“It’s a new Day, it’s a new Dawn, it’s a new Life, and I am feeling good.” Nina Simone
Nestled in a verdant palm oasis, deep within Dubai’s magical dune and desert landscape in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, the Al Maha Luxury Collection Desert Resort and Spa is a fitting destination for the Rolls Royce Dawn. Surrounded by arabian oryx and gazelles, this topless cruiser might be the ultimate Dubai motoring accessory, depending on your whims. That, or I’m just feeling slightly grandiose upon arrival at Al Maha, fresh from lunch at the Waldorf Astoria’s 3 star Michelin restaurant on the Palm. So much so, just for a few hours, I forget that this splendid car isn’t actually my own. Rolls has done this on purpose you see, what better way to get journalists to laud the new whip, than to treat them to a taste of how an actual Rolls Royce owner might live?
Like the falcon we watched hunting in the desert, a demonstration of grace and acumen that anyone would enjoy, the Dawn is an attraction that draws every eye. Whenever a supercar or a luxury saloon or SUV passes, one can’t help but look at the car and appreciate it. The Dawn however, is a sort of trump card, you feel people looking, wondering who this successful person behind the wheel is— it’s a great feeling, even just for 24 hours.
Sir Henry Royce once admonished his staff to “strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it. Accept nothing nearly right or good enough.” To my thinking, they named this car the Dawn, because it represents a new moment for Rolls Royce, one they’ve worked diligently to perfect, much as Sir Royce commanded. Isn’t that the ultimate definition of comfort—perpetual newness, as if meeting your motoring love for the first time, every time?
But not all is new here, it’s more of a gorgeous illusion, and that’s just fine. More or less a Wraith Coupé at its roots, the Dawn is rather the opposite of some stiffened up sports car that feels every bump like an expert Braille reader, making meaning out of vibration. Here, the goal is the opposite, to almost forget that you’re in a car, unless perhaps you’re taking a turn behind the wheel, enjoying the feel of all that velvety goodness in your hands.
This expeditious Roller rides on a shorter iteration of the Ghost’s platform, but the similarity ends there as the body design evinces a much sleeker and, counter intuitively, seemingly elongated body style that looks as though the driver might arrive a few minutes before his baggage in the boot reaches the venue. It is strange, since the car is actually smaller than Ghost in wheelbase, height, and overall length, but manages to seem larger than life. Actually you could say that about the Ghost too, so never mind. The point is that, with a century of stellar design in their rearview, Rolls has taken a crowd pleasing sprint towards the sinister with the Dawn’s visage, asking the onlooker to lean in as the car’s exhaust whispers sweet nothings on their ears perhaps that’s why the retractable “Spirit of Ecstasy” figure is tilted five additional degrees forward— she feels the same pull.
The sonorous howl of the Dawn’s twin-turbo 6.6-litre V12 is anything but ghostly, more a proclamation of life than the alternative. Not that you’d notice from inside the car, as the Dawn’s sound dampening is absolutely world class. At low speed the world seems to have gone silent, mash down the accelerator (highly recommended) and take the Dawn up to cruising speed and a modicum of wind noise is there to remind you that you’re speeding down the motorway.
The Dawn delivers that ridiculously smooth ride quality that makes a Roller the best car for quaffing exceedingly foamy cappuccinos while signing million dirham checks with a quill and a pot of India ink. Naturally the Dawn is packed full of the latest electronic driver assistance systems, including anti-roll stabilization, dynamic stability control, dynamic traction control, cornering brake control and dynamic brake control— all to make sure you make it to the bank on time.
Stitched leather, the likes of which you’ll want to rub your face in, and wood-paneling abound. Somewhere there’s a forest full of trees with door-shaped flesh wounds, but it’s worth it. The center console is (almost) equally woody and, because this is a Rolls, exceptional care has been put into make sure that the wood is of the utmost quality with the grain arrayed to give the decorate the cabin with subtly gorgeous natural patterns. Where wood and leather can’t be utilized, metals step in to ward off that (almost) universal harbinger of cheapness: plastic.
There’s plenty of room wherever you sit in the Dawn, and you won’t even hear the top as it peels away, revealing the stars or sun, depending on whether your adventure is ending, beginning, or possibly both.
As you might guess, the infotainment system with its sundry navigation, communication and amusement feature borrowed from a little outfit known as Bavarian Motor Works, whose head-up display, parking minders and the adaptive cruise control are all quite worthy of sharing. Rolls classes things up a tad with a motorized cover for the screen (Pynchon called it the “greenish dead eye” after all) dual-zone climate control for all discrete temperature settings for your upper and lower body, which should help avoid the overly cold feet I sometimes get from blasting the AC in our charming local weather.
And yet, the Dawn isn’t an overly technological car to drive— you can’t paddle it, there’s no track mode (and honestly a Rolls on a track is a silly idea) and while you can raise and lower the suspension, it’s more so you don’t bottom out on the ridiculously steep ramps that seem so popular among the smaller shopping center’s lining beach road (I’m looking at you Jumeirah Town Centre).
Body roll is minimal as I push the Dawn through a series of switchbacks— it’s not 911-adept at clawing through to an apex, but performs surprisingly well for a deluxe big boned beauty. But then, this is a car for enjoying the scenery, and I doubt most Dawn riders will be tearing up the mountainside en route to their ski chalet. No, they’ll be basking in the comfort and the knowledge that they could attack the hairpins if they really wanted. You can push this car well beyond reason, but there are limits as even the finest modern automotive technology can only go so far to overcome the laws of physics. Happily, when you do unexpectedly find that edge stability control is on hand to steady the ride. The steering is on the softer side, but there’s still feedback to be had. The brakes are authoritative without being overbearing.
This car is basically always optimally placed in the rev band, almost as if the invisible hand of some, er, ghost was shifting for you. (Dawn is Scottish for ghost, by the way). One slight concern though— since Dubai is changing so rapidly, it might be hard for the robo-ghost-shifter and its fleet of satellites to keep up with the changing landscape. In fact, I advise all future Dawn owners to avoid the area known as Jumeirah Triangle as Jumeirah in this special case is apparently synonymous with Bermuda.
The Dawn’s acceleration is almost Fisker-like in its mild-mannered awesomeness— it boats 800 Nm of torque at 1500 rpm, but instead of a sports car’s roar and lunge the Dawn takes off like one of the disembodied spirits form which it takes its name, seeming to defy gravity and its close friend, friction. Not that the car mopes along, mind you, the twin-turbo 6.6-litre V12 lays 624 ponies at your feet, and the throttle response is articulate and immediate.
It’s hard to say goodbye, but even if the Dawn won’t grace my garage again any time soon, I’m pleased to know this topless whip is out there, prowling the roads, and giving those fortunate enough to afford a Rolls Royce, even more difficult decisions to ponder — assuming they can’t have one of each.