It’s easy to dismiss expensive SUVs and crossovers like the Range Rover as little more than under-used toys. But it’s just as easy to forget that the automakers which design said SUVs know their products need to be off-road capable. Their reputations and clientele depend on it. Case in point, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Even so, it’s sometimes surprising how far off-pavement vehicles like the Rolls-Royce Cullinan can go. Recently, Roadshow wanted to truly test the SUV’s limits. So, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan was entered in an off-road rally race.
Is the Rolls-Royce Cullinan actually a good off-roader?
With a $325,000 starting price, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is definitely a luxurious affair. Car and Driver described the cabin as “an isolation chamber,” with its double-paned windows, twin floors, and extensive sound-deadening. The SUV can be ordered with either five seats or four seats with a drink cooler in the 2nd row.
Road & Track reports that the Cullinan lowers automatically to make entry easier, its air suspension rising when everyone’s aboard. There are yards of hand-stitching, hand-polished steel, and optional lambswool carpets. But fancy leather and wood trim are expected of a Rolls—taking it off-roading is something else.
R&T reports that a team of 300 engineers spent 3 years working on the frame, suspension, and all-wheel drive. The Rolls-Royce Cullinan can wade through 21” of water and has 9” of ground clearance. Plus, even with 22” wheels, it still has the famous “magic carpet” ride. And underneath the Spirit of Ecstasy on the hood is a 6.75-liter twin-turbo V12. With 563 hp and 627 lb-ft linked to an 8-speed automatic, it hustles the 6000-lb Cullinan from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds.
But numbers are one thing. Actually putting rubber to dirt is something else.
The Rolls-Royce Cullinan and the Rebelle Rally
Roadshow’s Rolls-Royce Cullinan was optioned up to almost $400,000. But ‘Eleanor’, as the team dubbed their SUV, only had two non-factory features: skidplates and a custom spare-tire rack. This race also wouldn’t be the Roadshow team’s first. Driver Emme Hall and navigator Rebecca Donaghe had already won a previous race with a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and placed third in yet another race with a Chevrolet Colorado ZR2.
The Rebelle Rally itself is also quite an incredible race. It’s for women only and spread out over 7 days. The route goes from Lake Tahoe, California to the dunes outside Glamis, just before the Mexican border, but changes every year. This year the competitors had to deal with places like Death Valley and Joshua Tree, among other harrowing locales. And competitors are also not allowed to use their phones or GPS devices. If a team’s vehicle had navigation, it was disabled or switched off.
Although each team was given maps, not all the checkpoints were on them. The most difficult had to be located via latitude and longitude coordinates. In addition to the daily checkpoints, the Rebelle Rally also had timed endurance stages. Although the race’s speed limit was just under 50 mph, running as little as 4 seconds behind could cost you points.
How the race went
Hall and Donaghe, mindful of what might fail out in the desert, made sure to bring spare parts and tools. Hall remarked that they were especially worried about the Rolls-Royce Cullinan’s fancy air suspension failing, or that the SUV would simply sink into the soft sand due to its weight.
Luckily, nothing like that happened. Indeed, Hall mentions that while their competitors had to deal with bumpy washboard sections, Eleanor’s suspension basically ironed the bumps away. And nothing on the suspension broke. Although the Cullinan’s long wheelbase meant certain hills had to be traversed at an angle and low speed, nothing really disturbed the ride. And while 9” of ground clearance doesn’t sound like a lot, Hall reports that it was often more than enough. Sometimes, the rocks didn’t even scratch the skidplate.
The Cullinan’s other features also came in handy. The A/C kept them cool in the hot desert. The massaging seats soothed sore muscles. Hall even used the in-door umbrella to shade Donaghe from the sun during coordinate triangulation. The V12’s power often saved the team during timed sections. And there was enough torque to let the Cullinan simply creep up hills, rather than having to build up speed.
All this meant the Roadshow team handily won the Rebelle Rally. Not just in the Crossover class—the Cullinan won the race outright.
Did anything go wrong?
Not that the Rebelle Rally was all smooth-sailing. The Roadshow team had to fit the Rolls-Royce Cullinan with its 21” snow-tire package; no suitable all-terrain tires were available. The soft sidewalls weren’t ideal for desert racing, and the team suffered several punctures. Although most owners won’t take their Cullinans this far off-road, Hall would like to see Rolls-Royce offer a proper off-road wheel and tire package.
Hall also reported that the Cullinan’s electronics sometimes had problems with the desert. The parking sensors kept getting confused by rocks and obstacles, for one. For another, the Cullinan goes into limp mode if the door is even slightly ajar. The team once got the SUV stuck in the sand, and limp mode meant speed dropped to about 4 mph. Eleanor could get free, but then get stuck again.
Still, finishing in first with so few issues is an incredible achievement. It’s clear, then, that the Rolls-Royce Cullinan isn’t just an expensive toy.