Given the amount of new engineering the Rolls-Royce Dawn contains, it seems too glib to call it a mere Wraith drophead.
True, it is closely related to the Rolls-Royce Wraith (and the longer-wheelbase Ghost saloon that spawned it), but 80 per cent of the car’s outer panels are new, and the underbody structural work that has gone into substantiating two eye-catching claims Rolls makes for it – that it is “the quietest open-top car ever made” and “the most rigid four-seater convertible available today” – speak of a separate, exhaustive engineering program. And so does the driving experience.
This is a big car, at nearly 5.3 metres long, with the same four-seat accommodation as the Wraith. No cabin space has been lost, despite the fact there is a large, six-layer soft-top in a compartment behind the rear seats. It intrudes instead into boot space, although not disastrously. There is reasonable room for holiday luggage, but possibly not for that of four occupants.
Entry is via front-opening coach doors, hinged in the centre of the car, a layout that helps with the task of maintaining the drop-top’s rigidity. Rolls-Royce explains that with conventional doors, it would have been necessary to greatly increase the size and bulk of the chassis structure around the firewall.
As it is, the extra reinforcing (which, with the weight of the folding roof and its operating mechanism, makes up 200kg of the Dawn’s considerable 2560kg kerb weight) maintains a weight distribution very similar to that of the Wraith.
The twin-turbo 6.6-litre V12 is unchanged from the Wraith, barring some tuning of its drive-by-wire throttle. It still offers 420kW and a torque peak of 780Nm and drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The car’s major functions are controlled via a large central multimedia screen and Rolls-Royce’s version of BMW’s iDrive (they call it the Rotary Controller). Radar cruise and automatically dipping headlights are standard and there is a luxurious covering, mostly of fine leather or wood veneer, for every interior surface, including the rear deck behind the cockpit.
Small wonder its price begins at around $749,000 before you add any of the many bespoke trim items available, or even go up an inch from the standard 20-inch wheels. Many owners, we’re told, will pay much more than that for their cars.
Our red car, with ivory upholstery, might have come straight from Hollywood and was perfectly suited to Cape Town’s strong but not searing sunshine. And we soon proved the car is indeed a comfortable four-seater, with easy access front and rear for its occupants. The stand-out is the car’s dynamics, especially its ride comfort. Over roads that alternated between smooth and abruptly rutted, the Dawn showed impressive body rigidity and control.
Even over railway crossings, it has the quietness and composure of a fine luxury saloon. The Dawn has deliberately been made a little more relaxed in character than the Wraith, but there has been no need to give it different spring and damper rates. Instead, the well-distributed extra weight does the job admirably.
It’s a soft car, but its suspension controls big body motions very well while ironing out the ripples in poor road surfaces. And there’s never a tremor from the body. The steering is another fine feature, although the medium-lightness of its rim effort takes a few miles of acclimatisation, as does the fairly weak self-centring action and its refusal to load up as you corner harder.
You soon learn to sit there, guiding it with your fingertips and enjoying its surprising accuracy, which makes manoeuvring easy. The Dawn can be dragged into understeer if you arrive at corners grossly too fast, but mostly it just goes where you point it – aided by the fact that Rolls-Royces always seem to have an effortlessly defined, moderately brisk cruising speed into which you soon settle.
Of course, there’s surprising pace if you demand it. This car will slingshot in near silence from standstill to 100km/h in just under five seconds and is limited at the usual 250km/h. Better still, it cruises in amazing silence. There is very little wind noise with the roof raised. In fact, the car is “a couple of decibels” quieter across the cruising range than the Wraith, which is itself a very refined ride. Rolls-Royce people make a big thing of the fact that this car conceded nothing in noise to its drop-top layout, and they’re qualified to do so.
If you’re in the bracket and you like refinement in your big convertibles, this must be the ultimate choice. We’ve never ridden in a car of this layout that is so quiet or smooth, or deals so brilliantly with the slings and arrows of difficult roads, with no handling compromises. In those respects, it simply sets a brand-new standard.
4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
LIKE: Exquisite drop-top experience, stellar ride quality, those looks
DISLIKE: Massive price, hardly the corner carver
Engine: 6592cc twin-turbo V12, DOHC, 48v, twin-turbo
Power: 420kW @ 5250rpm
Torque: 780Nm @ 1700rpm
0-100km/h: 4.9sec (claimed)