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Driven: James May's Rolls-Royce Dawn

Driven: James May’s Rolls-Royce Dawn

Driven: James May's Rolls-Royce Dawn

If this Rolls-Royce Dawn looks familiar, that’s because it starred in episode three of The Grand Tour. “Captained” by Captain Slow, James May, it was driven around Tuscany where Clarkson tried to convince May that it’s little more than a BMW 7-Series in a fancy suit. It comes after Matt LeBlanc drove the very same car in the latest series of Top Gear.

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?02_Dawn

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.

What engines does it use?03_Dawn

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.

“There are a lot of numbers I could quote on this car,” says James May on The Grand Tour, “but I’m not going to because that would be, frankly, uncouth.” Let us be uncouth for a moment: it produces 571hp, will hit 62mph in 4.9 seconds and is limited to 155mph.

Driving the Dawn in rural Tuscany, May describes the Dawn as “serene”. 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?04_Dawn

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, it’s still no easy task.

The Dawn isn’t as sporting as Rolls-Royce would have you believe. 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 costs05_Dawn

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, James May 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?06_Dawn

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. 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?07_Dawn

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 – it retracts quickly behind the grille if needed – or if a potential accident is detected.

Which version should I go for?08_Dawn

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.

Should I buy one?09_Dawn

There’s no rational case to be made for buying a Rolls-Royce Dawn. 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.

Pub fact10_Dawn

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.

Driven: James May's Rolls-Royce Dawn

Driven: James May's Rolls-Royce Dawn

Driven: James May's Rolls-Royce Dawn

If this Rolls-Royce Dawn looks familiar, that’s because it starred in episode three of The Grand Tour. “Captained” by Captain Slow, James May, it was driven around Tuscany where Clarkson tried to convince May that it’s little more than a BMW 7-Series in a fancy suit. It comes after Matt LeBlanc drove the very same car in the latest series of Top Gear.

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?02_Dawn

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.

What engines does it use?03_Dawn

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.

“There are a lot of numbers I could quote on this car,” says James May on The Grand Tour, “but I’m not going to because that would be, frankly, uncouth.” Let us be uncouth for a moment: it produces 571hp, will hit 62mph in 4.9 seconds and is limited to 155mph.

Driving the Dawn in rural Tuscany, May describes the Dawn as “serene”. 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?04_Dawn

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, it’s still no easy task.

The Dawn isn’t as sporting as Rolls-Royce would have you believe. 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 costs05_Dawn

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, James May 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?06_Dawn

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. 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?07_Dawn

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 – it retracts quickly behind the grille if needed – or if a potential accident is detected.

Which version should I go for?08_Dawn

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.

Should I buy one?09_Dawn

There’s no rational case to be made for buying a Rolls-Royce Dawn. 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.

Pub fact10_Dawn

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.

Confirmed: Matt LeBlanc will host the next series of Top Gear (without Chris Evans)

Matt LeBlanc will host the next series of Top Gear (without Chris Evans)

Confirmed: Matt LeBlanc will host the next series of Top Gear (without Chris Evans)

Actor Matt LeBlanc has signed a deal with the BBC to host the next two series of Top Gear – without help from Chris Evans, who stood down from the show after just one series.

Chris Harris and Rory Reid will continue to front BBC Three show Extra Gear, while Eddie Jordan, Sabine Schmitz and The Stig will still make regular appearances.

In a statement issued this morning, BBC Two’s channel editor, Patrick Holland, said: “I am thrilled that Matt LeBlanc is returning to Top Gear. He’s a huge talent whose love of cars is infectious. I can’t wait for the series to return to BBC Two next year.”

The show – dubbed Flop Gear by some disappointed fans – saw ratings drop during the last series to an all-time low of 1.9 million viewers.

“Matt was hugely popular with Top Gear viewers last series with his humour, warmth and obvious passion for cars and for the show,” added Mark Linsey, BBC Studios director.

“I couldn’t be more delighted that he’s agreed to come back and do more for us.”

LeBlanc, who is known for playing Joey in Friends, caused outrage earlier in the year when he was spotted doing donuts in a Mustang close to the Cenotaph in Central London.

At the time, Chris Evans had to issue an apology for the stunt.

The show will be taking on Jeremy Clarkson’s new show, The Grand Tour, which is due to air on Amazon Prime’s on-demand service in November.

Porsche 911 GT2 RS

Why Matt LeBlanc owns the ultimate Porsche 911

Porsche 911 GT2 RSIf you had any doubts about Matt LeBlanc’s petrolhead credentials, you can rest easy. The new Top Gear presenter owns a Porsche 911 GT2 RS – perhaps the most hardcore version of Porsche’s icon ever to wear number plates. That alone makes him a man of impeccable automotive taste.

You see, a GT2 RS isn’t the sort of sports car you buy simply because you’ve made some cash. You won’t spot Wayne Rooney parking one outside an overpriced nightclub. Former Friends star LeBlanc is estimated to be worth $60million, so he could have any car he chooses. But he told Top Gear co-host Chris Evans the Porsche is his “favourite car to drive”.

Matt LeBlancThe Widowmaker

Just how hardcore is the GT2 RS? Well, the original 1975 911 Turbo earned the nickname ‘the Widowmaker’ because of its knife-edge handling and propensity for spitting unsuspecting drivers off the road. Porsche finally tamed the Turbo in 1995 with the addition of four-wheel drive. However, the GT2 is essentially a 911 Turbo with even more power and rear-wheel drive.

So, how much (cue Jeremy Clarkson voice) “Powwwwweeeerrrr” are we talking? The 997 GT2 RS that LeBlanc owns develops 620hp – more than double the 260hp of the original 911 (930) Turbo. That’s enough to blast it to 62mph in 3.5 seconds, plus a top speed of 205mph. It also lapped the Top Gear track in 1min 19.5sec – faster than a Ferrari 430 Scuderia and only 1.2sec behind the Bugatti Veyron.

Porsche 911 GT2 RSCaged animal

When it was launched in 2010, the GT2 RS was the most powerful road car Porsche had ever built (although it has since been eclipsed by the 918 Spyder). Power comes from a 3.6-litre twin-turbocharged flat six, driving through a six-speed manual gearbox. The ultimate 911 wears track-biased Michelin Cup tyres – great in the dry, worrying in the wet – and has racecar-style ceramic brakes.

Inside, the racing theme continues with hard-shell bucket seats, plenty of Alcantara (man-made suede) and a rollcage. You’ll also find those hallmarks of a no-holds-barred Porsche: fabric door pulls. These probably save less weight than if LeBlanc opted to drive without socks. But every little helps, right?

Porsche 911 GT2 RSWhat the critics say

Confession time: we’ve never driven a GT2 RS. And unless LeBlanc decides to lend us his prized possession, we probably never will. So we’ll have to refer to the opinions of others here.

Ben Pullman of CAR says: “Bury the throttle and it goes bloody nuts, smacks you in the guts and charges forward with awe-inspiring speed.” He goes on caution: “You can go fast, but never, ever kid yourself that you’re in charge.” Andrew Frankel of Autocar calls the GT2 “legalised insanity” and concludes his review by saying: “[This] is one of few experiences you know will lodge in your brain forever. It really is that good.”

However, let’s leave the final word to LeBlanc’s fellow Top Gear presenter, Chris Harris. Writing for EVO, he said: “I saw 334kph (206mph) on the speedo, and it was still pulling like a mentalist …  Veyron aside, it’s the fastest road car I’ve driven.” Matt LeBlanc: we salute you.