STELLENBOSCH – THE Dawn’s official press release reads like erotic fiction; it’s liberally sprinkled with phrases such as “the early-day chill of dawn provides an erotic tingle on the skin” and “in its tentative, inchoate, anticipatory state, dawn is the world coming to light from the ethereal dark of the night”. E.L. James, eat your heart out.
Contained in the release of a lesser carmaker, such purple prose would elicit concern that the company in question faces an identity crisis.
But not so with that most steadfast of luxury carmakers. Despite the British aristocrat’s assertion that its newest ragtop (a misnomer if ever there was one) is “the sexiest Rolls-Royce ever built”, mere minutes behind the large, thin-rimmed steering wheel dispel such claims. This is a resolutely traditional Rolls-Royce.
In a motoring world where manufacturers clamber to fill every possible niche and appeal to every possible market taste and whim, often diluting their core principles in the process, Goodwood has managed to built a vehicle that feels exactly how a Rolls should: stately, spectacularly refined, supremely comfortable, effortlessly powerful. Not that you’d expect anything less from a vehicle costing as much as a grand house in the Western Cape’s breath-taking Winelands, the location the British brand chose to launch its newest vehicle to the world’s press.
From our starting point at Delaire Graff Estate on Stellenbosch’s sweeping Helshoogte Pass, the Dawn instantly charms. Ensconced on the first leg of the route in the sumptuously trimmed passenger seat while my co-driver threads the 5,3-metre, 2 560 kg vehicle along the pass’ perfectly cambered roads in the direction of Franschhoek, I admire the view along the vast bonnet towards the Spirit of Ecstacy – here sitting slightly prouder than on the donor Wraith coupe to be in fuller view of the occupants.
Earlier in the day, the Rolls-Royce team highlighted how the vehicle remains loyal to Rolls’ core design principles: a 2:1 wheel-to-body height; that long bonnet balancing the long rear overhang; a high shoulder line; and a tapering rear-end. On the Dawn, the low roofline is maintained despite the cloth top featuring a staggering six bulky ayers. It’s certainly the most elegant such solution I’ve seen; there are hardly any ridges or creases, and the carmaker claims that, with the roof erect, the vehicle is quieter inside than the Wraith. It’s a boast I won’t contest, as the vehicle is practically silent at 120 km/h and I haven’t driven the former.
Lowered in a sedate 22 seconds, the top stows under a flush deck finished in wonderfully tactile Canadel open-pore panelling. With all four side windows raised, the flawlessly trimmed cabin is a serene place, even at cruising speeds where lesser convertibles assault their occupants with wind gusts. The rear seats are only slightly less tranquil – an important point to note, as the Dawn does not lose any interior room in its transition from the Wraith and is that rare thing in the drop-top world, a full four-seater.
Leaving our lunch stop in Rooiels, a spectacular seafront mansion (there’s a theme in the venues Rolls’ team chose), it’s my turn to take the wheel of the most expensive vehicle I’ve ever driven. I’m justifiably nervous – compounded by the fact that the vehicle we’re in is a left-hooker – but it turns out I shouldn’t have been. So perfectly judged are the vehicle’s controls, from the heft of the steering system (moderate and moderately quickly geared) to the extra-long-travel throttle pedal, and so clear are the sight lines along that vast bonnet to the corners, that the vehicle manages to feel both incredibly special to drive and simultaneously unintimidating. The V12 is inaudible unless called upon to waft the Dawn’s occupants past slower vehicles, which it does with vigour, the ride is controlled but cushioned and there’s only a very slight tremor in the rear-view mirror as rail tracks thud underneath the vast 21-inch run-flat tyres.
So, forget what you’ve been told about the Dawn. Yes, it looks set to achieve its target of lowering the average age of Rolls-Royce buyers into the mid-40s, and sure, it’s certainly the sleekest and, dare I say it, sexiest Rolls, but it also tenaciously traditional. And that’s exactly how it should be.