The Brits are masters of irony. Why else would Rolls-Royce choose to hold its international test-drive of the new Dawn convertible in South Africa?
We land in Johannesburg, before making a two-hour transfer to Cape Town. We are ferried to our hotel in a pampering Ghost. And we pass a vast collection of shanty towns.
The next day’s test route would bring us closer to this mishmash of zinc and corrugated metal sheets, many with satellite dishes perched incongruously atop.
So here we are, in an automobile that costs $1.5 million, cruising effortlessly in climate-controlled luxury, traversing one of the poorest communities in the world.
My mind wonders. I picture families watching cable TV in their oxidised huts. What would be on? Perhaps a re-run of Zulu Dawn, a war movie I recall from my early 20s.
I also picture the English countryside, rolling meadows and winding B-roads interspersed with castles that pierce the air when viewed from afar. The mental scape brings me back to my first Rolls-Royce test-drive decades ago, from Crewe to London.
It is too cliched a setting, perhaps – English car in an English countryside. Maybe that’s why South Africa. Since that first drive so many moons ago, Rolls-Royce has been bought over by BMW.
Then something brings me back to the now. Perhaps it is the eerie quietness of the Dawn. Isn’t a canvas top supposed to be a little noisy at speed?
But there is nothing. Even at 160km/h, I hear the road more than I hear the wind.
The Dawn’s roof, a tautly stitched architecture that blends aesthetically with the body metal (instead of perching on top of it), is made up of six layers. At least two are acoustic insulators. That explains the silence.
Indeed, the Dawn is the quietest convertible I have sampled. It is also easily the most dynamic full four-seater open-top. It is, after all, based on the Wraith, a devilish driver-centric fastback of a Rolls-Royce that is seriously sporty.
At 2560kg, the Dawn is 120kg heavier than the Wraith, and it is appreciably longer. But its lineage is clear when the test route takes us to the mountains’ eternal sequence of switchbacks, sweepers and hairpins.
The Dawn sails through the conspiracy of corners with absolute aplomb – all 5.3m by 1.9m of it. It is unimaginable how something so big and so heavy is able to pull off such an exercise so effortlessly.
Perhaps it is precisely because of its stature that it is so composed. The Dawn’s heft and girth bring upon a natural adhesion to the tarmac, with a centre of gravity that stays unshakeable in the face of monumental forces.
And all of a sudden, it dawns on me: This test-drive is where it is because the venue has some of the best driving roads in the world.
Much of the Dawn’s immaculate poise and control can be attributed to its steering, which possesses sports-car sharpness and yet feels unitimidating and natural in your hands. The steering exudes confidence, which is all-important if you are to enjoy driving a car as big as the Roller on roads that might even make a roadster a tad skittish.
The Dawn is incredibly easy and unstrenuous when the road is straight, but also quick and accommodating when it turns serpentine. Even when negotiating hairpins, your hands often do not need to change position.
Its effortlessness is reinforced by a massive V12. Twin turbos whip up a storm within its 6.6-litre chambers, unleashing 563bhp and 780Nm. Even weighing as much as it does, there’s 220bhp to every tonne of metal. This generous ratio makes the Dawn very swift indeed.
Even in hurried overtaking, the Roller rarely uses more than half its reserves. That sounds somewhat excessive, but in a Rolls-Royce, it is necessary. Because in such a car, driving should never, ever be taxing. Which is why you will not find manual select in the transmission – there is simply no need to work that hard.
In any case, the transmission is satellite-aided, so it’s always in the right gear for the road ahead.
With the top down, the Dawn is comfortable up to 160km/h. After that, wind turbulence becomes a tad unbearable. At 90km/h, you can hold a normal conversation. And with the top up, rear occupants might even be able to make out whispers in front.
Accommodation in the second row is remarkably adequate. Unless you are taller than 1.8m, travelling on the backseat is more than acceptable over journeys of up to two hours. In fact, the ride is so soothing, thanks to the car’s cushy but sturdy air suspension, you might fall asleep within the first half an hour.
Luxury is a given in any Rolls-Royce, and the Dawn’s adornment of wood, leather and chrome is clearly calculated to impress. And it does, for most parts. Personally, I find the wood less natural than in previous Rollers.
The padded centre console, which you use to brace yourself with your left knee during hard cornering, is also a little creaky. This would be a niggle in any other car, but in a Rolls-Royce, it is somewhat glaring. Perhaps it is an isolated flaw in a test fleet that has been used and abused.
Boot space is limited when the roof is down, but Rolls-Royce says the 244-litre stowage will still accommodate two golf bags. But if you own a Rolls-Royce, you are likely to own several other cars, so this limitation is really quite inconsequential.
What’s consequential is this new convertible’s uncommon beauty, its utter driveability, and of course, its unmatched credentials. There is really nothing quite like the Dawn.
Rolls-Royce Dawn 6.6 (A)
Type V12, 48-valves, turbocharged
Bore x stroke 89mm x 88.3mm
Compression Ratio 10:1
Max power 563bhp at 5250rpm
Max torque 780Nm at 1500-5500rpm
Power to weight 219.9bhp per tonne
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Driven wheels Rear
0-100km/h 5 seconds
Top speed 250km/h (governed)
Consumption 7km/L (combined)
CO2 emission 330g/km
Front Multi-link, air springs
Rear Multi-link, air springs
Front / Rear Ventilated discs
Type Continental ContiSportContact 5
Size 255/45 R20 (front), 285/40 R20 (rear)
Traction aids ABS, DSC
Kerb weight 2560kg
Turning circle 12.7m
Price excl. COE $1,468,888 (after $30k CEVS surcharge)
Warranty 4 years/unlimited km
+ Immense driving pleasure, fantastic design, unmatched comfort
– Limited boot space, imperfect fit and finish, not as fast as expected