The Rolls Royce Dawn has four wheels, two doors, orange seats and a steering wheel. So why does it cost more than most houses?

At a starting price of $340,000 that effortlessly rises to the $400,000 that our pre-production test model cost, drivers – and passengers – of the handmade Dawn are paying to feel special.

It’s as much a vehicle as it is a conveyance away from the vicissitudes of living into a secure state of just being.

This existential circumnavigator is also a stunning work of mechanical art.

It floats down the road, soaking up inevitable road imperfections with nary a shudder. It is uncommonly quiet for a convertible, and unequivocally secure in its spot at the top of the automotive prestige chain. Yet it is also reserved, in that peculiar British way.

With the soft top up, the four-seater can glide inconspicuously to town, and the world’s most conspicuous brand ornament – a woman with wings called the Spirit of Ecstasy – can be clipped, as it retreats into the hood, or bonnet, in proper English.


Being reserved is only necessary if you have something to show off.

Drop the top on the “sexiest Rolls-Royce ever built” and the Mandarin orange leather interior pops like daybreak and one begins to understand how special this model is to the rarefied heritage brand.

The Dawn’s place in the Rolls-Royce orbit ushers in a more modern, accessible era than its Grey Poupon past. Only the second drophead coupe in recent times, the sexy Dawn is aimed at 40-somethings –  perhaps the ultranouveau riche, who in the unequivocal words of Rolls-Royce “wish to bathe in the sunlight of the world’s most exclusive social hotspots.”

While the name hearkens back to the brand’s 1949 to 1954 Silver Dawn convertible, it more significantly steps into the light from the shadow of its other spookier models, the Phantom, Ghost and Wraith.

Between the four models, Rolls-Royce sells only about 4,000 units a year, and the Dawn is already “pretty much” sold out through the 2017 model year, said Rolls-Royce spokesman Gerry Spahn.

While the Dawn shares the power plant and many of the dimensions of the Wraith, Rolls-Royce claims that 80 percent of its body is unique.
Dawn is heavier, slower, more expensive and more fun, in a way only a convertible can be.


The fabric top opens silently at speeds up to 31 mph. It takes 22 seconds for the windows to drop, the back to open, and daybreak to occur in what Rolls-Royce calls a “silent ballet.” Several passengers, including our eagle-eyed photographer, didn’t notice until the light was upon them.

The trunk, or boot, is deep enough to fit two sets of golf clubs lengthwise, possibly four if the bags are narrow. The convertible compartment can be raised when the top is up to create even more trunk space.

Despite the silent ballet, the detail that drew the most comments was the suicide doors, hinged at the rear to allow for the easiest entry and exit. With the doors open, the wide berth makes the car appear to take flight with splayed arms of orange light.

Rolls is one of the few – if any – modern automakers to use the feature, which lost favor because passing cars could hit the door and lop off an exiting passenger’s appendages. And if they came open while in motion, the wind could break the door off, instead of pushing it shut as it does with a front-hinged door.

These doors are way too heavy and secure for that to happen, of course. Once nestled in this steel womb, the door handles are far to reach but no bother – a small button on the dash automatically closes the behemoth doors for you.

Once inside, prepare for Rolls-Royce insignia everywhere, from the seat backs to the control dial to the sill plate stamped with “Hand Built in Goodwood, England”, as if you could forget you were in the hands of a master craftsman.


There is a nautical theme to Rolls-Royce, which also makes marine engines on a much more widespread basis. Circular vents with pull knobs to control airflow stud the Canadel wood paneling of the dash.

The pored wood is the most gorgeous grain to deck a car we’ve ever seen. If you prefer your dash uninterrupted, a Canadel panel closes over the wide 10.25-inch high-definition screen in the center stack.

Same with your unseemly American cup holders or distinctly un-American ashtray and lighter. Even the temperature control discs are unique, with a split to move the top vents independent from the lower vents. Rear passengers get the same treatment.

The nautical feel carries over to the steering wheel, which has a huge center pad and thinner wheel feel, not unlike a boat. At low speeds, the steering is a bit boatish, without much tension, which felt slightly off for the level of assuredness everywhere else.

This stately land schooner houses a massive 6.6-liter twin-turbo V-12 engine paired to a seamless eight-speed automatic transmission. There are no paddle shifters, or other pretensions to manual control: that would be gauche.

The bee-ast under this bonnet generates 563 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque just fine without manual intervention. The twin-turbo delivers all that torque at just 1,500 rpm to shrug off a portliness that tips the scale at 5,644 pounds, about the same as most full-size SUVs.


RPM are not displayed on the instrument cluster, however; instead there is a power reserve gauge that sits at 100 percent when coasting, and dips down to 20 percent or under if one were to make light speed out of the Dawn, which hits 100 kilometers per hour (or 62 mph, you boor) in just 4.9 seconds.

The 10.5-inch screen may be the only thing not distinctly Rolls-Royce. It’s essentially a repackaged version of parent company BMW’s iDrive system, with a really cool interactive owner’s manual that lets you search by image or by alphabet. Otherwise, Rolls-Royce has fully branded the Dawn in British heritage.

The control dial, which also doubles as a touch pad to write letters or numerals for quicker entry, features the Spirit of Ecstasy. The voice commands respond in a proper British accent, saying “mo-BILE”, and “PRO-sess-ing your input.” It’s charming.

Then there are the twin umbrellas stowed over either of the front wheels, accessible by pushing a button where the front door hinge would be in a normal car.

Also hidden in the bonnet is the Spirit of Ecstasy, which emerges automatically on start up and retreats when the car is locked to deter the spirit of theft. At night, it is illuminated.

The sound system is bonkers, the head-up display is the clearest we’ve ever seen and the button to open the boot is actually in the shape of the Dawn – with the top up – instead of some generic car symbol.

The dollars are in the details, and those details add up to $400,000.

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