Meet your newest lust-worthy droptop, the Rolls-Royce Dawn

Sumptuous leather, a V-12 engine and a transmission that predicts the future can all be yours in the super-luxurious Dawn.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
6 min read

It's a bit of an odd feeling, slipping behind the wheel of a car that costs more than your condo. What if I scrape the wheels? What if someone hits me? Do I look like a complete and utter @$$hat?"

Fortunately those feelings quickly dissipate while driving the 2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn, and frankly, I knew I looked good. Like, real good.

Driving the Dawn through Los Angeles morning rush hour traffic is a bit nerve wracking. This four-seater is a big car. Tipping the scales at 5,644 pounds, the Dawn has a total length of over 17 feet and total width of over 6 feet. A corner carver this is not. No, the Dawn is meant for cruising, and it does that amazingly well.

Twin turbos and 12 cylinders

Powered by a 6.6-liter twin-turbo V12 engine, the 563 horses seem quite tame under the hood. Instead of an RPM gauge, the Dawn has a Power Reserve gauge, letting drivers know just how much power is still available to them. During my cruise down Pacific Coast Highway at 50 to 60 miles per hour, I had at least 90 percent of power in reserve. Increase the gas and the Dawn doesn't necessarily leap to attention right away. It takes a little bit of coaxing to get the full power to come out and play. Still, when that moment comes and you see the hood rise up in front of you as the power is put to the rear wheels, you can feel all twelve cylinders thumping under the hood. Yup, Rolls-Royce has got a whole new game face.

Rolls Royce Dawn
Rolls Royce

And what of the torque? The Dawn puts out 575 pound-feet of it, coming in at 1,500rpm, low enough that the eight-speed transmission starts in second gear (more on that in a minute), all to ensure as smooth a ride as possible. If you want to experience all that torque off the line in first gear, simply press the Low button on the gear stalk.

We'll get to all the crazy luxury in the cabin, but first I'd like to tell you about the satellite-enabled eight-speed automatic transmission. Yes, the transmission can talk to the GPS system so it knows what kind of road you're on. It knows how sharp of a turn is coming or what kind of elevation change is imminent, shifting gears accordingly. The result is an incredibly composed and smooth ride. Rolls Royce calls it the Magic Carpet ride. I'll just call it Cloud 9.

The Dawn is a true four-seat convertible, or drophead in proper English. Unlike other ultra-luxury convertibles, looking at you Bentley Continental, the rear seat of the Dawn can easily accommodate adults, top up or down. And as a passenger you'll enjoy gorgeous open-pore wood trim, nay, paneling. It shows up on the dash, the center stack, the doors, the soft top cover and between the rear seats. It's almost like driving a forest.

A new Dawn for Rolls-Royce (pictures)

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Front seats are heated and cooled and you can operate both functions at the same time. Dual zone climate control? Don't be so 99 percent! The Dawn has separate temperature controls for your lower and upper extremities. Technically I could have warm feet, a cool face and a hot and cold rear end if I so desired.

The classic suicide doors allow for easy ingress and egress from the Dawn, but closing them can be a problem once inside. Oh wait, never mind. There's a button for that. We can't be closing our own doors when the valet is not around, can we? Strangely, it's not a one-touch system. Occupants must keep their finger on the button for the entire closing operation.

Sound of silence

The soft top opens and closes in absolute silence, taking 22 seconds to do its thing at speeds of up to 32 miles per hour. While the Rolls-Royce-dubbed "Silent Ballet" is surely a technological marvel, again, it's not a one-touch button. If the button is released at any point during the process, the roof stops in its tracks.

However, when the soft top is fully deployed, it produces one of the quietest cabins in existence, drophead or no. Six layers of sound deadening insulation keep the outside from intruding on the luxury inside. And no, there isn't a hard top option. Rolls-Royce claims their customers like the romantic pitter-patter sound of rain falling on the fabric soft top.

And not that I'd be keen to drive my Rolls-Royce in the rain, but if I must, there is an umbrella hidden in both the passenger and driver door jamb. No joke. A pop-out umbrella. In the door jamb.

Rolls Royce Dawn
Rolls Royce

The Dawn comes with a 10.25-inch high-definition screen with navigation, satellite radio and iPod integration, naturally, and it's all controlled from a dial on the center console. Designed with an inlaid silver silhouette of the Spirit of Ecstasy, the famous Rolls-Royce hood ornament, the dial also functions as a touchpad that recognizes pinch and pull gestures as well as letters drawn with your finger.

Of course, if that is all too pedestrian for you, a one-touch call button on the steering wheel allows for voice commands. The system is not the quickest out there, but really, how much of a hurry could you be in? Just sit back and enjoy the supple leather and classic details for a few seconds longer.

The Dawn uses the same, albeit older, infotainment technology as BMW's iDrive, but it's still far from a "techie" vehicle. There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and while there is lane departure warning, there's nothing that comes close to preventing the driver from straying from the lane. Blind spot monitoring is non-existent and there is no 4G/LTE connectivity. Still, there are a few gems hidden under the surface: adaptive cruise control, a heads-up display and a nifty night vision feature, which uses heat detection to spot both animals and humans in low light situations.

The speed and navigation information shown on the heads-up display can be transferred to an LCD screen on the gauge cluster. However, I found that with my preferred seating and steering wheel position, I could only read the top half of the LCD screen. For most of my time in the car I had a nearly empty LCD screen when I would have preferred a larger gauge cluster.

Rolls Royce Dawn
Rolls Royce

While it shares the same platform as the Wraith sedan, the Dawn is more than just a convertible Wraith. It maintains some of the classic Rolls-Royce proportions like the long hood, short front overhangs, high shoulder line and long rear overhangs, but with over 80 percent of unique sheet metal, the Dawn is its own model.

The front grille has been recessed and the front bumper extended in comparison to the Wraith. The bumper also now includes a lower air dam. You can roll your Dawn on 21-inch polished wheels or 21-inch and 20-inch painted wheels. Run-flat tires are standard.

If you have to ask, you can't afford it

But what does all this elegance, run-flat tires notwithstanding, cost? The 2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn starts at $335,000, but are you really going to buy the base model? According to Rolls-Royce, most orders are coming in at around $400,000, because why not spend as much in options as you might spend on a well-equipped Jaguar? You can even go a step further and have Rolls-Royce develop your own signature paint color or, and I'm not kidding here, harvest a tree from your estate to craft the interior wood veneers. Nothing is too much to ask.

But don't expect to just walk into your local Rolls-Royce dealer and drive out in a Dawn. It takes time to build these bespoke cars and the wait is already well into February 2017. Forget roses, get your sweetie the Dawn for Valentine's Day.

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