"In its tentative, inchoate, anticipatory state, dawn is the world coming to light from the ethereal dark of the night. The early-day chill of dawn provides an erotic tingle on the skin, awakening the senses and passions as the day begins."
Those aren't the words of a noted poet. They aren't the best that I can do when trying to romance a woman. They are the heady words of the Rolls-Royce press kit describing the visceral meaning of the name for its newest car, the 2016 Dawn. A four-seat convertible, or drophead in Rolls-Royce speak, the Dawn is essentially the droptop version of the Wraith coupe, though Rolls-Royce is quick to point out that 80 percent of the body panels are new. It is a $340,000 piece of British rolling sculpture that announces you have arrived, and arrived in style.
As a humble automotive journalist, I haven't arrived and probably never will. However, I am, on occasion, allowed a glimpse of the high life by automakers like Rolls-Royce. For 48 wonderful hours this week, I was able to feel what it's like to drive a car that costs more than most mortgages, outfitted with a BMW M3's worth of options. Here's what I learned.
It’s unrelentingly smooth
Some sports cars make you a better driver because of their innate balance and feel. The Rolls-Royce Dawn makes you a better chauffeur because it’s just so smooth.
Yes, the Dawn has a 563-horsepower twin-turbocharged 6.6-liter V-12, but it doesn't deliver neck-snapping grunt. Instead, at launch the car squats a bit, raises the bonnet like a yacht cresting a wave, then it creeps away from a stop as easy as you please. Rolls-Royce calls the power effortless and that’s probably the best word for it. This isn’t a car for which you bother measuring 0 to 60 mph times. Suffice it to say, there is plenty of power on tap to get ahead of the proletariat in their transportation appliances. If you must know, though, 0 to 60 mph takes 4.9 seconds. Plebe.
The ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission delivers shifts that are almost imperceptible, and global positioning technology relays information to the car to help pre-select the correct gear based on driving style and the upcoming stretch of road. The 8-speed works in tandem with the V-12 to deliver thrust when needed and remain in the background otherwise.
Rolls-Royce places the Dawn between the Wraith, which it touts as a grand tourer, and the ultra-luxury Phantom in terms of dynamics, calling it a super-luxury boulevardier. The ride is sublime. Even with notoriously hard riding runflat tires, the Dawn ignores bumps like a hedge fund manager who can’t be bothered to notice the beggar outside of his downtown firm. Though doggedly smooth, swells and undulations can make the ride floaty, but never abrupt, and cause a bit of head bob. There is also some nosedive when the car comes to a stop, though a good chauffeur would release the gas early and feather the brake pedal to make stopping as smooth as the launch. All of this serves to make the occupants as comfortable as possible, without disrupting their business calls or socializing.
With its 5,700-pound curb weight, the Dawn desperately wants to keel over in turns, but it is fitted with active roll bars and air springs that conspire to keep it relatively upright. You can feel them at work in sharp turns. In fact, I was impressed that the Dawn didn't fuss when I attacked a twisty stretch of road and a few cloverleaf off-ramps. It may have stumbled initially upon entry, but it quickly righted itself like a model on the catwalk who gets her heel caught, but manages to look graceful anyway.