I'm taking the 2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan on the 7-day off-road Rebelle Rally
Forget about manufacturer-sponsored press trips. I'm going to test this $325,000 SUV in the real dirt world.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
This October my navigator Rebecca Donaghe and I will be campaigning a Rolls-Royce in the Rebelle Rally, a seven-day, all-female off-road navigational rally that starts in Squaw Valley, California, and ends in the magnificent dunes of Glamis, California, near the Mexican border. It's not a race for speed, but rather navigational accuracy. GPS is not allowed so Donaghe must use only a compass and a map to find marked and unmarked checkpoints as we make our way south on everything from easy gravel roads to narrow canyon trails to the rough and rocky sections of Johnson Valley, home of the infamous King of the Hammers race.
The route is different every time, so while I know in general the kind of terrain we will encounter, I don't know specifics. If you think that doesn't make me nervous as all get-out, then you've got another thing coming! Sure, everyone who has driven the Cullinan off-road, including our very own Editor-in-Chief Tim Stevens, says the SUV performs admirably, but most of those circumstances have been on courses specifically laid out by Rolls-Royce to showcase its vehicle. Piloting the Cullinan in the Rebelle Rally is a whole new ballgame.
Donaghe and I will be competing in the Crossover Class, where vehicles are all-wheel drive without a two-speed transfer case. As such we won't get as far into the rocks and dunes as the 4x4 class, but we'll still see a lot of nasty terrain.
We haven't settled on a wheel and tire setup yet. I'm not sure how those self-leveling hubs factor into the wheels or if the Cullinan has some kind of weird bolt pattern. Further, finding a good off-road 21-inch tire may be a bit of a stretch.
I also want Rolls-Royce to install a skid plate. The Cullinan has an off-road mode that gives it about 9 inches of ground clearance, putting it in the realm of other past crossover competitors like the Porsche Cayenne, Jaguar F-Pace and Subaru Crosstrek. However, the last thing I want is to punch a hole in the very expensive oil pan.
Of course, there are a few things I can't do much about. The Cullinan weighs 6,000 pounds or so, which will make it a little tough to maneuver in the soft sand. We should have plenty of power out of that V12 engine, 563 horses to be exact, but I predict we'll be buried in the sand a bit more than we have in the past.
Donaghe and I won the 4x4 class last year as well as the Bone Stock trophy in the 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. We are both ubercompetitive and of course want to take the win in the crossover category as well. I'm not worried about her skills as she is one of the best navigators out there. Instead, it's up to me to pilot the Cullinan with care, while still taking very thoughtful risks to get us to those checkpoints. I'll have to choose the safest line up every hill and be alert for tire gouging rocks. Every hill ascent will have to be scrutinized to make sure I don't get the long-wheelbase SUV hung up on a breakover angle it can't handle.
Only one thing is for sure: Donaghe and I will be the classiest competitors out there -- and undoubtedly the most comfortable, too.