Test Drive: 2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn

If there’s one thing I learned at summer camp, it’s that taking your top off can change everything. Diving head-first into the water instead of lurking on the dock in my T-shirt and shorts at Lake Idonwannabehere helped me put a brave new face on being a homesick and almost constantly sticky child. Peeling the roof off of the Wraith coupe and calling it the 2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn might not net anyone an extra popsicle at the tuck shop, but it certainly opened my eyes to a fresh appreciation for the ultra-luxury marque’s only current convertible.

All you hear is the whisper of the Dawn’s wood-trimmed interior delicately exhaling through its open pores.

It’s tempting to assume, as I did, that the Dawn and the Wraith would offer a similar experience behind the wheel, given their identical platform and shared mechanical details. It took only a few kilometres of driving for me to realize just how wrong I had been. Whereas my time in Rolls-Royce’s recent coupe had acquainted me with the reality-distortion bubble inherent in its incredibly insulated cabin and ultra-smooth suspension tune, I was thoroughly unprepared for the Dawn’s ability to project that same calming sphere of influence with its roof neatly folded and tucked behind the cabin.

To pilot the Rolls-Royce Dawn with the top down is to project a force-field that extends roughly three metres in every direction, including straight up, where one imagines it draws its energy from the same cosmic rays that motivated Superman.

Once ensconced behind this invisible protective barrier, you are shielded from the grievous insults undergone by lesser (read: every other) automobile in the immediate vicinity. Pavement that once spilled your coffee now reads like a blank page of braille, the wind that earlier ruffled your hairdo with the sunroof open now passes above and around the driver’s seat like a polite and respectful ghost, and the sound of the traffic around you seemingly vanishes into a dead zone wherein all you hear is the whisper of the Dawn’s wood-trimmed interior delicately exhaling through its open pores. Were it my own car, I would only see its beautiful, contrasting-coloured cloth top once – the day I picked up my car from the dealership – because who needs a roof in the south of France, or on a glowing summer’s evening in downtown Montreal?

This feeling of utter peace combines with the sense that you have become a master of the road through the mere act of sliding behind the wheel of the open-air Rolls-Royce. The Dawn’s complete and total lack of body shake, rattle, or flex regardless of the driving situation is shocking. Even more startling is the subtle manner in which its twin-turbocharged 6.6L V12 unleashes its 563 hp and 575 lb-ft of torque when spurred on by the right foot.

The car’s pulse rate quickens with the languor of a lotus eater, yet suddenly its 2,600 kilos of British steel have the speedometer pinned, leaving you to wonder at the BMW-sourced voodoo under its hood that makes its 4.3 second teleportation to 100 km/h possible. At least partial responsibility can be claimed by the convertible’s ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, a unit that links with real-time GPS information to plan out its imperceptible shift points.

Despite its massive bulk (the car is slightly longer than its coupe companion while sharing the same wheelbase), the Rolls-Royce Dawn’s comportment on the road is a continuation of that feeling of absolute confidence imparted by its otherworldly drivetrain.

Perhaps it was due to the nearly 300 additional kilograms that the Dawn boasts over the Wraith, a steady hand on the tiller held in place by the sheer tonnage of the situation, but whatever its source it certainly took some of the edge off of being terrified that some texting, eyes-down driver would make horrendously expensive contact with the convertible’s beautiful body panels (which are 80 percent unique compared to the fixed-roof Rolls).

It’s also intriguing to note the distance that the Dawn keeps from the autonomous driving debate, as it offers adaptive cruise control but none of the active steering or trick camera systems that are now common in the luxury sedan segment. Rolls-Royce still builds cars to be driven, whether by the owner or a fortunate employee.

The discontinuation of the Phantom Drophead Coupe maybe have thrust the newest cloth-roofed Rolls-Royce into the spotlight, but this is the part the car was born to play. The Dawn’s seemingly endless list of well-earned superlatives made me want to hit the open road and drive west until I reached the other side of the continent in a way that the more powerful, yet not quite as magical Wraith did not.

This is the car, top up or down, that would allow you make that Pacific-seeking trek in far better comfort and style than any private jet, for the simple fact that the delight of any Rolls-Royce is in the details – and you simply can’t discern the finer points of the world as it passes by your window at 30,000 feet.

2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn
Engine Displacement: 6.6L
Engine Cylinders: V12
Peak Horsepower: 563 hp
Peak Torque: 575 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 20.0/12.6/16.7 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 260 L
articles_PricingType 2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn
Base Price $388,883
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $3,135
Price as Tested $442,825
Optional Equipment $50,707 – 21-inch wheels $9,776; Bespoke interior – Module Editing $5,700; Front ventilated seats $3,107; RR Monogram on headrests $1,368; Red contrast stitching $2,138; Full Canadel panelling $24,254; Lambswool floor mats $1,400; Gas-guzzler tax $2,964
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.1
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
10 Quality
7 Comfort
10 Practicality
4 Drivability
10 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
7 Features
10 Value