Driven: Rolls-Royce Dawn

The smooth and quiet droptop tips its hat to the Silver Dawn from the 1940s as it seeks to attract a younger driver.

July 23, 2016

Ever since Rolls-Royce released the stunning Wraith, there has been an obvious question lurking: “When will we see the Drophead convertible?”

But the answer was never going to be as simple as the question because, while the new Dawn looks like a Wraith Drophead, the truth is, only about 30 per cent of the car shares any commonality, making the Dawn a separate model in its own right. 

Like Wraith, Dawn is a name that pays homage to Rolls-Royces from another era, which in this case is the Silver Dawn from 1949. 

Silver Dawn was produced until 1955 and was the first model to be shared with Bentley following their merger after World War II. One of the most sought after and rarest of all Rolls-Royces is the Silver Dawn Drophead of which only 28 were built during its five years in production from 1950.

It’s not often that Rolls-Royce releases a new model, so CEO, Torsten Muller-Otvos, joined us on the drive in South Africa as well as the BMW board member responsible for Rolls-Royce, Peter Schwarzenbauer from Munich HQ.

The company says it has worked hard to ensure that the Dawn is as smooth and as quiet as other Rolls-Royce models despite the absence of a fixed roof, delivering on the firm’s famed ‘magic carpet’ ride.

It claims it is the quietest convertible on the market despite most of its competitors using retractable hardtops but offers the advantage of being able to drop the roof while traveling at speeds of up to 50kmh in 21 seconds, performing an elaborate electro-mechanical procedure the company likes to refer to as “a silent ballet.” 

The roofline incorporates a stainless-steel band at the leading edge of the flat bootlid, while its rear window is small by design to “heighten the sense of a private sanctuary when motoring with the roof up,” as the company points out.

Seventy per cent of the body panels are exclusive to Dawn including a front grille that’s recessed back further along with a 53mm extension in the front bumper helps give it asa bit more perspective to the larger 21-inch, polished alloy wheels.

Rolls-Royce claims that only the doors and rear bumper are carried over from the coupé and, like Wraith, Dawn’s styling continues Rolls-Royce’s quest to attract a younger buyer with a subtle re-shifting of the grille from Phantom to Wraith and again, further raked rearward for Dawn.

Indeed, by lowering the formalities with the sub-Phantom range, the global average age for Rolls-Royce owners has now come down to 45, which is reflected by the Dawn adopting a wedged look having the tail higher than the nose which is at odds with all other models in the Rolls-Royce portfolio.

As the Wraith has a delightfully elegant swept back rear that gives it a speedback look, it gave the designers more freedom to distinguish the Dawn, which needs to accommodate the practicalities of a more traditional bootlid shape in order to stow the folding fabric roof. The result is a pleasantly taut rear with fenders that rise gently to the hipline before stretching toward the tail.

Designed to look as good with the roof up or down, Rolls-Royce worked hard to ensure that it still offered a four-seat environment for two adults in the back as well as in the front. Plus there is no limit to the imagination when it comes to bespoke offerings of interior trim and equipment.


  • Engine: 6.6-litre, twin-turbo V12
  • Transmission: Eight-speed, GPS-guided auto
  • Power: 563bhp @5250rpm
  • Torque: 780Nm @ 1500rpm
  • 0-100kmh: 4.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 250kmh

Showing that it’s prepared to take chances and experiment above and beyond some of the more extravagant bespoke requests from customers, Rolls-Royce is becoming more imaginative with its standard interior offerings. The car used for many of its publicity images features a combination of Mandarin and black cow hides against exquisite book-matched, herringbone-style open-pore Canadel wood across the dashboard, doors, rear hood cover and the “waterfall” panel between the rear seats.

Other interior highlights include wristwatch-style gauges, an audio system from Rolls’ Bespoke customisation outfit and a Spirit of Ecstasy rotary controller with a touch pad.

The 6.6-litre, twin-turbocharged V12 produces 563bhp at 5,250rpm and 780Nm from just 1,500rpm and the company claims the Dawn can get from 0-100kmh in 4.9 seconds and reach a limited 250kmh top end.

It also says that it is the most rigid-bodied, four-seat convertible in the world with plenty of additional structural bracing underneath. Adding to that rigidity are the hefty rear-hinged doors that have become a trademark of Rolls-Royce in recent times. 

Faced with strong winds during our drive, it never felt vulnerable, while our 180cms passenger in the rear had more than enough legroom and headroom with the roof up.

A new suspension system includes air springs and anti-roll bars which have been revised over Wraith for the reconfigured weight distribution but most importantly to maintain the company’s famous, near flawless ride.

A sudden shower allowed us to experience the car with the roof up and it was astoundingly quiet inside.

Being 5,285mm long, 1,947mm wide (which includes a rear track that’s 24mm wider than the Ghost), 1,502mm high and with a wheelbase of 3,112mm, it’s no surprise to find that the Dawn is not light, weighing in at 2,588kg which is about 250kg more than the Wraith.

Yet it’s incredibly flat and composed on turn-in. It steers less like Rolls-Royces of old and more like a big modern GT. The power surge is incredible, and silent to the point it almost has that electric car feel. Push it along through mountain roads and the confidence that comes from the heavily braced chassis and air suspension is helped by the GPS-aided box which I didn’t notice until I braked for a corner and powered out to find that it had already dropped back from fifth to third.

It anticipated both the bend and rate of speed on approach along with things like steering angle, brake pressure and throttle position to quietly slip back a few cogs, then change up again on exit. It explains why there are no buttons for transmission modes like touring, sports or comfort that you find on other cars.

Priced at around 20 per cent above Wraith, the new Dawn is nearly in Phantom territory, which guarantees that it will be remain one of the most exclusive cars to carry the Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet mascot.