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Rolls-Royce introduces its SUV with a literal splash.

The official marketing theme for Rolls-Royce’s new Cullinan SUV is “Effortless Everywhere” and the press literature goes on to assert that owners of this stately offering can “go anywhere in ultimate luxury”. While you’re unlikely to encounter a Cullinan on a rock-crawling venue like the famous Rubicon Trail, unless it was helicoptered in, the Rolls-Royce people had a few reporters drive over the sand dunes adjacent to Pismo Beach to show the vehicle’s off-road prowess.
A Surprising Arrival

Although the State of California Park Ranger may have been alerted about a gaggle of Cullinans arriving at his gate, he still had that look of astonishment when these $400,000+ Rolls-Royces were to transverse the dunes that are most often frequented by well-worn Jeeps and dune buggies. The ranger asked for a smart phone portrait with a Cullinan and we obliged since it’s unlikely that an actual owner of Rolls-Royce will seek admission to the dunes anytime soon.

This bit of off-road amusement is not to suggest that Rolls-Royce is antithetical to venturing off the pavement. After all, back in 1904 when the company was founded, paved roads were an exception. And later when there were such roads, royalty would take their sturdy machines into the wild for safaris. 


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British Splendor

Industrial style materials have their place in some vehicles. No one should object to plastic parts in a Jeep Wrangler where hosing out the interior after a day’s mud crawling is done. But you will have to poke around the Cullinan interior with forensic purpose to discover parts that are not wood, wool or leather. And the company routinely builds cars to owner’s bespoke specifications to allow uniqueness. I’ll take mine outfitted for tailgate parties to assure the champagne is just the right temperature.


2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan

TYPE:  Front-engine, all-wheel-drive

ENGINE:  6.75-liter V12

HORSEPOWER:  563 @ 5,000-RPM

TORQUE:  627 lb.ft. @ 1,600-RPM

BASE PRICE: $325,000

PRICE AS TESTED:  $408,325

FUEL CONSUMPTION:  12-city, 20-highway, 14-combined

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Native Habitat

We began our test drive where you’re most likely to happen across the Rolls-Royce species, that would be in Beverley Hills at the lovely Peninsula Hotel. The world-wide hotel group has a long history with Rolls-Royce, so it wasn’t the least bit unusual for our handful of new Cullinan models to be spread around the property’s front entrance. And not one of the uniformed bell hops asked for a photo of the car to share with friends and family.

Although this legendary brand isn’t unique to Robertson Boulevard or Rodeo Drive, the new Cullinan received plenty of admiration from the well-heeled local population. Perhaps it’s the tall stature of the SUV proportions that evokes images of classic Rolls-Royce models, especially the ones where the chauffer was allowed to sit inside the car.

I spent plenty of time performing the driving chores with a colleague in the right front seat and cigar aficionado Daniel Marshall in the back entertaining us with stories of his life’s adventures. The Cullinan drives just like its Phantom cousin- composed and silky quiet but reminding the operator that you’re steering around a lot of machine. Of course, the same can be said of the big, luxury SUVs and for many buyers, all that girth creates a feeling of passive safety. Go ahead and hit me- you’ll lose.

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