FIRST DRIVE: Rolls-Royce Dawn – Luxury As A Lifestyle

Test Drives | April 25th, 2016 by 7
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The four-seater Dawn Drophead is based on the Ghost and Wraith and it’s described as “the sexiest Rolls-Royce ever built.”

“Rolls-Royce is not an automaker, it’s a luxury brand,” said Gerry Spahn, Rolls-Royce North America Communications Manager. “Owning a Rolls-Royce is more than just a driving experience, it’s a lifestyle,” added Spahn. To experience the new Dawn Drophead, he invited me to the sunny California, in the heart of Santa Barbara and its finest wineries.

The four-seater convertible is based on the Ghost and Wraith, and it’s described by British luxury maker as “the sexiest Rolls-Royce ever built.” The company is paying homage to the Silver Dawn — a name applied to 28 vehicles from 1950 to 1954 — with the introduction of the Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible.

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While many would assume the Dawn is a replacement for the Ghost or Wraith, Rolls says the beautiful drophead is in fact an addition to their customer’s luxury garage. Majority of Rolls’ new customers – around 80 percent – are self-made millionaires and billionaires who see the Dawn Drophead as the perfect companion for their ever growing fleet of luxury cars, which already include one or more Rolls models. The average age of a Rolls-Royce buyer has dropped from 55 to 45, perfect for a brand hoping to attract younger elites.

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So suppose it’s fitting that Rolls chose the idyllic Belmond El Encanto Resort in Santa Barbara for the U.S. launch of its latest model – like the setting, it’s hard not to be hypnotized by the Dawn. The location is not random at all. California is Rolls’ largest market in the world and the lifestyle of a typical Rolls customer includes weekend getaways to luxury resorts, fine dining paired with the appropriate wine tasting.

To fully immerse myself in the life of a billionaire, I started my luxury trip with a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles. Imagine a business person flying back home after a long week of work and being picked up in a Dawn with its top down and a chauffeur ready to take you to your home. Or in this case, to a beautiful resort that will give you three magical days to decompress and relax before the start of a new week. Unlike your typical limo driver, my chauffeur inspires elegance and sophistication, wearing a perfectly fitted modern-cut suit as he opens the door to a drop-dead gorgeous Blue Ice Dawn. From the moment you step in, the Dawn feels like it’s being tailored for the rich to offer an immersive experience and a level of sophistication that only very few brands can achieve in the world.

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The calm and soothing two hour ride ends in the heart of The American Riviera, Santa Barbara at a Five-Star resort overseeing the Pacific Ocean. A quick, late dinner on the resort’s patio offers a great culinary experience coupled with a beautiful view from the top of the hill. After an awkward start of my “rich person” experience, now I’m starting to fully embrace the perks that come with that and reflect on this lifestyle, one that I can certainly live with. Especially if it was built on top of my hard work.

Even though the Dawn is based on the Wraith, 80 percent of the Dawn’s body panels are new and it even gets some new interior bits to differentiate itself.

Glancing at the schedule for next day increases my excitement for the experiences to come and shutting my eyes after a long day is harder than I thought. To end the day on a proper note and to fully embrace my new character, a glass of wine from a refined local vineyard is just the medicine I need.

My morning kicks off with a walk around the El Encanto resort which has a unique aroma to match its luxury and beauty. The long and windy path leads me to the restaurant’s patio for a hearty breakfast and breath of fresh air. Shortly after, Spahn and his team are welcoming me to a little and cozy lounge where they kick off a very informal and casual group conversation about Rolls-Royce, its heritage and aspirations for the future. Here is where I will also meet Pedro Mota, Rolls-Royce of North America President and a former Porsche executive. Mota tells me that it’s the Rolls’ sophistication and bespoke craftmanship that lured him away from Porsche, a decision he hasn’t regretted.

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Now it’s time to see our Dropheads for the day. In front of the hotel, Rolls-Royce displayed four Dawn models with their own character and bespoke configuration. Spahn goes on to describe this new car as the most uncompromised open-top motoring experience in the world, and the quietest open-top car ever made. Even though the Dawn is based on the Wraith, 80 percent of the Dawn’s body panels are new and it even gets some new interior bits to differentiate itself. The sills are thicker to allow for body strengthening and there are hidden roll hoops behind the rear headrests that pop out in the event of what would have to be a stupendously enormous car crash.

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The Dawn exudes opulence from any angle perfect for the affluent, sophisticated customers it hopes to attract. The overall profile of the car is reminiscent of the Wraith, though, and that’s a very good thing. The Dawn is a magnificent looking thing, it’s genuinely gorgeous.

The Dawn is not a two-plus-two, but a full four-seater, able to fit one 6″2 man behind another with knee room and headroom to spare. Unlike many convertibles, the rear seats also have a generous backrest angle. The interior is very similar to the Wraith which, again, is a very good thing. It’s stunning and looks even better with the top down and the sun shining in. There isn’t any other cabin like a Rolls Royce cabin.

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The main attraction of the Dawn is top-down driving, and the ragtop will drop in 22 seconds and can do so at speeds up to 30 mph. And it’s impressively quiet as it lowers, with no mechanical or motor noise to speak of. It’s almost as if Rolls Royce engineers use magic instead of mechanics and the buttons you push simply will things to happen. And once the magically quiet roof has been neatly tucked away, the Dawn really arrives. It has a luxury power boat look to it with the roof down that is mesmerizing.

The Dawn measures 5.2m long, 1.9m wide, 1.5m tall with a wheelbase of 3.1m. Given its large proportions it should be noted that this is a true four-seat convertible and unlike rival offerings, you won’t have to rest your chin on your knees if seated at the rear.

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The Rolls-Royce Dawn is powered by the company’s venerable 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V12. Peak power drops from the Wraith’s 624 hp at 5600rpm to 563 hp at 5250-6000rpm, while peak torque falls from 590lb ft to 575lb-ft, both from 1500rpm. The satellite-aided eight-speed automatic transmission remains and 0-62mph is dispensed with in 4.9 seconds. The Dawn has more than enough power to reach its 155mph limiter in effortless silence.

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I and my driving partner settle on the bronze-gold color, one that screams money, and off we go. The pre-defined route is programmed in the intuitive navigation system which will take us on some scenic roads surrounding Solvang and onto the highway to experience some effortless driving. The Dawn is seamless, graceful, and surprisingly fast when needed. The V12 engine is a beauty and pulls hard despite the car’s expected heavy weight. The drive feels more like that of a gran tourer with composed turn-ins and confidence.

Inside, the Dawn is the pinnacle of automotive luxury, one that can match even a luxury yacht.

Push it along through hills around Santa Barbara and the air suspension and GPS-aided gearbox make for rapid progress. When braking, the Dawn’s high-tech accounts for the bend, rate of speed, steering angle and brake pressure to anticipate the gear you’ll need to enter and exit the corner.

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Inside, the Dawn is the pinnacle of automotive luxury, one that can match even a luxury yacht. The leather is incredibly soft, plush wool carpets let your feet sink in, while the wood veneers give the cabin a sophisticated look. With the top up, the quiet cabin combined with the supple suspension delivers a comfortable ride, allowing for that classic music to delight us through the high-fidelity audio system.

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The navigation system guides us through Solvang and its wineries before reaching our first stop – Grassini Family Vineyard. The privately-owned vineyard is not open to the public, but any VIP customer – like a Rolls-Royce owner – will find its doors largely open. Unfortunately wine tasting was off-the-table – for now – but we were promised a fine cuisine later in the evening along with unreleased wine from Grassini. Just like any Rolls’ owner would do, I took the Dawn around the property to experience this moment to its fullest.

Now the dusty Dawn is ready to us back to the resort and instead of following the pre-defined route straight into Santa Barbara, we took a detour through backroads surrounding numerous vineyards and into the curvy hills above Santa Barbara the Pacific Ocean. Rolling at slow speeds, we take in the full experience and scenery, dreaming with our eyes open. This is what the Rolls-Royce lifestyle is all about!

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The sunset is upon us and Rolls promises an extraordinary culinary experience on a private patio with the French Chef at El Encanto. Grassini is also there to wine us with some of their finest bottles. In full character mode, I lay back and take this all in. Hard work eventually pays off and wealthy Rolls owners use some of their money to match the luxury and beauty of their cars with memorable experiences that will live forever.

When it comes to opulence, Rolls-Royce has it nailed. The attention to detail is embedded deep within their cars and according to Rolls folks, there really is no limit to what they can do – with their cars or lifetime experiences.

The Dawn starts at $340,000, but the Drophead I sampled pushed the price tag close to $400,000. A fortune for many, but a fully-merited reward for the self-made millionaires.

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