Rolls-Royce has taken the wrapping off of its latest model today, the 2016 Dawn convertible, and it's done so in an unusual fashion.
The plutocrat's auto maker didn't stage the premiere of its stunning new four-seat drophead at one of the world's auto shows, or even at a splashy lifestyle event in some exclusive resort. It unveiled the car online, in front of an invitation-only digital audience of owners, potential buyers and media. While an Internet reveal is hardly a new idea, it's a first for the luxury auto maker, and it's because Rolls is eager to reach its buyers where they are, which is increasingly mobile and far-flung around the globe.
It's also because Rolls-Royce buyers are now far younger than you'd expect. According to company spokesman Gerry Spahn, the average age of a Rolls owner is in their mid-40s, an impressively shocking turn for a brand once thought to be the exclusive preserve of aging, pipe-smoking tycoons. And it's not just Hollywood glitterati and big-shot athletes changing Rolls' demographics -- there's an increasing number of real estate moguls and construction company owners getting behind the wheel, along with a burgeoning female population.
So, what will these new-money, younger buyers be getting if they slip inside the Dawn for an estimated starting price in the low $300,000s? A peerlessly appointed four-seat convertible powered by Rolls' 6.6-liter, twin-turbo V-12 engine, giving 563 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque.
In the run-up to the model's unveiling, there's been a tendency to think of the Dawn as merely a droptop version of the company's existing, and indeed, there's a great deal of sharing under the skin. But Rolls maintains the Dawn is a different animal altogether, and is quick to point out that the its body panels are 80 percent new, with styling that's a bit softer and more restrained than the Wraith, going so far as to dub it the "sexiest Rolls-Royce ever built." Beyond sheet metal changes, designers have even gone to such lengths as to discreetly recess Rolls' iconic grille and extend the lower front bumper to lend the Dawn a subtly different appearance.
Interestingly, Rolls says that despite having a fabric top that raises and lowers, the Dawn is as quiet inside as its Wraith coupe. As the latter provides of the most serene experiences in motoring, that's an incredible claim. One might've assumed that a folding hardtop would've been chosen for the best sound absorption and security properties, but a soft top was selected "for reasons of aesthetics, romance and brand appropriateness." (The company maintains its owners are fond of hearing the soft pitter-patter of rain that one can only be heard with a fabric roof).
It also likely helps that such tops are generally lighter in weight, less complex to engineer, and easier to package when stowed without compromising a car's lines or interior comfort. Regardless of the rationale, Rolls boasts the Dawn is the quietest convertible ever made, with an ultra-hushed folding mechanism known as the "Silent Ballet" that can stow the roof in 22 seconds at speeds up to 32 mph.
In touting the Dawn's four full-size seats that the company says can happily accommodate six-footers, the British automaker couldn't resist taking a swipe at other high-priced convertibles, remarking in media materials that the segment is "populated exclusively by open-top cars that Rolls-Royce would consider compromised and 'anti-social'." (That snapping sound you hear is the backside of a butter-soft white leather driving glove to the face of the, ostensibly the Dawn's main competition.)
Although the model name "Dawn" stretches back to the 1950s, given its surprisingly young buying audience, Rolls now understands that real luxury is increasingly no longer just about book-matched wood veneers and aromatic, insect-bite-free leather -- it's about technology.
To that end, the Dawn's new 10.25-inch infotainment screen is operated via the latest version of the Spirit of Ecstasy controller, a multi-way joystick that the merely rich will probably recognize as a reskinned version of, complete with a finger-swipe gesture pad that Rolls points out can interpret Arabic and Mandarin (a subtle nod to key markets for this new model).
The Dawn also receives a number of other high-tech bits developed with parent company BMW, including a night-vision system that detects the heat signatures of pedestrians and animals; radar-based cruise control with start/stop; adaptive anti-dazzle LED headlamps; and a GPS-enabled eight-speed automatic transmission that anticipates the road ahead for optimal gear shifts.
The first 2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn models should reach buyers by April or May of next spring, but if you don't already have one on order, you're out of luck for the foreseeable future -- the company tells CNET that the model's first year production run is already spoken for.