Goodwood, Sussex - When dashing aviation pioneer the Honourable Charles Rolls went into partnership with perfectionist railway engineer Henry Royce to build “the world's best car” in December 1904, what they had in mind was a big open touring car, later immortalised as the Silver Ghost.
Since then, however, luxury convertibles have mostly dwindled into, at best, 2+2 seaters, with cramped rear accommodation squashed between the front seats and the roof mechanism.
Now Rolls-Royce has brought the 'luxury open tourer' concept right up to date with the new Dawn four-seater convertible, revealed at Goodwood.
It's a big car - 5285mm long overall, of classic proportions, with a long bonnet over a very short front overhang and the cockpit set low over a long, elegant rear treatment.
In contrast to the bluff front elevation of recent Rolls-Royce designs, the grille of the Dawn has been recessed about 45mm and the front bumper cantilevered out 53mm, for a more sculpted and sportier appearance.
MAGIC CARPET RIDE
The electrically-powered multi-layer fabric roof is not only as quiet as the hard-top Wraith when it's up (thanks to a specially developed way of sewing the panels together that almost eliminates wind roar) but also practically silent in operation, opening or closing in 22 seconds at up to 50km/h.
Even the 20 inch tyres have been specifically designed to provide the 'magic carpet ride' that the founders insisted on.
A stainless-steel waistline trim, incorporating the third brake-light, wraps around the cabin, matching the stainless-steel door handles, polished rims, and front and rear bumper trim, defining the Canadel wooden panelling of the deck, which flows down between the individual rear seats and is repeated in the interior door panels.
The signature 'coach' doors, opening to the rear, make getting out of the rear seats as elegant a manoeuvre as stepping ashore from a Riva motor launch - but they also make the A pillar stronger and the body stiffer - both crucial in big convertibles.
MORE THAN ADEQUATE
Time was when a Rolls-Royce staff member, asked about the power output of the cars, would murmur “Adequate, sir”, and change the subject.
The Dawn's proven 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12, however, is quoted at 420kW, turning a leisurely 5250 times a minute, with 780Nm available at 1500rpm to take it from 0-100km/h in just 4.9 seconds, driving the rear wheels via an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Top speed is limited to 250km/h.
Satellite aided transmission uses GPS data to see beyond what the driver can see and anticipate your next move, based on location and driving style. I'll use the information to change into the right gear to power smoothly through a blind corner, and hold it there until you relax on the next straight.
The car's infotainment suite is focused around a 10.25 inch colour display (not a touch-screen, which might show grubby finger-marks in the wrong light) and a rotary controller with a touchpad on its flat upper surface.
This not only reads the characters and numbers you draw on it, it recognises 'pull and pinch' smartphone gestures and is also fluent in Arabic and Mandarin.
Or just press the voice command button on the steering wheel and say “Navigate to St Tropez” and the car will plot the smoothest, most hassle-free route to get you there.
The automatic cruise control reads the traffic patterns ahead of you and keeps a median rather than an exact distance away from the car in front so that you glide smoothly through the heaviest traffic.
Infra-red night-vision equipment warns you of pedestrian or animal heat signatures, while even the headlights use fixed LED light sources on electronically controlled reflectors to follow the movements of the steering wheel, lighting up the inside of every corner, while automatically swivelling away from oncoming traffic to avoid dazzling other road users.