Over the past 15 years, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, a company with more than a century’s worth of heritage and brand equity, has completely reinvented itself under BMW ownership. This reinvention was not conducted in a way that abandons tradition — because that would be foolish — but rather by embracing it while injecting a heavy dose of modernity.
In other words, rather than slapping the brand’s badge on a run-of-the-mill luxury car, they decided to build honest-to-God Rolls-Royce motor cars with the latest chassis, engine, and infotainment technology money can buy.
First, there was the flagship Phantom limo. Then came the “entry-level” Ghost sedan. That was followed by Wraith coupe. Now, with the arrival of the Dawn, it’s safe to say the Rolls-Royce revolution is complete.
Late last year, just before the winter chill bore down on the Northeastern part of the US, Rolls-Royce dropped off a brand new Dawn for Business Insider to check out at our top secret suburban New Jersey road test facility — the nerve center of our vast vehicle evaluation operation. Otherwise known as my colleague Matt DeBord’s drive way.
Obviously, this was the perfect opportunity for a weekend drive through the wilds of New Jersey.
The Rolls-Royce Dawn starts at a lofty $US335,000. However, our option-laden test car clad in Midnight Sapphire and Blue Ice livery cost a whopping $US402,675.
Hollis Johnson contributed to this story.
I began the day at Business Insider's suburban test car facility located not too far from BMW/Rolls-Royce North America's headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.
... The Wraith. Even though the Dawn is the convertible complement to the Wraith, it's not simply a coupe with the roof lopped off. According to Rolls-Royce, 80% of the Dawn's body panels are unique to the model.
At first glance, the Dawn convertible -- a 'drophead coupe' in Rolls-Royce parlance -- is simply stunning. The Dawn shares many of its design cues with the Ghost and the Wraith -- two cars we thoroughly enjoyed at Business Insider.
More importantly, the classic Rolls-Royce design elements are present. From the long hood to the vertical grille that exudes an aura of regal elegance.
As is the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament whose wings, Rolls-Royce claims, 'evokes the sight of a jet's vapour trail, hinting at the car's dynamism.'
Like the front end of the car, the rear end design of the Dawn borrows heavily from the Ghost sedan.
With the Phantom Fixed Head and Drop Head Coupes discontinued for 2017, the Dawn is the only convertible in the Rolls-Royce lineup.
As for the drive, we were fortunate enough to be blessed with rather agreeable weather during our time with the car. You know what that means... Top down motoring!
Behind the wheel, the Dawn is thoroughly modern and yet a true Rolls-Royce through and through. In front of the driver is an analogue three-gauge cluster featuring the brand's trademark power reserve meter in place of the more vulgar tachometer. At the same time, the Dawn is equipped with a colour heads-up display, semi-autonomous adaptive cruise control, and...
The center stack is dominated by a 10.25-inch high-definition display running a modified version of BMW Group's iDrive infotainment system.
The system is operated using a rotary controller which is equipped with a touch sensitive pad. This allows occupants to write characters as well as operate the map using pinch and zoom functionality. (According to Rolls, the company declined to include a touchscreen because they, 'might leave unsightly fingerprints at driver and passenger eye level.')
Tech aside, the Dawn is still a Rolls-Royce. Which means the shiny metal accents are, indeed, metal and the acres of fine wood veneer are exactly that.
In Princeton, the Dawn was joined on our drive by my friend and his gorgeous 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport.
The Grand Sport is the latest version of the seventh-generation Corvette to emerge from Chevy's Bowling Green, Kentucky plant.
Simply put, the Grand Sport is an American automotive masterpiece. With 460 horsepower under the hood, the Vette is immensely powerful, an incredible athlete on the track, and more soulful than an 70 year-old blues guitarist. At the same time, it's loaded with tech and is a breeze to live with. It's easy to see why Matt DeBord called the Grand Sport the greatest Corvette ever in his review.
While the Corvette is an eager predator ready to conquer the road ahead, the Dawn is the exact opposite.
While capable of achieving immense speed, the Roller is a relaxed riviera cruiser. It doesn't corner all that well and it's not particularly nimble. However, the Dawn is not a sports car and it was certainly never designed to interact with the business end of a race track. Like other Rolls-Royces, the Dawn was created to cover large distances, at high speed, while coddling its occupants in the finest and most effortless motoring experience money can buy. In that regard, they have hit a grand slam.
The Dawn is also capable of achieving some impressive straight-line performance figures. According to Rolls-Royce, the 5,600 lb. Dawn can hit 60 mph from a standstill in less than 4.9 seconds and reach an artificially limited top speed of 155 mph.
Under the hood is a 563 horsepower, 6.0 litre, twin-turbocharged V12 engine shared with the Ghost sedan. The Wraith is equipped with a 624 horsepower version of the same BMW Group power plant. On the road, the 6.0 V12 is double-cream smooth and monastery quiet. No matter how hard the engine is pushed, it never feels overwhelmed. It's the epitome of cool, calm, and collected.
The Dawn, the Ghost, and Wraith's DNA can all be traced back to the BMW 7-Series. However, the company has so 'Rolls-Royce-afied' the driving experience that there is little resemblance, in terms of experience, to the 7-Series.
The only whiff of BMW in the driving experience is the fact that the trio is more capable around the twisty bits than the 19-foot-long Phantom. (This is a good thing.) When it comes to sound deadening and ride comfort, it's 100% Rolls-Royce.
Our test came equipped with massive 21-inch wheels. On a side note, the RR logo at the center of the wheel is engineered to remain stationary even when the car is travelling at speed.
At our next stop over near the Pennsylvania border, I bid farewell to the Corvette. At the same time, I took the opportunity to explore the rest of the Dawn's cabin.
Unlike many convertibles these days, the Dawn is a true four-seater with room for a quartet of full-size adults.
Out back, the rear seat passengers are treated to a roomy, open-air environment. The rear seats are separated by a center console with the wood veneer flowing down the console like a waterfall.
With the open top and coach doors, Rolls-Royce says rear seat passengers don't simply climb out of the car, but rather, they stand up and disembark.
The Dawn is equipped with an electrically operated folding roof. When not in use, it's tucked away neatly between the rear seats and the trunk. Rolls-Royce calls the operation of the roof a silent ballet. So here's that ballet in motion.
While I'm certainly a sucker for a good pumpkin, the main reason for the stop was the storm clouds that gathered over head. Time for the roof to deploy.
In case you encounter precipitation, Rolls-Royce has installed branded umbrellas inside the door sills of the Dawn. When not in use, the car even pumps dry air into the umbrella compartment to make sure they remain dry and mould-free.
Alas, rain happened. As I made my way back, I thought about this little road trip I shared with the Dawn.
Certainly, it's easy to talk about how an enormously expensive car is well executed. However, what Rolls-Royce has been able to achieve is something truly special. Even at $US400,000, it quickly becomes evident that the Dawn is greater than the sum of its parts.
There is no driving experience in the automotive universe that can compare to Rolls-Royce. With the Dawn, they have been able to deliver Rolls-Royce solidity, quality, luxury, and refinement in the form of an open-top coupe. For that reason, the Rolls-Royce Dawn is truly unique.
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