If this Rolls-Royce Dawn looks familiar, that’s because it starred in episode five of the latest Top Gear. “Captained” by Matt LeBlanc, it was driven to the west coast of Ireland, where it defeated the 1976 Corniche driven by Chris Evans to be crowned the winning Rolls-Royce by the people of Dingle.
Our road test of this unreasonably-priced car (£264,000, since you’re asking) is going to be a more conventional affair. No townsfolk will be asked for their opinions and at no point will we elect to “settle this with a race”. That’s simply not the Dawn’s style, as we soon discover…
What are its rivals?
Tell Rolls-Royce its car is a rival for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet or Maserati GranCabrio and be prepared for a withering look worthy of the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey. Rolls draws a distinction between ‘premium’ and ‘luxury’, with the Dawn falling very firmly into the latter category.
As such, its closest rival is the Bentley Continental GTC, although Sir might also consider the Ferrari California T if Sir fancies something sportier. With a £500,000 salary for presenting six episodes of Top Gear, Matt LeBlanc could have both.
What engines does it use?
With 571 hp, the Dawn is actually more powerful than Rolls-Royce’s flagship convertible: the Phantom Drophead Coupe. Its mighty 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 blasts this 2.6-tonne land yacht to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds, plus a limited top speed of 155mph.
Driving the Dawn in rural Ireland, LeBlanc described its performance as “very invigorating”. We concur, although our detour through the traffic-clogged lanes of south-east England was somewhat more stressful. It’s difficult to ‘make progress’ (as driving instructors say) when your car takes up more than half the road…
What’s it like to drive?
Inevitably, the Dawn’s sheer size has an impact on how you drive it. Put simply, it’s an incredibly relaxing way to travel… until you have to park. Yes, our car had the optional 360-degree camera system, but anyone who watched Matt LeBlanc trying not to kerb the “£2,000 a pop” alloys in Dingle will know it’s still no easy task.
The Dawn isn’t as sporting as Rolls-Royce would have you believe. In LeBlanc’s words: “It’s a car that will go as fast as you’ll ever need, but makes you want to take your time”. Its strength lies in cosseting comfort, with light controls, effortless performance and a pillowy ride – even on optional 21-inch wheels. The sense of occasion as you follow that – solid silver – Spirit of Ecstasy down the road is unmatched.
Fuel economy and running costs
You do know this is a 571 hp V12, right? Besides, enquiring about running costs seems a touch vulgar here. If you have to ask, darling…
Fittingly, Matt LeBlanc made no mention of the Dawn’s appetite for super unleaded in his review. Us? We couldn’t even scrape the official 20mpg, despite a varied test-route that included plenty of motorway cruising. CO2 emissions of 330g/km put the Rolls in the top bracket for car tax, meaning you pay £1,100 in the first year and £505 a year thereafter.
Is it practical?
Rolls-Royce owners typically own seven or eight cars already, so nobody will use a Dawn as their only means of transport (even if there is something delightfully decadent about that idea).
The cabin is faultlessly-finished, although the ‘Arctic White’ leather is hardly the most practical choice. Definitely more Hermosa Beach than Henley-on-Thames. There’s genuinely enough space for six-footers in the back, with easy access through the rear-hinged doors – as demonstrated by LeBlanc on Top Gear. Unfortunately, the boot isn’t so suited to grand touring. It has a narrow opening and its 295-litre capacity is less than some superminis.
What about safety?
Size matters when it comes to crash-safety, so you’re unlikely to have any worries here. Apart from the repair bill, obviously. The Dawn’s exclusivity means it hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but you have the full suite of BMW safety systems at your disposal, including hydraulic brake assist and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.
And don’t worry about the Spirit of Ecstasy – described by Chris Evans as a “granny’s brooch”. As LeBlanc showed, it retracts quickly behind the grille if needed – or if a potential accident is detected.
Which version should I go for?
So, petrol or diesel, automatic or manual, SE or SRi? The Rolls-Royce Dawn buyer faces none of these conundrums, although they can opt for the fixed-roof version in the shape of the Wraith coupe.
Instead, there’s a long options list, including everything from an uplit Spirit of Ecstasy to whitewall tyres. With enough time and money, you can customise every aspect of the Dawn to your own personal taste – or lack of. To make your job easier, Rolls-Royce also offers a range of off-the-shelf option packs. We suspect the East Side pack would be Massachusetts-born LeBlanc’s favourite.
Should I buy one?
There’s no rational case to be made for buying a Rolls-Royce Dawn. Matt LeBlanc acknowledged as much when he said: “Call me crazy, call me ostentatious… I like it”. The aforementioned Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet is a better car in many respects – and at least £70,000 cheaper.
However, for the ultimate in open-air luxury, nothing quite matches the Dawn. It turns heads like a lime-green Lamborghini, yet you can also put the hood up and waft along in isolated silence. And it transforms every journey into a special event, with qualities that transcend its high price. As Joey from Friends once remarked: “It’s not what you said, it’s the way you said it”.
The first Rolls-Royce to carry the Dawn name – albeit unofficially – was this special edition Silver Ghost. Built in 1908, the ‘Silver Dawn’ was originally the property of one Charles H. Angus, and spent the first part of its life in Australia.
In 2013, after a full restoration, the car took part in the gruelling 1,800-mile Centenary Alpine Trail. It was then put on display at Rolls-Royce HQ in Goodwood.