Rolls-Royce Dawn (2016) First Drive

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Rolls-Royce has launched a new convertible, or as the Goodwood-based manufacturer calls it: "a drophead coupé" in the Cape Winelands. We attended the international launch event to see whether the newcomer is worthy of the title "the sexiest Rolls-Royce ever built"  

It's called the Dawn and the release of any new Rolls-Royce is quite a momentous event; the company tends to release new products as often as the Catholic Church's College of Cardinals gets together to elect a new Pope. And so we were delighted to be afforded the opportunity to experience the new Dawn at the international media event; a month long spectacular which was being held, of all places, in Cape Town.

Rolling up the Delaire Graff wine estate, perched on top of Helshoogte between Franschoek and Stellenbosch is an occasion in and of itself. What a spectacular jewel in the already glittering crown of South Africa’s famed wine growing region. An estate for which 5 stars is just not sufficient, Delaire Graff was to be our base of operations and the accommodation for journalists from around the world – the Chinese contingent was arriving as we were departing.

It looks, in a word, lovely

Visually, the Dawn arrests the senses, but not in bombastic, awe-inspiring way. Parked diagonally in the splendid Cape sunlight were six new Dawns with their tops down. As the company’s CEO, Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes, says: “It is the sexiest Rolls-Royce ever built” and the newcomer certainly looks lovely. Surely you should choose a more apt description than "lovely", you may say. But, believe you me, the car strikes a beautiful balance between elegance and ostentatiousness. The sextet was huddled around a 1948 Silver Dawn, of which only 28 were made, and after which the newcomer was named. Only 17 of these cars are known to exist and this old dame is flown around the world to meet and greet whoever it needs to be impressed. The appearance worked.

In the brief presentation, during which the lead designer of the Dawn gave us an overview of the Rolls-Royce's aesthetic cues, we learnt that the car's cabin is as quiet with the roof in place as that of its hardtop cousin, the Wraith. We were also shown how quiet the roof is when it retracts – it's utterly, utterly silent, which is quite an achievement. The car is technically referred to as a Drophead Coupe, not a convertible, and there are a few reasons why that makes sense, most notably, the incredible space afforded to rear occupants. It is a true 4-seater, not a 2+2, and although I’m not the tallest person, I was comfortably ensconced while seated in the (individual) rear seats. They offer as much legroom as one would expect in a mid-size executive saloon.

Like sitting in cosseting lounge chairs

The front seats, however, are enormous, cosseting lounge chairs; the feeling of sheer opulence they instil in their occupants is heightened by the blissful sensation of your feet sinking into thick lamb’s wool carpet.

The fascia is lifted from the Ghost, which is not a criticism, because it blends classic and modern touches tastefully. The interior exudes plushness in such a way that the details complement the car’s on-road personality to make the Rolls feel effortless. The stalk to engage Drive is thin, elegant and smooth in its operation. And that is just about the only piece of the interior that requires any effort to get the car moving.

The motor is unbelievably unobtrusive. In fact, I half-jokingly asked if it was a hybrid – it’s that quiet. Quite how Rolls managed to tame a 6.6-litre twin turbo V12 to that extent is beyond me. But that silence belies supercar-levels of power (420 kW) and torque (780 Nm), the full fat of which importantly arrives at an absurdly low 1 500 rpm. To put that in perspective, that peak power output is the same as a Ferrari 458's, but with wad of extra torque. The engine's unique character impresses; the get-up-and-go is startling and using full throttle feels more like divine intervention than anything as vulgar as the consumption of fossil fuel.

Comfortable just doesn't quite describe it

I feel I may run out of superlatives soon so let me quickly talk about the exemplary (phew, another one) ride quality. The word “comfortable” just doesn’t seem to do it justice, because a comfortable ride usually doesn’t imply a notable measure of handling prowess. But there is a never a moment when the Rolls doesn’t feel sure-footed and planted. The word “waft” is often used on these occasions, but could there be a better way of conveying just how a Rolls Royce covers its ground? I doubt it.

The manner in which the car’s suspension deals with irregularities on the road, such as dips and bumps, is something the Rolls-Royce engineers must be very proud of. Again, it is another aspect of the car that makes the Dawn exceptional to drive and be driven in.

Again, the overall theme here is effortlessness; this is a large car that you can drive with as little as one finger on the wheel. Make no mistake, the Dawn can motor along at a fair lick of pace, but that just seems silly. It is the quintessential cruiser.

With the Spirit of Ecstasy leading the way, we meandered along some of the Western Cape’s finest roads. It was picture perfect – and personally, that’s the key difference between the Dawn and most other luxury vehicles. When you think of a Rolls Royce, when you see a film or a commercial or a press video or any material featuring the car, it always looks glamourous. It looks wonderful. It looks special.

The essence of Rolls

With a Rolls Royce, more than any other product I’ve ever experienced, it is what they say it is. Forgive the cliche, but driving that car feels like "it does exactly what it says on the tin". It lives up to the hype in every way, and it is that feeling, I would imagine, that people around the world are happy to pay for.

At roughly R11 million, depending on what time of day you choose to exchange your Rands, the Dawn is a dauntingly expensive motorcar. For the same money, you could purchase a very, very nice house and two top-of-the-range Range Rovers and still have change for a nice holiday.

But I can understand why a Rolls Royce commands the price it does. Quite simply, there is nothing else like it.

Interested in buying a Rolls-Royce? Find one on Cars.co.za

Watch Cars.co.za's Video Review of the Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II

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