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2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan First Drive: A True Rolls or Brand Dilution?


Off-roading isn’t usually so quiet, yet as I traverse a rocky trail in Wyoming, the 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan’s hushed cabin makes an impression. While the SUV gives me a massage, I sneak a peek out the windows to admire the Grand Tetons before regaining my focus, doing my part to maneuver an SUV half a foot longer than a standard Escalade off-road. Rolls-Royce’s first-ever all-wheel-drive vehicle is a 210.3-inch SUV that doesn’t make sense at first, but the more you drive it, the more it feels true to the brand.



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An enormous 12-cylinder SUV with a $330,350 starting price (including destination and gas guzzler fees) is overkill for off-roading, but the Cullinan’s basic trail-ready credentials help justify its place in Rolls-Royce’s lineup. Most American buyers won’t take their super-luxury SUVs off-road, but should such a situation present itself, simply press an off-road button to optimize the Cullinan’s performance for the trail that leads to your luxurious hillside hideaway.

The Cullinan is a Rolls-Royce first and an SUV second, however, which means the new model’s styling, interior richness, and on-road behavior are arguably more important than its off-road abilities. First impressions are strong; the blocky, imposing presence of the Ghost and Phantom sedans extend naturally to an SUV body style. Cullinan drivers enjoy a commanding view of the road ahead, highlighted by the Spirit of Ecstasy at the edge of the hood. Rolls-Royce remains one of the very few luxury automakers that can pull off a hood ornament that will command respect and not ridicule.

The deal-maker/breaker of a design feature is the way the rear windshield meets the pushed-back liftgate lid, which is said to pay homage to early 20th century Rolls-Royces that still held luggage in an actual trunk behind the passenger compartment. From the side, Rolls-Royce’s distinctive front-mounted rear door handles catch your eye, as does the thick stainless steel trim that extends in one piece from the base of the D-pillar over the top of the doors to the A-pillar.



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In the U.S., 22-inch wheels will be standard with 21s and winter tires offered, as well. Unless you need winter tires, stick with one of the 22-inch options to maximize curb appeal every time you approach the valet. Even with the larger wheels, the Cullinan retains the smooth ride you expect of a Rolls-Royce thanks in part to an updated self-leveling air suspension and special tires designed to keep road noise to a minimum. The SUV’s eight-speed automatic, 563-hp V-12 with 627 lb-ft of torque, and brakes are all tuned for smoothness; those 12 cylinders will move the three-ton Cullinan with authority at wide-open throttle, but the engine never yells.





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