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Review | The Rolls-Royce Dawn

The latest model from the automotive icon defies expectations

Images courtesy of Rolls-Royce

The word “dawn” invokes happy thoughts of new days and the future and birds singing in springtime. It’s a warm word: The cool of night disappears as the dawn breaks.

This invocation of change and promise may be what Rolls-Royce had in mind when the British car company dubbed its new $335,000 convertible the Dawn. The Dawn represents a significant evolution for Rolls, which is aiming to modernize a tradition of auto design that is both a blessing and a burden. This Rolls is more Malibu than manor house.

In many ways, the Dawn fulfills the promise of its name. A tad over 17 feet long, with truly gigantic wheels—and equally huge brakes, mandated by the car’s robust weight of 5,644 pounds—it’s expansive in every direction. There’s plenty of room to ride comfortably in the backseat, and let’s be honest, this is a Rolls—if you own it, odds are you won’t always be the driver.

Getting in isn’t effortless, thanks to suicide doors that will appeal to those looking to build arm strength. If you’re taking a stint in the front, closing the giant doors is handled by a nifty electric switch that closes them for you. Once ensconced, you’ll happily sink into the leather seats and watch the world pass by. This is automotive bliss.

With the top up, the Dawn is silent inside, exactly what you would expect from a Rolls-Royce. It’s also pretty quiet with the top down. Wind noise is minimized through some sort of aerodynamic magic, and passengers could easily carry on a conversation while whipping down the highway. (And with 563 bhp and a 0-60 mph time under 5 seconds, the Dawn is indeed speedy.) There are other elegant touches—umbrellas stored inside the doorframes mean you don’t have to worry about getting out in the rain, and optional lambswool floor mats luxuriously cushion your feet. After riding in the Dawn, the floorboards of other cars feel like a bed of nails. And the ride is, as they say, smooth as silk, light as a feather.

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Alas, the Dawn isn’t perfect. That it’s a convertible suggests it’s meant to be a driver’s car, but the suggestion isn’t always taken. Its size makes turning the Dawn sharply—a U-turn, for instance—no easy feat. Most of the interior surfaces are covered in polished metal, wood or leather, and they look and feel beautiful, which inadvertently draws attention to several jarring plastic panels, including one prominently located behind the door handle. The lack of a touchscreen on a car with satellite radio, navigation and a price tag that can easily break $400,000 seemed curious, while the presence of a CD player brought back fond memories of the 1990s. If you can’t find the solitary USB port, keep looking—it’s buried deep inside the central storage compartment. Yet there are four cigarette lighters. And what looks like it should be a sizable trunk can barely fit two carry-on bags. You probably won’t be taking the Dawn on a golf outing.

It’s not that Rolls-Royce hasn’t thought these things through. “Our philosophy is that having the touchscreen is a visual distraction from your driving experience,” according to Rolls-Royce Cars North America head of communications Gerry Spahn. Instead, the car has a rotary dial with a crystal top, which offers handwriting recognition for “all Western languages as well as Mandarin and Arabic.” Rolls says the crystal topped dial is a more efficient way of interacting with the car, but I missed the more intuitive touchscreen. Regarding the lonely USB port, Rolls expects that most users will pair their phones using Bluetooth. A separate charging dock that fits in the center console can be added as an extra.

But let’s remember Rolls-Royce’s larger purpose here: attracting a new generation of buyers. This isn’t a car for the buttoned-up Brit, it’s a statement for the age of social media overexposure. The early returns are promising: Hip-hop star Drake has been spotted zipping around in a Dawn, and in August, Kris Jenner wrecked hers in an unfortunate encounter with a Prius. The Dawn is about seeing the world, and having the world see you, just as you want to be seen. And on those terms, it succeeds exquisitely.

Rolls-Royce Dawn
Base price: $335,000
Engine: 563 bhp V12
Top speed: 155 mph
Acceleration 0-60 mph: 4.9 seconds
For more info:rolls-roycemotorcars.com/en-GB/dawn

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