What is it?
Given the amount of new engineering the car contains, it seems too glib to call the new Rolls-Royce Dawn a mere Wraith Drophead.
True, it is closely related to the Wraith (and the 180mm-longer-wheelbase Ghost saloon that spawned it), but 80% 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 programme. So does the driving experience.
This is a big car, nearly 5.3m long, with the same four-seat accommodation package as the Wraith. No cabin space has been lost despite the fact that there is a very large, six-layer convertible roof in a large compartment behind the cabin. It intrudes instead into the boot space, although not disastrously. There is reasonable room for holiday luggage, although possibly not for all four occupants.
Entry is via front-opening 'coach' doors, hinged in the centre of the car, a layout that Dawn product manager Jonathan Shears, who's on hand for the car’s launch near Cape Town, South Africa, helps with the task of maintaining the roofless car’s rigidity. 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 kerb weight of 2560kg) maintains a weight distribution very similar to that of the Wraith.
The 6.6-litre twin turbo V12 engine is unchanged from the Wraith, barring some tuning of its drive-by-wire throttle. It still offers 563bhp at 5250rpm, while its peak torque of 575lb ft is developed at 1500rpm and drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox notable for its set-and-forget column lever selector.
The car’s major functions are controlled via a large central screen and Roll’s own version of BMW’s iDrive (they call it the Rotary Controller). Radar cruise and automatically dipping lights are standard and there is a luxurious covering, mostly of fine leather or wood veneer — available in a huge choice of colours and textures — for every interior surface, plus the rear deck behind the cockpit.
Small wonder that the price begins around £250,000 before you add any of the many bespoke trim items available, or even go up an inch from the standard 20in wheels (with run-flat tyres that allow a 100-mile trip at 50mph). Many owners, we are told, will pay £300,000-plus for their cars, the first of which will be delivered within a few weeks.
What's it like?
Well, it’s certainly luxurious. 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 that the car is indeed a comfortable four-seater, with easy access front and rear. But you expect luxury and looks to be very well delivered in a Rolls-Royce at this price.
The stand-out is the car’s dynamics, especially its ride comfort. Over roads that alternated at times between smooth and abruptly rutted, the Dawn showed impressive body rigidity and control. Even over wracking railway crossings, it has the quietness and composure of a fine luxury saloon. The Dawn is deliberately made a little more relaxed in character than 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 ripples. 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.
But soon you learn to sit there, guiding it with your fingertips and enjoying its surprising accuracy, which makes manoeuvring a big car easy, even in fairly unruly traffic. The car 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 0-62mph in just under five seconds, and is limited at the usual 155mph. Better still, it cruises in amazing silence. There is very little wind noise from the raised hood; in fact, the car is “a couple of decibels” quieter across the cruising range than a Wraith, which is itself very refined. 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 right to do so.
Should I buy one?
If you’re in the bracket, and you like refinement in your big convertibles, this Rolls-Royce Dawn must be the ultimate choice. We have never ridden in a car of this layout that is so quiet or so 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.
Location Cape Town, South Africa; On Sale Now; Price £250,000; Engine V12, 6592cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 563bhp at 5250rpm; Torque 575lb ft at 1500rpm; Gearbox 8-speed automatic; Kerb weight 2560kg; Top speed 155mph; 0-62mph 4.9sec; Economy 19.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 330g/km, 37%