Talk about a show-stopper. With a dark blue exterior and an orange interior, the Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible caught everyone's attention at last year's Frankfurt motor show.
The colour scheme received positive comments from the international media ... and "what where they thinking" remarks. I was in the latter category when I checked it out at its stand in the BMW Group hall at Frankfurt.
So what were the designers thinking? It was simple. The exterior paint colour was midnight sapphire metallic and represented the colour of the sky just before the dawn (it's alway darkest before the dawn). The interior of mandarin represented the sunrise -- and frankly, as a ginga by choice, even I questioned that orange interior when the lights hit the Dawn at the Frankfurt show.
But Rolls-Royce NZ brand manager, Neil D'arcy-Brain is not only a brave man, he knows his market, so when he had to select the colour scheme for his Dawn demonstrator, he couldn't go past the Frankfurt show choices.
Not that I knew this when I picked up the Dawn for my 24-hour test period from the Auckland showroom. My blue and orange dress (plus my hair colour) was a direct match for the car. And D'arcy-Brain couldn't help himself, snapping a picture of me in the car to send to his colleagues at the Rolls-Royce Asia Pacific head office in Singapore.
Out from under the motor show lights, the colour scheme worked -- and I'm not just saying that because of my dress. The orange, sorry mandarin, had a warm tone, which works well on the leather interior, while the midnight sapphire was a nice choice over the usual silver or black.
It's a colour scheme that better suits this more relaxed Rolls-Royce model rather than a top-end Phantom.
Photo / Ted Baghurst
While based on the Rolls-Royce Wraith, the Dawn's front bumper is extended by 53mm and company says 80 per cent of the Dawn's panels are different than the coupe. But there is clear lineage between the two "cheaper" luxury cars in the brand's line-up, especially with the notable "suicide" doors.
The Dawn is 5285mm long, 1947mm wide, 1502mm high (though can be raised electronically), weighs 2560kg and has 21in forged 10 spoke polished alloys.
The Dawn gets the 6.6-litre, V12 direct-injection twin-turbo petrol engine with power of 420kW and torque of 780Nm with a top speed of 250km/h, accelerating from 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds.
Add that all and you have one big, powerful -- and striking -- luxury convertible.
D'arcy-Brain had specced up his demo Dawn -- priced at $669,000 -- with a final cost of $800,000.
Competitors include Bentley's Continental GT Speed and the newly revealed Mercedes-Benz S-Class convertibles. But the Rolls-Royce badge and Spirit of Ecstasy emblem are huge attractions for buyers, and the exclusivity of the vehicle that's hand-built in Goodwood, England.
The roof folds down off the key fob in 26 seconds, even when driving (up to 50km/h). The roof is insulated with six layers, making it impressively soundproofed.
The bonus of the Dawn is that it's more than a convertible, it's a grand tourer that can genuinely fit four adults, with the deep boot big enough to fit a set of golf clubs vertically and have room left over to the side for suitcases.
Ignore the colour scheme (yes, I know it's hard) and visually the Dawn is an imposing soft-top with dynamic elements and a real feeling of artistry.
Photo / Ted Baghurst
Take the waterfall wood panelling that curves behind the head rests of the rear passengers and then floats down through the centre console to the front dash. A round of applause goes to the wood team at Goodwood, whose job it is to line up the wood to create the V-shaped panelling.
With the roof off, that waterfall wood effect makes the Dawn resemble a luxury speedboat. And, once on the open road, sitting at just over 100km/h, you feel as if you're floating.
Taking the Dawn from the central Auckland showroom, I headed to Villa Maria Estate near the airport for our photo shoot, the convertible a clear distraction to guests arriving for a convention at the winery.
A busload of tourists also spent more time taking photos of the car than the surrounding vines -- but that's expected when you're with such a luxury-focused vehicle.
Ditching the tourists after the photo shoot, I headed into the city to pick up my 11-year-old nephew, Jesse, from his intermediate school.
Having moved to New Zealand with my brother and sister-in-law from Trinidad, Jesse was definitely going to be the talk of the school the next day with his chauffeured ride home.
We headed to the motorways to do an hour-long loop. Once away from the stop-start and jammed route on to commuter-free lanes, I could plant my foot and let the V12 engine kick it.
At a great cruising speed, you're praying that no idiot is going to pull in front of you (or yelling at the ones who do) because not only would it be an expensive insurance repair bill for them but laws of momentum mean you're not going to pull up within a few metres.
It was great to tap the accelerator and let the car's air suspension do its job as it provided a smooth ride on the bitumen.
Dropping Jesse home, it was time to take his mum, Alison, on a joy ride around busy central Auckland streets with the roof still off despite it being a cool dusk (hmm, maybe that could be the name of Rolls-Royce's next car). We "loll-upped" around the streets -- you aren't in any rush when you have a Dawn -- although I was always cautious navigating narrow inner-city roads because I'd be liable for the insurance bill if I returned the Dawn dented.
Photo / Ted Baghurst
The other factor to be wary of when owning (even for 24 hours) such a large and expensive car is parking. As Driven had moved away from a building that had a huge loading dock and 24-hour security guards to somewhere with neither of those, I had to rearrange my double garage at home and angle-park the Rolls-Royce with only a few millimetres to spare.
But it was my second day in the Dawn that brought delight. Although it was raining, so the roof had to go up, the cabin felt coupe-like thanks to the sound-proofing.
I headed north to Mahurangi, turning off at Waiwera to take in the winding roads and avoid the busy traffic. The Dawn isn't a sports coupe, so it handles corners more statesman-like. You have the power under the bonnet to use when overtaking, with the Rolls having a power reserve gauge instead of a tachometer.
I dialled in the massaging seats -- which aren't up to Mercedes-Benz's superb standard -- and, with the stereo blaring, enjoyed the cocooned luxury to myself.
But having the roof up did highlight one of Dawn's faults: the large blind spots where the "C-pillar" area would be.
There is no need for it to be so big and it was only thanks to the 360-degree camera that I could reverse safely.
Another niggle was the weight of the suicide doors.
They are heavy for petite or young passengers and it's a struggle to open the door if you're in the back seat.
You have to move the front seat forward and then lean up near the dash to pull the door handle -- although that scenario wouldn't be common.
D'arcy-Brain is now in the Dawn, taking it on a road trip around New Zealand to show customers and potential buyers.
Driving it back from Mahurangi I was envious ofhim, as the Dawn is ideal for a road trip. A beautiful autumn day, open road and, with the stereo up loud and roof off, you could forgive any colour scheme.
• Thank you to Villa Maria Estate, Auckland for the use of its property for this photo shoot (www.villamaria.co.nz).
Photos / Ted Baghurst
PRICE: $800,000 ENGINE: 6.6-litre , V12 POSITIVES: Superb artistry, great tourer. NEGATIVES: Blind spot, heavy suicide doors.