The new open top Rolls-Royce Dawn seeks to take the brand on a new path – one where the design and engineering of the car leads lifestyle choices rather than the other way around. We drive the car in Cape Town at the global launch
When you see a new car in the showroom, you don’t really think out the process that got the model there. The number of strategy and powerpoint sessions that go into envisioning the model, developing and engineering it and skipping ahead over many important roles, finally rolling it out through concepts, previews, motorshows and finally the launches, both global and in individual markets. It’s a highly refined strategy and it’s designed to make the maximum impact on the target consumer segment.
Even Rolls-Royce is not immune from this strategy path. Gone are the days when they just made the best cars and let the consumer make up his or her mind. Now the mind games begin well before the hardware surfaces and the Dawn’s launch shows how the process has been refined. Actually, Rolls-Royce is on a very strong wicket here. They have had the years as a BMW group owned entity to take the Phantom platform through two generations and spawn a smaller platform the already powers the Ghost and Wraith. It’s this platform that underpins the Dawn. In the meantime, their target consumer market size has grown along with the growth in sales. The well-heeled buyer number in markets as diverse and China, the US and here in the region has ballooned. So it really works well for the brand, even one as hallowed as Rolls-Royce, to get its launch right.
Last year, we were fortunate to be included in the highly exclusive close doors viewing of the Dawn in Monaco. Despite the growth of new flocking points of the super rich, Monaco still remains at the very top of the pile with more multi-millionaires per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world. The viewing was followed by an opportunity to run with a regional exclusive story on the car that was then launched before the Frankfurt motor show. Now, our involvement with the Dawn has been taken to the next level – we were part of a select group of journalists invited to drive the Rolls-Royce Dawn at a global drive event, one that in the words of Richard Carter, Communications chief of the brand, “is designed to allow you to feel like one of the owners of these cars, with an opportunity to live the lifestyle that they live.”
We flew out to Cape Town and were chauffeured out to Stellenbosch and the vineyard lodges of the Delaire Graff Estate. These are located in the rolling hills around Cape Town and the driving roads around the region roll through nature reserves and high passes with some very interesting scenery on display.
The estate is a working vinery that was taken over by billionaire jeweller Laurence Graff and turned into an exclusive estate adorned with works of art from his private collection. And standing outside the doors of the establishment was a 1952 Silver Dawn open top, one of 28 open tops made during the production run.
This new generation Dawn is not likely to be rare at all. In fact it is being projected as a whole new model line just because of the possibilities that this brings up. And while the brand that sells the cars with the spirit of ecstasy on the hood will never be a volume seller, the aim is to sell more in the rarefied upper reaches of the car market.
So we have a new car that could have been just a droptop version of its siblings but chooses not to be – at the outset the company claims that around 80% of the exterior panels are different. The major changes in how the car looks have been brought about by a process of tweaking the lines just so that it manages to look sporty with flowing lines marking a departure from the more abrupt lines of the Ghost and Wraith.
However the standout technology in the car will still be the six-layered folding away roof that manages to tuck away without a sound except for the final locking. It can be operated at up to 50 km/h and even manages to throw in a larger than expected rear pane. In these days of folding hard tops, the reason for the soft top is very obvious. The cabin accommodates full size seats for four occupants and in the nature of a Rolls-Royce, it allows entry through its wide opening coach doors to the rear. You can climb straight in without moving the front seats ahead with the roof down and you can do the same without knocking your head with the roof up. Covering this sort of volume with anything but a soft top would have added weight and complexity. The fabric roof, on the other hand, is very suitable, with six layers of aggregates and whisper smooth mechanicals. Noise and wind insulation is excellent and if you choose to drive with the top down, all you really need to do is keep the window panes up and you create a wellness zone that is aerodynamically isolated from the slipstream and where even the air-conditioning remains noticeable and insulated due to the air curtain effect above your heads.
Of course, no story on a Rolls-Royce would be complete without touching on the detailing of the cabin. The interiors are made to look like a mixture of the Art Deco world of the 50’s and 60’s with a very modern twist. Instrumentation is a mix of analogue dials and a large digital monitor that adjusts its brightness depending on the ambient light.
Wood panelling used in the interiors wraps around the cabin and flows over to the rear deck and sides in the form reminiscent of a certain class of speedboats. The feel of the Canadel wood is also kept in character, with a certain roughness associated with deck planking.
The engine is the typical 6.6-litre V12 power unit with an output of 563bhp and torque of 760Nm. This is mated with a ZF 8-speed gearbox that in turn is linked with the satellite navigation system to pre-emptively engage depending on where the car is and how fast it is going.
And the car can really go fast if need be. We have a suspicion that the engine and gearbox controller is programmed to read the G force of acceleration and feed in so that a linearity is produced – stomp down on the pedal and the car takes off but never at a level where you would say the sequence was rough or aggressive. Whatever the means, the result is a very quick car, which is complemented by the silken suspension and large wheels, with 21” alloys being an available option. The mirrors are large and very present, especially in T-junction turns, where it sometimes sits right in your eyeline, but we would rather take that than smaller mirrors.
And the Bespoke audio system is absolutely spot on – with a fidelity range and clarity that tops the hardware on most other cars. Kitted out with 16-speakers including two bass units in the boot, the system uses a feedback microphone that helps it generate compensation for background sounds and provides clear music with a noise-cancellation effect.
The main monitor is a 10.2” high-resolution panel that can hide behind a wooden cover or take input from the controller – input that includes handwritten instructions, using the touchpad like controller surface. Alternately one call also use voice commands for most functions, while also offering smartphone pairing and mirroring.
But all of this is academic until you live the RR life, driving out over a few hundred kilometres of some great terrain, including a sea-face promenade and road that gave us a view of first the South Atlantic and then the Indian Ocean as we followed the contours of Cape Town’s coastline. Everywhere we stopped became a photo opportunity not just for us, but for the locals as well who loved the shape and appeal of the new Dawn. There’s really no other way to describe the feeling than to wish that the bank account was larger by at least a thousand fold and that we could afford to do more than spend a day driving around feeling rich. For that’s what the Dawn brings with it – the wish that you could own this beauty and drive it around in the places where your kind should normally congregate – including the tonier areas of Cape Town.