The Chinese giant has added another arrow to its quiver. And this one actually flies
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The Rolls-Royce Dawn. Have I seen this before?
Probably, but this is the first time we’ve driven the latest Rolls-Royce convertible on UK roads. After all, Britain loves an open-top car, despite the meteorological issues one is likely to suffer driving one with the roof stowed.
But if any car can eradicate the unpleasantness of this country’s unreliable climate, it ought to be the Dawn. Especially with prices starting at a not inconsiderable £264,000.
Yikes. You must get a lot for your money…
Most certainly. There’s rather a lot of car here – the Dawn is 5.3 metres long, 1.9 metres wide, and it tips the scales at 2.5 tonnes. That makes it heavier than a seven-seat Audi SQ7.
You notice how large the Dawn is merely by how long it takes to walk from one end to the other, while the wonderfully over-engineered, rear-hinged doors demand a lot of room as they swing open to nearly 90-degree angles from the car.
You can use a slimmer opening, of course, but ingress and egress will be so much more glamorous when you caddishly stroll up, step into the interior, and swing the door electronically shut with the touch of a button.
Electric doors. Are they necessary?
Lord no, but nor is anything the Dawn does. And that’s what so utterly beguiling about it. The engine is a 6.6-litre V12, mounted surprisingly far back under that front bonnet. It’s shared with the Ghost saloon and Wraith coupe, but uses the former car’s lower output.
‘Lower’ still translates into 563bhp and 575lb ft of torque, mind, enough to propel the Dawn from 0-62mph in five seconds. The top speed is an electronically limited 155mph.
Does it feel fast?
Yes and no. Push the accelerator all the way down – the pedal travel is “are you sure you want drive so uncouthly quickly?” long – and with all 575lb ft available from just 1,500rpm, you’ll be fired along exceedingly rapidly.
But so desensitised is the Dawn that it’s all bewilderingly drama-free. There’s barely a muster of engine noise, no sense that turbochargers are boosting its output, and no tangible evidence of its automatic gearbox containing eight entire speeds.
In fact, every element of the Dawn smoothly irons out anything one might consider “feedback”. The overly large steering wheel contains barely a jot of feel, while the biggest bumps you can find will all be smothered entirely by the suspension. My first few hours guiding the ginormous feeling Dawn around are pretty tentative, then.
But get accustomed to the Dawn’s size – its large wing mirrors mean you can point them down to show where the lane markings are, while still seeing everything behind you – and it’s a fun car to build speed and confidence in.
Can you actually have fun in it?
Surprising amounts. At first, it feels like Rolls is doing everything it can to throw keen drivers off the scent: the steering is super slow, there’s no option to manually control the gears, and there’s barely any engine braking when you lift off the throttle, so you heave on the hard-working brakes more than you’d like.
Yet once you realise there’s plenty of grip hiding beneath all those cocooning layers of comfort, you can have a go at driving this thing quickly. The trick is not taking lots of speed into a bend – there’s simply too much mass for that – but to carefully turn in and, once the car has obliged, use an indulgent amount of throttle so that the rear squats down and you ride that wave of luxurious speed out of the corner. Get the hang of it and you can carry some serious pace across country roads.
Equally, of course, you can settle down, using the smallest smidgen of its ‘Power Reserve’ gauge possible (rev counters are so unclassy) and enjoy what a masterfully refined car this is. Roof up, the silence is zen-like, and full-size adults will still be comfy in the back.
Above 50mph and things can get a little cold and blustery if the soft top is folded, however. But let’s blame Britain’s wintry weather for that rather than the car. If it all gets a bit much, the roof can be operated at up to 30mph, though given the sheer size of it, the mechanism does take a little while.
Any other demerits?
If we’re nitpicking, yes. There’s only one USB port, and it’s located very unhelpfully if you wish keep your phone charged while using a sat nav app. And the Dawn isn’t much fun to park.
Otherwise, though, it’s as supreme as you’d hope. Perhaps more so. The materials are almost beyond description: only a few rogue buttons and the media screen layout highlight any BMW parts sharing, and everything from the copious swathes of wood to the thickly piled carpets (I’ve never had anything as plush in my house) will make you feel so, so good. As does driving with the Spirit of Ecstasy in the middle of your view forwards.
Rolls-Royce unashamedly goes its own way, even if that does make its cars ergonomically odd. The heating controls demand a degree of guesswork and the doors take some getting used to. But there’s so much class and character here. It’s an inspirational and irresistable car. The ultimate compliment? This one is specced to £331,500, and I don’t think I’d feel short-changed if I’d actually paid that.
Pictures: Adam Shorrock