How do you eval­u­ate a ve­hi­cle that is quite sim­ply in a class of its own?

Car (South Africa) - - TEST -

Let’s get one – usu­ally cru­cial – cri­te­ria out the way rst: the price. There are two rea­sons for this.

Firstly, as our Match-up op­po­site glar­ingly in­di­cates, there is not a sin­gle ve­hi­cle on of­fer in South Africa that is even in the same ball­park as the Dawn. The clos­est two lux­ury con­vert­ibles avail­able are the Mercedes-amg S65 Cabri­o­let at a mere R3,4 mil­lion and the Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal Su­per­sports Con­vert­ible that will lighten your wal­let to the tune of R4,85 mil­lion. That is still around 2,15 mil­lion South African rands cheaper than the car you see here; one that, as part of the Ghost range (along with the Wraith coupé), rep­re­sents the start of the Roll­sRoyce fam­ily.

The sec­ond rea­son, of course, is that price is not some­thing that mat­ters a great deal to those with the re­sources to pur­chase a Dawn. As one of these folk, you are not ac­cus­tomed to em­bark­ing on a price com­par­i­son be­fore choos­ing a car. In­deed, you will be buy­ing a Dawn be­cause you want the con­vert­ible ver­sion of what Rolls-royce has long rep­re­sented: the ul­ti­mate in au­to­mo­tive lux­ury, en­gi­neer­ing and ex­clu­siv­ity.

Given its ask­ing price, the lat­ter is pretty much a given, but what of the rst two? Well, that’s the part this road test will con­sider, a task the CAR team tack­led with some en­thu­si­asm given the rar­ity of a Rolls ap­pear­ing in our test garage.

A walk around the Dawn and not even the cold uores­cent light­ing sus­pended from our garage ceil­ing could di­min­ish its ele­gance. Less ar­chi­tec­tural than the im­pos­ing Phan­tom, the Dawn’s lines are more sen­sual and do well to dis­guise its 5,5-me­tre length. Lest you think this is merely a Wraith

with its slop­ing metal roof art­fully re­moved, Rolls-royce points out that, while it shares its 3 112 mm wheel­base with the coupé, 80% of the Dawn’s body pan­els are unique. With the steeply raked wind­screen, long prow and Canadel open-pore wood pan­elling on the deck-like roof cover, the Dawn is the taste­fully ex­e­cuted mar­riage of two things the ul­tra-wealthy deeply ap­pre­ci­ate: lux­ury cars and yachts.

The 22 sec­onds it takes for the roof to silently un­furl and cover the cabin may be slow by cur­rent stan­dards, but the stately pro­ces­sion of this six-layer fab­ric is en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate to the Dawn’s de­meanour. Rolls-royce claims it’s the world's qui­etest con­vert­ible roof, not just in oper­a­tion (it can be em­ployed at speeds of up to 50 km/h) but in noise in­su­la­tion at speed. In­ter­est­ingly, in our deci­bel mea­sure­ment – one taken at idle from inside the cabin with the car parked in our test garage – we mea­sured 43 DBA, which isn’t par­tic­u­larly peace­ful. The Honda CR-V tested on page 52 mea­sured 38 DBA. To be fair, though, that is com­par­ing a con­vert­ible with a hard top.

Open the huge, rear-hinged doors and you step into a twoplus-two cabin that’s noth­ing short of a mas­ter class in un­der­stated ele­gance. While the build qual­ity found in lux­ury cars such as the Mercedes-benz S-class and BMW 7 Se­ries may match the Roller’s, what they can’t con­test is the min­i­mal­ist so­phis­ti­ca­tion

Ut­terly ridicu­lous but, from the cap­tain’s chair, ir­re­sistible Sudhir Matai Re­fined, re­gal and im­pos­ing; there’s noth­ing even comes close to match­ing a Rolls-royce Steve Smith Enchanting, but so too is a Benz S500 Cab at R2,3m Ter­ence Steenkamp

and qual­ity of ma­te­ri­als. Your shoes rest upon thick lamb’s wool car­pets, your but­tocks sink into huge, cos­set­ing seats made from the high­est-qual­ity hides, your hands grip an el­e­gantly thin steer­ing wheel and your ears reg­is­ter your favourite mu­sic cour­tesy of a 16-speaker bespoke au­dio sys­tem with a sen­si­tive mi­cro­phone to con­stantly mon­i­tor am­bi­ent ex­te­rior noise and ad­just the vol­ume and tone set­tings.

The Dawn’s in­te­rior is a beau­ti­ful blend of the tra­di­tional – the slim-rimmed steer­ing wheel, the or­gan-stop air vents and the hall­mark um­brel­las which slot into the front fend­ers – and the modern, with a 10,3-inch LEDscreen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem that, when not in use, is hid­den by a wooden panel in the cen­tre of the ex­pan­sive dash. Op­er­ated by a Spirit of Ec­stasy ro­tary con­troller, the sys­tem is es­sen­tially a re­work­ing of BMW’S idrive, although it’s a touch pad rather than a touch screen be­cause, says Rolls-royce, that lat­ter might leave un­sightly fin­ger­prints at driver and pas­sen­ger eye level. Its green-shaded graph­ics are sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent to that found on a BMW 7 Se­ries, a ve­hi­cle that un­der­pins the Dawn (the Ghost and Wraith, too).

The Dawn shares the pre­vi­ous Seven’s ba­sic sus­pen­sion, drivetrain and struc­tural el­e­ments. As Rolls-royce points out, how­ever, while there is some DNA cour­tesy of Mu­nich’s large car, there’s also enough bespoke en­gi­neer­ing to make the Dawn feel noth­ing like a Seven.

The press of a but­ton on the dash closes those big doors – yes, servo mo­tors do the job for you – and a press of another fires up the equally big 6,6-litre twin­turbo petrol V12. The Bmw-de­rived pow­er­plant is good for 420 kw and 780 N.m of torque that drives the rear wheels through a Zf-sourced eight-speed torque-con­verter. Given the Dawn’s 2 600 kg heft, that con­sid­er­able power comes in handy and is de­liv­ered in big vel­vety dol­lops that pow­ered our car to a rather im­pres­sive 0-100 km/h sprint time of 4,99 sec­onds. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the more mean­ing­ful in-gear ac­cel­er­a­tion is as im­pres­sive, with the

100-120 km/h run dis­patched in 1,58 sec­onds.

Along with that 0-100 km/h time, what also sur­prised us was the Dawn’ abil­ity to scrub off speed. In our emer­gency-brak­ing 100-0 km/h test, it man­aged a worst of 2,91 sec­onds and a best of 2,66 sec­onds. That matches the times posted by the BMW M4 GTS tested in our Per­for­mance Shootout ear­lier this year.

Bury­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tor in that deep-pile car­pet­ing is, of course, a crass ex­er­cise in such a ve­hi­cle and you’re bet­ter off keep­ing the car’s power-re­serve gauge (re­plac­ing the rev counter) at just be­low 100% while the low-boost, big-dis­place­ment personality of the V12 wafts you along.

It’s a con­trolled waft, though. The stiff chas­sis – at launch last year, Rolls-royce claimed it the stiffest two-plus-two con­vert­ible in the world – is man­aged by well-con­trolled air-sprung sus­pen­sion with damp­ing that both iso­lates you from road im­per­fec­tions and man­ages the body roll that a com­fort­able lux­ury car this big will nat­u­rally ex­hibit.

Should you feel the need to test the car’s dy­namic han­dling abil­i­ties, the big 21-inch tyres pro­vide plenty of grip, but you do need to drive it like you would drive a clas­sic sportscar … turn in early, feel the weight trans­fer lat­er­ally, let it set­tle and pro­gres­sively get on the gas. Cor­ner ex­its are then com­posed and en­tirely pre­dictable, with the Dawn feel­ing a lot more lithe than its bulk would sug­gest.

Although ac­cu­rate, there is lit­tle in the way of feed­back from the hy­drauli­cally as­sisted rack-and-pin­ion steer­ing; in­ten­tion­ally so. Be­ing able to con­trol the car with your nger­tips is a sig­na­ture Rolls-royce trait and, whether ne­go­ti­at­ing the big Dawn through city streets or cruis­ing along a high­way, this method is both highly ef­fec­tive and ap­pro­pri­ate.


As most of our testers noted, this is a dif cult ve­hi­cle to eval­u­ate. Is it three times bet­ter than that Mercedes-benz S500 Cabri­o­let re­cently tested in our March 2017 is­sue? It’s cer­tainly three times the price.

No, the en­gi­neer­ing and lux­ury on of­fer aren’t quanti - ably more than those pos­sessed by other high-end ve­hi­cles in this seg­ment … but there is a cer­tain some­thing that has al­ways set Rolls-royce au­to­mo­biles apart and this Dawn pos­sesses it in spades.

Yes, it boasts silken re ne­ment and old-money un­der­state­ment, but as one mem­ber of the CAR team suc­cinctly put it, it is sim­ply im­pos­si­ble to repli­cate the sense of oc­ca­sion that ac­com­pa­nies a Rolls. And you can’t put a price on that.

right Satel­lite-aided transmission uses GPS data to se­lect the most ap­pro­pri­ate gear. be­low The “RR” cen­tre caps’ sealed bear­ings mean they re­main up­right.

clock­wise from top Sig­na­ture thin-rimmed wheel; power-re­serve gauge re­places rev counter; V12 makes the Dawn the most pow­er­ful full four-seat drop­head Rolls yet; enough room for rear passengers.

Huge coach doors are servo-as­sisted and can be closed by push­ing a but­ton at the base of the wind­screen.

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