ROAD TRIP: DOWN UN­DER, OVER THE TOP AND HOT

This newly-wed petrol­head ex­pe­ri­enced op­po­site ends of the mo­tor­ing world in Vic­to­ria, Aus­tralia on his hon­ey­moon.

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This newly-wed petrol­head ex­pe­ri­enced op­po­site ends of the mo­tor­ing world in Vic­to­ria, Aus­tralia on his hon­ey­moon.

AAH, the hon­ey­moon. The time when hus­band and wife go abroad af­ter their busy wed­ding day to fi­nally spend some time with each other as a mar­ried cou­ple.

I’m not sure if it’s a cus­tom in ev­ery part of the world, but for me, I saw it as an op­por­tu­nity to fi­nally do a proper road trip with my life part­ner. It has al­ways been a dream for me, but hav­ing cho­sen a hard-rid­ing Re­nault Me­gane RS 265 Cup rental car, I could only sheep­ishly hope that my wife would see it the same way. Imag­ine what a treat it was, then, when Rolls-Royce’s PR team, hav­ing heard that we’ll be in Aus­tralia, gave me a ring and said they could loan us a Rolls-Royce Dawn for a day or two. A Dawn, you say? There was no hes­i­ta­tion from my end, I can guar­an­tee you that. Rolls-Royce cars have al­ways been the car­riage of choice for cap­tains of in­dus­try, and def­i­nitely the ar­rival car for their wed­dings as well. If there was any other way that could make us feel like a Prince and Princess for that mo­ment, we sim­ply couldn’t think of one. And it gave much wel­comed respite from the track­fo­cused Re­nault­sport hot hatch, at least for a while. And so that sealed the even­tual two cars of choice for the hon­ey­moon – a Re­nault­sport Me­gane and a Rolls-Royce Dawn. Could the con­trast be any greater, yet the com­bi­na­tion any more per­fect?

THE PLAN

So the road trip went like this, as many Sin­ga­pore­ans would know with Mel­bourne be­ing one of the top hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions – we would use Mel­bourne city as a base, and hop on to the Great Ocean Road for some of the world’s best coastal roads. We’d then swing over to Yarra Val­ley to visit some winer­ies, be­fore head­ing down south to Phillip Is­land – for some pen­guins, of course. As we only had the Dawn for two days, we left our itin­er­ary open for that, giv­ing

us the free­dom and time to roam any­where we wanted with the car – as long as we ended up some­where safe! Un­like Sin­ga­pore, where you can vir­tu­ally park any­where and ev­ery­where safely, Mel­bourne and its sur­rounds have vary­ing precincts. Driv­ing a car like the Dawn is al­ways an oc­ca­sion, and of­ten you be­come the oc­ca­sion when you park up. These days, though, Rolls-Royce says that a Dawn is quite so­cially ac­cept­able to drive ev­ery day, and pedes­tri­ans would ad­mire and say hello, a re­mark­able sea change from the for­mal dis­tance that Rolls-Royces used to have around them.

HON­EY­MOON’S HARD­CORE PART

Early on in our trip, we quickly re­alised that the Me­gane is ver­i­ta­bly not a road trip car. In­ex­pli­ca­bly tol­er­ant as I was about the car’s foibles, I failed to see that the bone­jar­ring ride would not do me any favours when it came to some of the rough roads as we headed out of town to­wards places like the Great Ocean Road and Phillip Is­land. On long high­way stretches such as the M1 to­wards Gee­long or the M11 down the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula, the French hatch­back could rea­son­ably munch on the high­way miles and re­turn re­spectable fuel econ­omy, too, but even then, it re­quired the sur­face to be rather flat and even.

It wasn’t just the ride, though. The coupe shape meant two huge and heavy doors, and of­ten load­ing and un­load­ing lug­gage can be cum­ber­some. The boot has a very high en­try height and will mean you may strain your back car­ry­ing heavy bags into it. The rear seats don’t fold down flat as well, and barely half­way at best. And when all of the lug­gage is loaded, the poor rear vis­i­bil­ity be­comes non-ex­is­tent.

In other words, did I just sign up for a track car for the next 2.5 weeks with my newly wed­ded wife? The an­swer was, fear­fully, yes. Look­ing back now, I can­not be more grateful to her for steel­ing up her verve and grit, even though at times I knew it was sim­ply un­bear­able.

The high­light drive for the Me­gane RS on the trip had to be at Great Ocean Road. Turn­ing off the M1 and en­ter­ing the leg­endary B100 Great Ocean Road, it was where the car started

A RE­NAULT­SPORT ME­GANE AND A ROLLS-ROYCE DAWN – COULD THE CON­TRAST BE ANY GREATER, YET THE COM­BI­NA­TION ANY MORE PER­FECT?

to make a lot of sense. In front of me was nearly 70 kilo­me­tres of twisty B-roads, and with a com­fort­ing neck pil­low pro­vided for my wife, I fi­nally got the car to dance a lit­tle along the coast.

First thing to do be­fore do­ing a com­mit­ted drive in the Me­gane RS – there was a huge ben­e­fit to switch­ing to Sport mode. It felt like an al­most dif­fer­ent ma­chine in Nor­mal mode. Sport sharp­ened the throt­tle, beefed up the ex­haust note and made every­thing feel dis­cernibly tighter some­how. And it was in this mode that I heard the oc­ca­sional ex­haust pops when I ex­e­cuted a well-timed heel-and-toe down­shift, or an up­shift right at the limit, even be­yond the cus­tom­ary Re­nault­sport red­line beep. The han­dling was truly in a class of its own. There was sub­stance to back the claim that this is one of the fastest front-wheel-drive cars at the Nurburgring.

I could re­ally read al­most what ev­ery wheel at all four ends was telling me (es­pe­cially im­por­tant when it was pour­ing wet), and in­stead of in­tim­i­dat­ing me, the car worked with me to re­duce a strip of twisty road to a piece of cake. At some point, I could even feel the rear twitch and pivot, mak­ing it feel like it wasn’t a front-drive car!

It cer­tainly in­volved me, with the lim­ited slip dif­fer­en­tial be­ing a big part of this ex­pe­ri­ence, tug­ging at the wheel al­most feel­ing like torque-steer (some­times I feared it pulling me out to the road­side bush!), yet tight­en­ing a loose cor­ner­ing

line if I held on tight enough. The steer­ing was nicely weighted and is fixed rate, so I was as­sured of what it would do, and the wheel was nice to hold, too. There was not as much power as some of the fastest hot hatches out there to­day, but all 265hp of it was us­able and planted down to the tar­mac.

The Re­nault felt ef­fi­cient, hard-charg­ing, manic and ohso ca­pa­ble. Okay, the ex­haust note sounded a tad like a very pow­er­ful vac­uum cleaner, but it wasn’t un­pleas­ant. Upon reach­ing our des­ti­na­tion at Apollo Bay we set­tled in, and over the next few days I en­joyed much of the same with the Me­gane RS, with al­most any of the in­land­head­ing roads climb­ing up a moun­tain along a tight and twisty B-road. I could imag­ine how much the tyres worked.

TOP OF THE WORLD DOWN UN­DER

Sore bums and weary bod­ies were ex­actly what a Dawn would surely cure and soothe. Fall­ing into a lap of lux­ury af­ter the ag­gres­sive Re­nault­sport was an ex­er­cise of con­trasts as I set my eyes on the Dawn at Rolls-Royce Mo­tor Cars Mel­bourne. It was sim­ply un­real when only min­utes ago I was in a fast French hatch­back, and then now I was sat on the finest leather chairs in the au­to­mo­tive world, fin­ished in iconic Man­darin Or­ange. Such an ex­pe­ri­ence made me ap­pre­ci­ate the Dawn even more, for now ev­ery touch, smell and vis­ual was height­ened and em­braced.

The first no­table char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Dawn, with the hood up, was how iso­lated it was from the rest of

IT WAS THE PER­FECT ROAD TRIP FOR A PETROL­HEAD, DRIV­ING CARS THAT ARE AT THE TOP OF THEIR FIELDS AND WITH SUCH CON­TRAST­ING TAL­ENTS.

the world, not least be­cause of the six lay­ers of fab­ric that in­su­late the in­te­rior. Not that I was in a bub­ble of my own, but I was amongst the world and some­how feel­ing like I was not in it. It was a pretty amaz­ing feel­ing. The sense of waft­ing ex­tended also to the ride com­fort. Where once I would brace be­fore head­ing to un­even road, now I could sim­ply go over it with the cush­ion that was the car’s so­phis­ti­cated four­corner air sus­pen­sion.

It’s not as if the Dawn wasn’t nice to drive, ei­ther. Whether it was the tram-lined streets of Mel­bourne’s CBD or the ru­ral back roads of the Dan­de­nong ranges, the driv­e­train was sim­ply multi-tal­ented. It was not lack­ing in lowend torque. I mean, who was I kid­ding, it was a twin-turbo V12! But nei­ther was it lack­ing in mid-range or top-end power; it had it ev­ery­where, wher­ever I needed it.

It was al­ways whis­perquiet, do­ing its work with gen­tle­ness and un­ruf­fled vigour. Need­less to say, the 8-speed gear­box also played a cru­cial part in this. It was smart enough to re­spond to my throt­tle in­puts ac­cu­rately, and from what I could sense, quite fast-shift­ing, too. It even read GPS data to shift to the cor­rect gear for the road ahead even be­fore we reached there. I got to ex­pe­ri­ence the Satel­lite Aided Trans­mis­sion (SAT) be­fore we climbed on a par­tic­u­lar in­cline. The gear­box al­ready kicked down when it was still flat!

It was quite an ex­cep­tional feel­ing with all that power de­liv­ered in this way. I al­most for­got that this was an engine that de­vel­ops 563hp, be­cause it was an equal and com­ple­men­tary item to the car. The engine was so smooth, it nearly felt like an elec­tric car, I kid you not! Your driv­ing style changes when you are be­hind the wheel. In­deed, it is so care­fully cu­rated, Roll­sRoyce en­gi­neers even built in a de­lay in the throt­tle for the very pur­pose of giv­ing that Rolls-Royce ac­cel­er­a­tion, and at least to me, it worked bril­liantly. I drove the Dawn through some rather more chal­leng­ing roads when headed to some straw­berry farms at the Dan­de­nongs. The car sur­pris­ingly and breath­tak­ingly en­ter­tained.

It only felt its weight when brak­ing, at which point the car re­gally but slightly hes­i­tantly did so, but for the most part, it was one

ag­ile car. I won­dered where all of its 2560kg weight was hid­den, for the deft­ness with which the chas­sis re­sponded to my steer­ing in­puts was like a much smaller car. The sus­pen­sion also kept body roll in check, at least un­til a point where my driv­ing be­came ruder than it should be pi­lot­ing such grandios­ity. I think the word that al­ways came to mind was “flow” – the car worked with the road in­stead of against it, hold­ing its con­tours like a grace­ful dancer in­stead of ag­gres­sively fight­ing it into sub­mis­sion.

Amongst all of this driv­ing, it was al­most easy to for­get how much ef­fort goes into mak­ing one of these cars. Build­ing a Dawn can take up to 460 hours, de­pend­ing on how be­spoke the or­der is – mul­ti­ple times that of what it takes for a mass-pro­duced car. These days, sewing your logo onto a seat head­rest is some­what com­mon­place, but Rolls-Royce will go be­yond that and do nearly every­thing you wish. A re­designed cabin for a sumo wrestler, for in­stance (yes, this re­ally hap­pened). Or putting in wood from a felled tree in your es­tate (this hap­pened, too).

Eye­ing the ex­quis­ite de­tails in the in­te­rior, you’ll be con­vinced that the qual­ity is be­yond re­proach. But what makes the Dawn, and Rolls-Royce as a whole, re­ally ap­peal­ing is the way they have man­aged to ap­proach lux­ury in a re­strained, el­e­gant way, in­stead of cre­at­ing some­thing in-your-face. There is beauty in the de­tails.

THAT’S A WRAP

To­wards the end of our Vic­to­ria road trip, there was much to re­flect about. The Re­nault­sport was at once in­fu­ri­at­ing and also be­guil­ing. A car like that will def­i­nitely ap­peal to the purists, and I don’t doubt for one sec­ond that it is mag­i­cal on the right road. The Dawn was a lot less po­lar­is­ing and a lot more joy­ful – wher­ever I was with it, it just seemed to blend right in and do its thing. The thought of such lux­ury be­ing so very ac­ces­si­ble is un­prece­dented and makes the Rolls-Royce ex­pe­ri­ence that much richer and vi­brant. Give the chauf­feur a day off, please! This car has to be driven. Both of these cars prove with­out a doubt that be­ing be­hind the wheel is still an ir­re­place­able ex­pe­ri­ence. In the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture, cars may drive them­selves with­out any hu­man in­put or ef­fort, but in the case of both the Me­gane RS and the Dawn, I will def­i­nitely place my vote for driv­ing, any day. As hon­ey­moons go, we couldn’t have asked for a greater ex­pe­ri­ence driv­ing cars that are at the top of their fields and with such con­trast­ing tal­ents. For a petrol­head, it was the per­fect road trip.

Mel­bourne at dawn, half­way through the writer’s two-day drive in the Dawn Drop­head Coupe.

FE­BRU­ARY 2018

Up­per-crust Man­darin Or­ange up­hol­stery at a straw­berry field in the Dan­de­nong Ranges.

The writer didn’t hit the track in the sporty Re­nault and went kart­ing in­stead.

The Me­gane RS at rest in Yarra Val­ley, be­fore hot­foot­ing it to­wards Phillip Is­land.

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