I flatter myself that when Charles Rolls made the acquaintance of Henry Royce in Manchester’s exalted Midland Hotel in 1904, they had a vision: that one day soon(-ish), a swanky conveyance of their design would conduct me, a lad from that very neighbourhood, in sumptuous style around the boulevards of a far-off land, where the triumphant approach of their mechanical wonder would cast beatific smiles upon the rosy cheeks of the citizenry, who would sense that everything was in its proper place and all was right with the world.
As I propelled their noble chariot, I would realise that everything Rolls and Royce had ever envisaged and executed was all about that very moment: all about the “now” … and all for me.
Well, anyway, that’s what it feels like when you drive the just-minted Rolls-Royce Dawn, a beefy beast of a convertible that’s more akin to an ocean cruiser with a ride so ripple free you’re surprised to find you’re not, in fact, steaming imperiously across a lake of full-cream milk and onwards across a shore of marshmallow pies. Smoother than a pint of Guinness and cooler than an Inuit’s ice-box at a picnic, the Dawn represents a new, er, dawn for Rolls-Royce – or at least 80 per cent of one.
With its roof retracted, the hand-built Dawn resembles a sawn-off Wraith coupé, but according to the company its body panels are four-fifths new.
And if you’re familiar with the Ghost you might find the Dawn a tad tiddly at a mere 5.28 metres long; you three or four can go and play on your own while the rest of us oooh and aaah about the Dawn’s recessed (but still instantly recognisable) grille, the raked (and rakish) profile, the head-up digital speed display and the perfect piping and hand stitching of the sumptuous interior’s natural-grain leather.
Considering the blue-blood breeding of this stallion of the streets it seems rather vulgar to introduce statistics and specifications: a soulless endeavour akin to revealing that Picasso used house paint and the wrong end of a brush.
But if you must, then the rear-wheel-drive Dawn has a maximum speed of 250 km/h and zips from zero to 60 mph in a tidy 4.9 seconds. Which isn’t too tardy for a car weighing 2.56 tonnes. Providing the thrust required is a 6.6-litre, twin-turbocharged, direct-injection V12 engine returning combined fuel-consumption figures of almost 100km per 14.2 litres and delivering 563 horsepower.
The gearbox is eight speed and automatic, the cruise control is dynamic, the on-the-move, power-operated soft top, with six layers of fabric, is no soft touch and the safety-first body is of steel monocoque design to settle any arguments should a rival heavyweight come knocking at high speed. The two, rear-hinged power doors ensure you needn’t exert yourself doing anything as common as reaching for or pushing at handles on the way in or out.
Something called Intelligent Four Corner Air Suspension augments a driving-on-clouds feeling; the windscreen wipers sense rain all by themselves, so you don’t have to; the boot is a capacious 321 litres with the roof up; the polished wooden trim perfectly complements the upholstery; and as you’re sitting there luxuriating in it all, from whichever of the four seats you fancy, you might sense that the Dawn is something of a Tardis, feeling even bigger on the inside than the outside.
But now, here comes the real vulgarity: the Dawn has what might be termed a couple of shortcomings. The wing mirrors are suitably chunky for a vehicle of such dimensions, but consequently traffic approaching from the left, as the Rolls emerges from a junction, is not always immediately visible. And for a car of its size the steering column control stalks are surprisingly anorexic. Nor would you even fantasise about trying to berth it in a Hong Kong multi-storey car park, where any attempt to negotiate the turn at the top of the entry ramp would supplement the horrifying collage of paint scrapes and rubber streaks already present. Then again, restricted space in our tacky little car parks is hardly the Dawn’s fault.
Dawn? I confess to being underwhelmed by the name; couldn’t Rolls-Royce have followed Phantom, Ghost and Wraith with Spectre? Or would Aston Martin have had something to say? It’s just that “a new Dawn” puts one in mind of a Wernham Hogg receptionist.
But I cavil. The Dawn is a serene machine and there’s nothing quite like it. At a whopping HK$6.9 million for the standard model, without bespoke extras such as radar-guided cruise control, you wouldn’t want to see anything like it either.
According to Bob Dylan, “they say the darkest hour is right before the dawn”. I don’t know about any recent darkest hour for Rolls-Royce, but I do know that if it’s good enough for Dylan … well.