree branches to my right. I figured I would have to perform a three-point turn. The chime of the front parking sensors supported my hunch. Williams saw it as an opportunity to show off the Cullinan’s four-wheel steering, which gives it a turning radius of 43 feet. Sure enough, it helped me take the turn without backing up. Rolls-Royce Cullinan at Texas Off-Road Invitational

Many people refer to luxury SUVs, such as the Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz G-Class, as “mall crawlers” because they’re often seen in front of department stores instead of on top of rocky mountain passes. Not all of them live such soft lives of wasted potential, but many do.

There’s a good chance many Cullinan owners will never take their vehicles off of paved roads. It’s tempting to say it’s nice to know they can, but that doesn’t feel like enough. They should. If someone is wealthy enough to be able to buy a Cullinan, they can clearly afford to live life on their own terms and can get more than just things. They can indulge in experiences. Getting mud on the tires of a Rolls-Royce Cullinan far away from fragrance counters and valet parkers is definitely one I’d recommend.

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Derek Shiekhi's father raised him on cars. As a boy, Derek accompanied his dad as he bought classics such as post-WWII GM trucks and early Ford Mustang convertibles.

After loving cars for years and getting a bachelor's degree in Business Management, Derek decided to get an associate degree in journalism. His networking put him in contact with the editor of the Austin-American Statesman newspaper, who hired him to write freelance about automotive culture and events in Austin, Texas in 2013. One particular story led to him getting a certificate for learning the foundations of road racing.

While watching TV with his parents one fateful evening, he saw a commercial that changed his life. In it, Jeep touted the Wrangler as the Texas Auto Writers Association's "SUV of Texas." Derek knew he had to join the organization if he was going to advance as an automotive writer. He joined the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) in 2014 and was fortunate to meet several nice people who connected him to the representatives of several automakers and the people who could give him access to press vehicles (the first one he ever got the keys to was a Lexus LX 570). He's now a regular at TAWA's two main events: the Texas Auto Roundup in the spring and the Texas Truck Rodeo in the fall.

Over the past several years, Derek has learned how to drive off-road in various four-wheel-drive SUVs (he even camped out for two nights in a Land Rover), and driven around various tracks in hot hatches, muscle cars, and exotics. Several of his pieces, including his article about the 2015 Ford F-150 being crowned TAWA's 2014 "Truck of Texas" and his review of the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, have won awards in TAWA's annual Excellence in Craft Competition. Last year, his JK Forum profile of Wagonmaster, a business that restores Jeep Wagoneers, won prizes in TAWA’s signature writing contest and its pickup- and SUV-focused Texas Truck Invitational.

In addition to writing for a variety of Internet Brands sites, including JK Forum and Ford Truck Enthusiasts, Derek also contributes to other outlets. He started There Will Be Cars on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube to get even more automotive content out to fellow enthusiasts.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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