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.