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UK MOTORING WRITER CHRIS KNAPMAN IS IN SOUTH AFRICA FOR A NEW DAWN
Smothered in lashings of leather, wood and chrome, the Rolls-Royce Dawn is the most opulent convertible — sorry, drophead — on the planet.
Do “Rolls-Royce” and “sexy” have any place together in the same sentence? Apparently so, if you believe what the BMW-owned luxury car maker says about the Dawn, its new — don’t call it a convertible — drophead.
Rolls goes on to describe this new car as the most uncompromised open-top motoring experience in the world, and the quietest open-top car ever made.
Sitting in the back of said vehicle, wind whipping around my ears as the big V12 engine surges us past another line of slow-moving traffic, I might have cause to question such a claim. Because when it comes to getting windswept in convertibles, not even Rolls-Royce, striving for perfection in everything that it does, can defeat the laws of physics.
Goodness does it try, though. Sitting in the front, velocity reduced and with the six-layer roof with its aerodynamics-enhancing French-seams in place, it is whisper quiet. You hear no engine noise, no wind noise and not even any hum from the enormous Goodyear tyres.
Such is the glory of a 6.6-litre twin-turbo engine, which summons up genuinely effortless urge from barely more than tickover. This is a quick car (0-100km/h can be done in just 5sec), but it never shouts about it, helped by an eight-speed automatic gearbox that uses data from satellites to help determine the right ratio for any given situation.
So while the Dawn and Wraith (and Ghost sedan) share a platform, 80 per cent of the Dawn’s panels are new, including a windscreen that is lower, a rear window line made “faster” (designer speak for less steeply angled) and a more snug roofline to reduce the glass-area-to-door ratio.
The sills are thicker to allow for body strengthening and there are hidden roll hoops behind the rear headrests that pop out in the event of what would have to be a stupendously enormous car crash.
The Spirit of Ecstasy mascot that sits 12mm higher so she can be seen by those in the back seats.
Ah yes, the back seats. This is not a two-plus-two, but a full four-seater, able to fit one six-footer behind another with knee room and headroom (roof up) to spare. Unlike many convertibles, the rear seats also have a generous backrest angle, rather than perching their occupants bolt upright; it really is luxuriously comfortable back there.
Note, too, the small rear windscreen, designed to increase the sense of intimacy when travelling in the back, which is sure to be heightened when Rolls devises a way to fit its starlight headliner into the canvas roof (the current fibre optics don’t like being folded).
Impressively, the roof folds away into the same space as a BMW 2 Series convertible’s, meaning the boot is big enough to carry a couple of medium-size cases. Its operation takes 22 seconds and can be performed at speeds up to 30mph.
Finessing this process took a year, which you can believe when you note how quietly the lid unfurls compared with anything you can buy from BMW, Mercedes or even Bentley.
Not that there is an equivalent BMW, Mercedes or Bentley, mind. Not for the price (from $669,000 in New Zealand), not for the size and not for the sheer presence the Dawn has.
The jury’s still out on just how magical a Dawn might feel on a wet Wednesday in the UK, but on the open, flowing, sun-drenched roads around Stellenbosch it delivers an experience that could genuinely be described as unparallelled.
-Telegraph Group Ltd
The Rolls-Royce Dawn is available in New Zealand from the middle of this year.