Review: Rolls-Royce Dawn Convertible: A first (and final) ride

TRADITIONAL STYLING: The Dawn has a traditional square Rolls-Royce grille, long hood, large and luxurious cabin, and relatively short and muscular rear styling.
TRADITIONAL STYLING: The Dawn has a traditional square Rolls-Royce grille, long hood, large and luxurious cabin, and relatively short and muscular rear styling.
Bill Griffith

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For the past 15 years, I’ve had a running joke with Mr. Cliff, the fellow who sends me test vehicles.

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I’ll ask, “What’s coming my way?”

He’ll respond, “Oh, there’s nothing much around except a Rolls Canardly.”

The first time he hit me with that, I walked into his trap, answering, “What’s a Rolls Canardly?”

I still imagine him repressing a howl of laughter as he responded, “Well, it rolls, but it canardly stop.”

He’d found another victim.

A week ago, he called to say, “Well, I’ve got a Rolls coming your way tomorrow, but this time it isn’t the Canardly.”

Instead it was a 2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn Convertible.

Somehow, reviewing a Rolls-Royce isn’t quite the same as spending a week with a Ford F-150 or Toyota Prius.

For starters, you’re not likely to be taking the Rolls to the supermarket, lumber yard, or compost dump. Instead, we went to a memorial service.

Bob Gordon, a good friend going back to our junior high school days in Melrose, died in San Francisco last April. His family came East to inter his ashes in Marblehead last Saturday.

So … why did a Rolls arrive in my driveway one day before? Somehow, I couldn’t believe it was a coincidence. Divine intervention? Maybe. Bob wanting to ride in a Rolls? Likely.

Over two decades of writing about autos, I estimate I’ve been behind the wheel of at least 1,000 vehicles—but not one was a Rolls (or, for the record, a Tesla).

Can someone reach out from beyond the grave and make something happen? On one level, logic says no; on another level, it’s easy to believe something out of the norm was happening here.

The Flying Lady, known as the Spirit of Ecstasy, has been RR’s signature ornament for a century. The present version will retract into the hood if bumped from any direction. It’s also lit at night.
The Flying Lady, known as the Spirit of Ecstasy, has been RR’s signature ornament for a century. The present version will retract into the hood if bumped from any direction. It’s also lit at night.
Bill Griffith

So I found myself emailing Bob’s daughter, Katie, telling her I knew her dad would have loved the thought of his final ride being in a Rolls. The family agreed he would have loved the trip, so two of his children—Julia and Arly, holding the box with his ashes—rode in the Rolls. The parade pace, following the flower car and hearse from Salem to the Waterside Cemetery in Marblehead allowed us to share stories and savor the time.

It seemed a fitting conclusion to a life bookended by automobiles. In high school, we often rode in my ’54 Ford, with its distinct lack of power, leaky rear main engine seal, drafty convertible top, and reluctance to start any time the temperature dropped below 30 degrees.

The Rolls showed what a difference 60 years of automotive advances have wrought.

Of course, it should have. The Rolls still stands apart as the epitome of old-style auto-building.

The long (201.8 inches) and heavy (5,644 pounds) convertible is powered by a twin-turbo V-12 engine making 563 horsepower that goes to the rear wheels via an eight-speed transmission.

It all happens quietly and effortlessly.

The reverse-hinged doors are hefty, but swing wide to allow access to the rear seats. R-R says rear passengers can stand and disembark as if from a motor launch. Well, our lithe 20-something passengers had no trouble exiting though a hand from their chauffer didn’t hurt. There’s just enough space back there, but it’s far short of “limo-like.”

In what Rolls calls “The Silent Ballet,” the top seamlessly retracts in 22 seconds.

With the top up, the Dawn is as quiet as a luxury sedan, arguably the quietest convertible on the road.

For that, the folks in Goodwood, England, can thank Haartz, the Acton-based worldwide leader in convertible top and interior materials.

“This is our Twillfast ® CR (crease resistant) acrylic topping,” says Doug Haartz. “During the development of the Dawn program, RR came to us with a concern over crease marks in the top after storage. We developed a special top material construction that has better initial crease resistance and also better recovery properties to allow fewer wrinkles in the top cover.

OPEN SESAME: The Dawn’s front-opening doors give entrée to the leather, wood, and lambs’ wool carpet in the 2-2 seating area. Note the umbrella concealed in the front driver’s side doorframe.
OPEN SESAME: The Dawn’s front-opening doors give entrée to the leather, wood, and lambs’ wool carpet in the 2-2 seating area.
Bill Griffith

“This top material also has better acoustic properties. Combine that with the additional mattress pad and headliner, and the top is one of the quietest in the industry if not the quietest.”

The company says the small rear glass adds a sense of privacy. An outsider would say it hinders visibility but the rearview camera with 360-degree birds’-eye view give the driver a sense of security—as much as one can feel relaxed while driving in a $400,000 vehicle.

People asked about gas mileage. Rolls says it’s 13.2 in city driving, 28.5 on the highway, and 20 combined. We didn’t cover enough miles for a proper test—stopping for folks to take selfies and idling.

The Dawn has an umbrella concealed in the front driver’s side doorframe.
The Dawn has an umbrella concealed in the front driver’s side doorframe.
Bill Griffith

The base price is $335,000 and our Midnight Sapphire with Blue Ice hood version listed for $402,675 with options including driver assist systems, lambswool mats, Bespoke audio, and 10-spoke polished wheels.

Standard features included a touch-pad controller because Rolls doesn’t want fingerprints all over the 10.25-inch center display.

In checking controls and pushing buttons, we found Rolls owners still have a full-sized umbrella that fits into the left fender and is easily accessed by the push of a button with the front-opening door style.

All told, the perfect vehicle for Bob’s final ride.

[You can find local deals on Rolls-Royce here].

2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn Convertible

THE BASICS

Price, base/as tested (with destination): $335,000 / $402,675. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 13 city / 28 highway / 20 combined. Fuel economy, Globe observed: n/a. Drivetrain: 6.6-liter V-12 twin turbo, 8-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive. Body: 2+2, 2-door Convertible.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 563. Torque: 575 lb.-ft. Overall length: 208.1 in. Wheelbase: 122.5 in. Height: 59.1 in. Width: 76.7 in. Curb weight: 5,644.

THE GOOD

Tradition, effortless performance, flawless ride, uber luxury and amenities.

THE BAD

Some controls can be confusing. R-R has eschewed a touchscreen (“We don’t want fingerprints”) in favor of a rotary dial system that works reasonably well.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It was worth a 20-year wait.

ALSO CONSIDER

The Rolls, as its makers intended, is in a class by itself.