2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn First Drive


There is apparently a migration of sorts among the set that would buy something like the 2016 Rolls-RoyceDawn, the newly arrived drophead variant of the raffishWraith. When our theoretical Dawn buyer finds the Cote d’Azûr or some such place a bit chilly, perhaps it’s off to South Africa. Late March is the tail end of summer, and it’s an exceedingly pleasant way to get into the Dawn state of mind.

2016 Rolls-Royce

Stellenbosch is just northeast of Cape Town, the “Mother City.” What used to be open country occupied primarily by the Khoikhoi and Khoisan peoples, as well as prototypical African game, is now wine country. Our starting point is a vineyard estate called Delaire Graff owned by a diamond baron. South Africa’s diverse and stunning countryside is on display as we leave the vineyard and climb. The lower highlands are covered with quasi-Californian scrub, but with altitude the scene transforms into a mist-tickled moor full of low heather-like plants and tumbling rivulets. We traverse the suburban lowlands to a windy road clinging to a cliffside above the crashing surf of the Indian Ocean. Ancient cliffs and peaks jut over us at improbable angles and in fascinating shapes. At the end of our drive, looking across False Bay, the Cape stretches south towards the equivocal boundary between two oceans. Twice and then once, the Cape lighthouse winks at the end of Africa.


Most automakers consider sportiness the ultimate attribute. Like its stablemates, the Rolls-Royce Dawn’s draw is its timelessness and unabashed luxury. Here that’s paired with the inherent hedonism of a convertible, not to mention the cachet that comes with spending $340,000 or more (most likely more) on a car. That figure makes the Dawn more expensive than the Ghost or Wraith, but less than the Phantom range.

The Dawn is vast; like most huge things, it commands attention because it takes up so much space. Watching my colleagues dart around town was a bit like watching a flotilla of cruise liners maneuver to their moorages. Like a yacht with a lot of freeboard, the flanks rise impressively to the top of the door, but then there’s some tumblehome inward to the thick brightwork strip ringing the cabin. A longitudinal spear of chrome bisects the hood, a bit like a grab-rail on the foredeck. The Spirit of Ecstasy could have graced the bowsprit of any of the windjammers that hove into Table Bay.

While the profile, and particularly the roofline, makes the more expensive Phantom seem positively fussy, to this eye it’s not attractive as a whole. Many elements, in isolation, are elegant. And the Dawn certainly conveys the power and sophistication of its owner while impressing rather than delighting the onlooker. That’s fine. This is a car designed to satisfy its occupants – all four of them. Rolls-Royce is adamant that this isn’t a “2+2,” but rather a proper four-seater with full-sized rear thrones. Semantics or no, the company has it right. Think in terms of hours of tolerability. Up front in the Dawn, you can drive until you die or run out of gas. In back, I’d say you have at least five hours of seat time before you need to unfold yourself. It’s supremely comfortable, and I’m not affording any handicap for the bodystyle.

With the top up, massive C-pillars constrain outward visibility. Rolls-Royce admits it made the rear window smaller than it needed to be to give the impression of “a private sanctuary.” Mission accomplished. There are hermit caves that are less divorced from the chaotic outside world. It’s Lexus-inside-a-sealed-tomb quiet.