2016 Rolls Royce Dawn
– Immense road presence
– Cabin trim and features
– Fast and comfortable
– As expensive as a house
– Light steering and pedals
– Lack of useful boot space
The UAE is one of the biggest markets in the world for Rolls-Royce. That’s no surprise, as opulence and extravagance are considered positive character traits around here, and no other car brand proudly defines them than the one with the “Spirit of Ecstasy” bonnet ornament. For nearly a decade, the best way to be the king of the corniche was to be seen driving the flagship Phantom Drophead. However, while the Drophead will be discontinued this year until a new model is ready, Rolls-Royce is now offering the smaller Dawn, which actually looks and drives better.
The Dawn looks pretty much like a Wraith with the top chopped off, but apparently almost every body panel is different, including the shape of the grille and the angle of the character line on the doors. The trademark suicide rear-doors and the lady on the bonnet are all still there. Our car also had an orange hand-painted pinstripe along the sides, but these cars can pretty much be customised any way you like from the factory. Almost every panel on the car’s exterior is one-hundred-percent what it looks like, meaning the chromed grille is real machined metal and the rear deck is real patterned wood. However, the mesh grille in the bumper is seemingly plastic, which is unexpected when you’re paying top dollar for authenticity. But we’re nitpicking here.
Once you step in via the rear-hinged doors and electrically close the door using a button near the A-pillar, the cabin offers up the plushest of premium materials. There’s real leather all over the dash and padded door upholstery, real wood trim all around the cabin, real metal vents, sofa-like seats and bushy carpets. Rolls-Royce cars can be infinitely customised inside and out, with various options for the paintjob and upholstery. There are even custom umbrellas that pop out of the door jamb when the doors are open.
The Dawn is smaller overall than the Phantom, but it’s still very spacious in the front seats as it’s still a full-size car. Space in the back seat is decent enough for two. Rear passengers may still struggle to get in and out, but opening up the roof makes it much easier. The boot space is rather limited for such a large car, courtesy of space reserved for the folding cloth roof. All four passengers get their own individual a/c controls too, with further separate temperature adjustments for the air to their face and the air to their legs.
Available features include a navigation system, 18-speaker premium audio system, massaging seats with memory, front and side airbags, night-vision, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning system that vibrates the steering wheel to warn you, and a heads-up display, many of which are clearly derived from BMW 7-Series tech, as evidenced by the rotary-dial controller for the multimedia screen. There are camera on the sides and rear to help with parking, as well as two cameras on the nose to look for cross-traffic when jumping into a blind junction, but there’s no camera to look straight ahead, which would’ve been of further help in parking.
Powered by a massive 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 engine also sourced from BMW that makes 563 hp at 5250 rpm and 780 Nm of torque from just 1500 rpm, the motor is mated to a unique satellite-aided 8-speed automatic transmission that selects the right gear by using GPS to see turns are coming up. We have no idea whether the latter was working as advertised or not, as the gear-shifts are unnoticeable and the roads in Dubai aren’t particularly twisty, but we can confirm that it worked great in the mountain roads of Austria when we drove the closely-related Wraith there a couple of years ago. There’s a thin stalk to select gears, and no sport mode.
During our May afternoon test, we managed a 0-100 kph time of 5.7 seconds with the ESP on, pretty much because didn’t know where the ESP’s off button was buried. Therefore, there’s never any wheelspin. The throttle pedal is damped, so you can never apply too much power suddenly to even cause any unintentional tyre spin. That still didn’t help the fuel consumption though, as we clocked in at 20 litres/100 km.
The Dawn picks up speed quickly, but not with the urgency that you’d expect, deliberately subdued as Rolls-Royce wanted to retain the Wraith’s crown as their most powerful and sporty model. There isn’t even a tachometer, replaced by a pseudo-gauge that shows you the “power reserve.” Driving at moderately-high speeds, the car’s wide tyres offers good grip, while body roll is obvious but limited on the corners. You can never push it too hard on the bends as the sensory feedback from the lightly-weighted controls is minimal at best, and sudden directional transitions can make the tyres rustle in protest rather easily. That, and the tall-ratio steering, thick front A-pillars and soft brake-pedal feel don’t really encourage you to drive too fast, although the car does hustle at a good pace on the curves, and the brakes are very strong when pounded on.
Expectedly, the interior is a very quiet place to be in, with external noise kept to a bare minimum when the roof is up. Even under hard throttle, the engine noise remains hushed. The power delivery is tuned to be so smooth and effortless that it feels like driving an electric car at low speeds. At highway speeds, the drive is still effortless, although there’s a bit of wind noise audible due to the big side-mirrors. The ride is very smooth for the most part, living up to the “wafting” feel the company prides itself on, although some surfaces do add a little jitter to the magic carpet, largely due to the ultra-low profile 255/40 front and 285/35 rear tyres on those 21-inch alloys.
The Dawn is every bit a Rolls-Royce as you’d expect it to be. While we’ll always pine for a more enthusiast-oriented driving experience, the truth is there is no need to push a car like this too hard in the first place. It’s designed for you to cruise in maximum luxury. And at its price-point — equivalent to a small villa — the Dawn is in a class of its own.
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