Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
The Dawn is Rolls-Royce’s “baby” of the clan, although as Rolls only deals in gargantuan slices of luxury, everything is relative. It is the convertible version of the Wraith three-door coupé, thus mixing up the lifestyle element of a drop-top with the more dynamic appeal of the Wraith: a highly tempting proposition, in other words. If you have your doubts, maybe the company boss, Torsten Müller-Ötvös can tempt you with his description of the car as “the sexiest Rolls-Royce ever built”, when it was unveiled at the Geneva motor show in 2015.
What has put the four-year-old convertible back on the agenda is the recent makeover it has had courtesy of Rolls-Royce’s Black Badge sub-brand. This styling treatment, as the name suggests, is all about smoking up the metalwork, turning the Spirit of Ecstasy black, adding blackened metal and paintwork outside and dark leathers and tones inside. The commercial reason behind the move is to attract younger customers to the brand, an effort which has succeeded admirably, with the average Rolls-Royce owner globally now a cool 40 years old. That demographic is something most mass manufacturers can only dream of.
The Black Badge’s exterior is incredible, with what Rolls Royce describes as “the most exhaustive painting and polishing process ever used for a solid paint colour”.
The interior is similarly impressive. There’s dark panelling, dark leather, contrasting piping and embossing on the seats, and bright stitching on the steering wheel and door pockets.
As the brand’s parent owner, BMW Group supplies the satnav and infotainment screen and graphics, which is a good thing because they are some of the clearest in the business, and the iDrive rotary controller is simple to use when you’re driving. You do get a bespoke, in-house audio system however, which is sublime.
Despite being the baby of the range, there is acres of space front and rear: my two children were difficult to reach on their booster seats as they sat so far back and gently reclined, with a large centre console between them. A warning: never alert a child to the fact that they can close the suicide doors by pressing the “Door” button once inside, or you'll never hear the end of arguing over whose turn it is to do it.
Wonderful touches include the umbrellas mounted below the A-pillars in the bodywork: ours were colour matched, with contrasting back and red stripes. Of course.
The power in a Rolls-Royce is always extraordinary, not merely in the amount produced by the twin-turbo V12 engine but also, and more importantly, in the manner in which it is delivered. Power is up by 30 horses for the Black Badge, to 593 of them, ditto the torque, to a mighty 841Nm. The extra power is combined with more dynamic throttle mapping and a recalibrated automatic transmission.
This is a heavy car, with a lot of sound deadening and leather aboard, but the 0-62mph sprint takes 4.9 seconds. You simultaneously don’t notice it, and are aware of an almighty presence below your seat, in your stomach and in your back, and suddenly you are where you weren’t five seconds ago. It’s hard for the senses to keep up, so mostly they just take a back seat and enjoy one of the finest rides you can take in a motor car.
That grace and elegance are compounded by both the silence of the interior, which even a large fabric roof doesn’t ruin. And the ride quality, that famous “waftability”, is still in evidence, despite the shorter wheelbase and slightly stiffer suspension settings for the Black Badge. You drift over disrupted surfaces with a nonchalance only an indecent amount of luxury can supply. And yet somehow the steering remains sensitive and pin-sharp, feeding back beautiful through the thin circular rim.
It’s just a joy to drive this car, from beginning to end. Few cars truly deserve the full five-star review, but the Dawn has always been one of them. It is undoubtedly the world’s most luxurious convertible, but is also possibly the finest to drive. There are faster ones, sharper ones, more engaging ones, of course, but when one no longer wants to be so heavily engaged, when one is tired of the speed and noise, where do you go to detox, to be still and mindful? Rolls-Royce is where. The Dawn offers a sanctuary to the weary global citizen like no other; like no private jet or exclusive hotel or members club or spa. It relaxes and rejuvenates the soul; if you’re in playful mood you can fold back the roof to feel the air on your face, and if you are in more contemplative mood, you can furl yourself into the huge leather seat and watch the world unfold before you. It’s magic, is what it is.