Rolls-Royce Dawn Aero Cowling
From the age of three, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always "rock star".
Now, when I tell people what I actually do for a living, their reaction usually goes something like, "Sorry, you do what?"
It could be something to do with being female, or perhaps having a baby face (hopefully the latter). You may have guessed that I'm not a rock star. I'm a motoring journalist.
The first question I normally get is, "Do you see yourself as the next Jeremy Clarkson?" (please don't ask this if you ever meet me, the answer is no). Then follows, "What is the best car you've ever driven?"
I always really struggle to answer that one. With a penchant for classic cars but a love for new technology, my answer could easily be a 1959 Mustang or a 2018 Tesla Model S - two cars at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I guess it just depends on what side of the bed I woke up.
But recently I've started to develop a fondness for luxury cars. While they have not been the focus of my career (since my full-time job is reviewing cars for fleet managers), from the moment I laid my eyes on the new Rolls-Royce Dawn I fell in love. According to designer Giles Taylor, the objective of the open-top Wraith was to make its occupants look like rock stars - cue three year old Rachel.
At £292,850 with all of trimmings included, I may actually have to work on those rock star dreams if I want to one day afford the Dawn. As you can tell from my cheesy grin above, the Dawn I got my hands on as a test car was as dreamy as I imagined. Named after the ultra-rare 1950s Silver Dawn, it fills a newly emerging gap in Rolls’ portfolio: the Phantom Drophead Coupe won’t be replaced until 2018, leaving the Dawn to lead the charge for a younger, more dynamic clientele.
It may look like occupants are sitting in their grandad's armchair, and it really is that comfy, but what is it actually like to drive? Truth is, that's a bit of a trick question. It didn't take me long behind the wheel to learn that you don't drive a Rolls-Royce, you experience it. The ride is second to none, with little to no road noise from the huge 21-inch wheels and tyres.
Rolls-Royce claims the Dawn is very light, but then the 570-horsepower V12 convertible weighs more than 5,200 pounds, and you can really feel it, too. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as when turning a corner the steering feels light enough. In fact, there's astonishingly not much body roll at all.
As well as the drive being an experience, so is simply sitting in the cabin, where no passenger is short-changed, front or back. Every single person I picked up over my loan had the same reaction... "wow."
The bright white full leather interior from only the finest cows is one thing (also a pretty risky colour for a convertible of you ask me), but there are so many little details that take a while to sink in.
Worth mentioning is that almost everything on board is bespoke, such as the RR monogram printed on all headrests, front and back, the 'seashell' lambswool floor mats, the Spirit of Ecstasy which pops up to greet you when you unlock the car and is visible when you're driving along - always ensuring you have a smug little expression on your face. There are even bespoke umbrellas which I must admit I didn't even find, but I'm assured they're hiding in the doors somewhere.
Then there's the RR audio system. The 1,300-watt Bespoke Audio System enlists an 18-channel amplifier and 18 speakers. I can't even begin to list where they all are. Impressively, to ensure appropriate levels of volume at all times, a built-in microphone monitors ambient noise fluctuations and adjusts sound accordingly. Madness.
What isn't so bespoke, however, is the reclad BMW iDrive selector Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller placed in the centre console, just as the software showing on the screen is a reclad version of the interface in every BMW model. However, Rolls being Rolls has ensured the unsightly modern BMW touchscreen can be hidden from sight by a pretty impressive revolving slab of wood at the flick of a button. Of course, if you need the sat-nav for directions, want to see which radio station you want, or want to use most of the infotainment functions, the screen is a pretty vital thing to keep visible. As long as you can look beyond the label, though (which isn't a bad one anyway) the system works faultlessly, as you would expect in a Rolls-Royce, and BMW for that matter.
This Dawn has an interesting add-on too, named Aero Cowling, which transforms it from a four-seat cabriolet to a two-seat roadster. The modification involves fitting what Rolls calls a tonneau cover, but actually sits in front of the rear deck under which the folding roof mechanism stows. It covers the rear seats with a leather and carbon-fibre cowling to give the drophead coupe a sportier look. I'm not sure if it's a good idea or a bit of a silly one, but one thing is for certain is that it's a gadget I enjoyed playing around with.
The 6.6-litre V12 petrol engine is nothing like I've ever experienced before. The cabin is so well insulated, or it might be that the engine acoustics are so sweetly perfected, that I found myself checking if the engine was on with a little tap of my right foot. Even at motorway speeds, which feel a bit unnatural in such a cool cruiser, the engine shows off its piano dynamics. But don't let that fool you into thinking that the Dawn is a harmless pup. On a drive from London to Coventry, the Dawn averaged around 19mpg and emitted 326g/km of CO2...
Despite its colossal footprint, it's easy to appreciate that the engine is stunningly refined, probably because in-house engineers have spent years sculpting the way this car drives, allowing it to hide its bulk in a way few luxury convertibles can.
So apparently you should feel like a rock star in the Dawn. Bullshit. It's more Katherine Jenkins than Ozzy Osborne.