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.
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?
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.
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.