A Dawn Amidst the Dark
Today all we think about is technology and track times but thankfully one company realizes the old ways of thinking about luxury were better.
30 years ago if you asked someone what makes a luxury car a luxury car, you would have heard about fine leather, a forest worth of wood, and hand made craftsmanship. Nowadays you'd hear that a luxury car has to have more tech than Silicon Valley and that it has to go around the Nurburgring in less time than it takes GT-R fanboys to ruin a comments section. Certainly 15 or more ways to configure the ambient lighting and an infotainment system that has fart noises in it and air vents that can only be controlled from the touch screen are all absolute necessities in any luxury car, but beyond those basic needs the features begin to get a bit silly. And naturally I do take my luxury sedans to Laguna Seca or Willow Springs every weekend, but the Nurburgring is a bit far so perhaps a more relevant track would be better for testing. These things are without a doubt far more important than things like build or material quality, suspension comfort, and engine smoothness. Needless to say I'd much rather have a car built by robots than artisans. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm being more than a little sarcastic with my remarks. The sad reality is though, that we have come to a point where a luxury car is measured by those kinds of ridiculous metrics and not by the quality of the materials or suppleness of the ride. Thankfully though, there is one brand for crotchety old bastards like me. Well, at least for crotchety old bastards with way more money than me.
Rolls-Royce is perhaps the only marque left that still approaches its cars with the same theories of luxury that it has for decades. Step into a Rolls of any era and you'll be swaddled in leather, surrounded by wood, and shielded from the world. There was a time when it was said that the only noise one should hear in a Rolls-Royce is the ticking of the clock, and to this day that remains true of even their convertibles.
The Dawn has been with us a for a few years now, slotting in above the Wraith and Ghost on which it is based and beneath the Phantom flagship in the Rolls lineup, essentially becoming a cheaper replacement for the Phantom Drophead which was canceled the same year the Dawn was released. While underneath it is essentially identical to the Ghost, the Dawn, like the Wraith, is meant to be a Rolls to drive rather than be driven in.
So is it any good? Well, to answer the question simply: yes. The Dawn at every moment feels like a Rolls should, even though critics will be more than happy to remind me of the fact that it is a bit of a parts bin special from BMW. I would counter that point, though, and say that that is to the Dawn's benefit. It's often forgotten how expensive it is to design and produce interior components or an infotainment system, let alone how expensive engine and platform development can be. And if we're all honest, the bits that have been sourced from BMW were the bits that were problematic on old school Rollers. The upshot of this is that Rolls-Royce can spend their time and money on other areas - areas like ride comfort, noise deadening, and interior quality that make a Rolls-Royce a Rolls-Royce.
Even the slightly borrowed V12 is made to look like a piece of art.
Back in the old days Rolls-Royce would describe the horsepower of its cars as "sufficient." This certainly drove home the idea that performance wasn't even an afterthought when it came time to build a Rolls, but anyone who has driven a Rolls from that era will tell you that "sufficient" was about the kindest thing one could say about the power those cars had. The Dawn, though, has 563 horsepower which is much more than sufficient.
The oft quoted cliche of the experience of driving or riding in a Rolls-Royce is that it feels like you're floating on a cloud. Annoyingly, it's hard to think of a more accurate way to describe how comfortable the Dawn is. Both times I've had the privilege of captaining the British land yacht were over less than smooth roads but onboard HMS Dawn it felt like we were gliding over glass. The steering is feather light and one can effortlessly guide the Dawn down the road with a single finger. While this is of course less than ideal for "sporty" or "dynamic" driving, the Dawn has zero interest of either of those things and from the moment I found myself in the driver's seat, I couldn't give less of a damn either.
There really is something almost magical about driving a Dawn. Attempting to navigate the traffic around the Sunset Strip (where I last drove the Dawn), and frankly in many parts of LA isn't exactly a stress-free undertaking, but in the Dawn it almost is. People all around me were honking and doing anything to free themselves from the morass a few milliseconds quicker while I had the top down, the climate control set just so, and the radio playing Frank Sinatra. The feeling of driving the Dawn was so serene in fact that I almost found myself wishing I'd be stuck in the gridlock even longer just so I wouldn't reach my destination too soon.
Ever since I first drove the Dawn it has been a regular pick for me whenever I've been asked about my dream garage. Frankly, I think that as a package of what a car can be, I don't think there's a better way of getting from A to B. Certainly there are faster ways, and there are more fuel efficient ways, and more eco friendly ways, but none quite so comfortable and relaxing. Some could make the argument that it can't be the best because it doesn't have any sort of autonomous driving, but driving the Dawn is so effortless and pleasurable that even if it did have autonomy, I doubt I would ever feel the desire to use it.