The launch of a new Rolls-Royce isn't something that happens with a great deal of regularity. When you're the epitome of luxury, announcing a new model of motor car is something of a celebration, a chance to show the world your craftsmanship and reassert your position.
For Rolls-Royce, a new car means balancing heritage and tradition with contemporary desirability. For a company like Rolls-Royce, stepping away from the image of an older gentleman's car, to one with wider universal appeal, is as important as sticking to the principles that make Rolls-Royce what it is.
With that we welcome both a metaphorical and literal new Dawn, a car described as "the most relaxed" Rolls-Royce ever made.
Rolls-Royce Dawn preview: Design
The Rolls-Royce Dawn is a new drophead coupé. The name comes from the 1952 Silver Dawn drophead, of which only 28 were ever made. But there's a very real sense that the new Dawn owes a lot to the Rolls-Royce Wraith. The sporty lines of the Wraith are reflected in Dawn, although Rolls-Royce is quick to dispel that connection, telling us that 80 per cent of the Dawn's panels are unique to this car.
But even if the Dawn isn't a drophead (drophead is RR speak for convertible) version of the Wraith, we can't help feeling that it wants to appeal to the same people. These are cars designed to carefully set aside a stereotype and draw the admiring glances of those who might be looking to spend their luxury car cash elsewhere, perhaps on something like the Bentley Continental GT Convertible.
Sir Henry Rolls, co-founder of Rolls-Royce, said to "strive for perfection in everything you do." Luxury is about not making compromise and Rolls-Royce stays true to that ideal. Just as we saw from Vertu's luxury smartphones (that uses ruby underneath the keyboard because it gives the right feel, natch), the Rolls-Royce Dawn doesn't make compromises. And one of the areas that Rolls-Royce has refused to compromise is in the rear passenger seats.
That might seem like a strange place to start talking about this new car, but it's an important point. Many coupés offer a 2+2 configuration where the rear seats will never really be comfortable or practical. The generous dimensions of Dawn mean that there's legroom for adults in the rear and plenty of comfort.
That's why Rolls-Royce is saying this is the most sociable car ever, because you can stick four adults in and motor off over the horizon. Nevermind the fact that this car is huge: it's a Rolls-Royce and you're unlikely to be considering if you'll be able to squeeze it into the local Sainsbury's car park.
There's a muscular low-slung elegance to the Dawn that gives it a sporty edge. The front has been softened slightly around the grill so it's "less monolithic" in Rolls-Royce's words, but you'll know what it is when you see it in your rear view mirror, as the front is still fairly angular. It has something of a scowl from those smart LED headlights that borrow the styling from the front of the Ghost.
But the softer curves of the shoulders running to the rear give the impression of muscle, meeting a rear end that curves off over the boot. There's plenty of heritage to marvel at and with the roof down, the wood decking reminds us of luxury yachts, a throwback to some of the marvellous cars of the 1920s.
The aim was to create a car that's as good looking with the roof up as it is down. We think it looks better with the roof open. Rolls-Royce opted for a canvas roof, saying that a folding metal roof is a compromise. However, the company is also making the claim that it's as quiet as the Wraith with the roof up, so you don't feel like you're losing out for opting for the drophead.
That roof will fold away in 20 seconds, it's almost silent in doing so and can be stowed at speeds up to 30mph.
Then you have the coach style doors, opening from the rear, rather than the front. They're unique, dripping in character, with Rolls-Royce saying that they will allow the rear passengers to elegantly step from the car, rather than unfolding themselves from the back seat. There's an incredible solidity to them too, from the substantial stainless steel handles, to the fusion of leather and wood. Closing this door is a bit like closing the thick steel door on a bank vault, and probably sounds the same too.
Importantly you still get a boot. The sizeable 21-inch wheels and arches eat a lot of the rear space, as does the roof mechanism and stowage, so the boot at floor level extends into the space between the rear seats, meaning you can get your golf clubs in. That's the yardstick for practicality here.
Rolls-Royce Dawn preview: Let the sunshine out
The Dawn's hero pairing on its showcase model is a Mandarin leather interior with a Midnight Sapphire exterior. This carries the Dawn metaphor further, from the deep inky darkness of that paint job, to the vibrant sunrise of the interior. Drop the top and you're greeted with an entirely different character of car. This isn't a conservative grey or safe black interior, it's an explosion of youthful personality.
That's just Rolls-Royce having some fun with the launch. You can have this car in any colour you want. You can have bespoke paint colours, with Rolls-Royce telling us that it has previously colour matched a favourite pair of shoes, and even the coat of a red setter dog, on customer request. You can have coachlines hand painted on the side, bespoke stitching or embroidery, or you can have designs tattooed into the leather.
Slipping into the cossetted interior of the Dawn, the luxury is almost overpowering. Again, you specify the colour of the leather you want (unless you want another material, like Tweed or silk) and it's everywhere. It's a wonderful fusion of metal, leather and wood veneer all built to your specification, by hand, and finished to the highest standard.
The devil is in the detail, with small things like the symmetry of the grain running away from the centre line. Rolls-Royce hand-picks the trees it uses (around 4000 a year from sustainable sources), and manufactures the veneer panels for each car at its workshop in Goodwood. All the wood for one car comes from one tree, to ensure it ages the same way too.
The four sporty bucket seats are supremely comfortable, and the interior controls fuse traditional switchgear with contemporary functionality. The central Spirit of Ecstasy Rotary Controller (or dial, as you might call it) offers trace entry, so you can trace in letters when you're not using voice, as well as offering rotation and nagivation through the infortainment system.
We've seen the trace system in BMW previously, so we suspect it's very much the same strong performer here. It also recognises Arabic and Mandarin characters, a big nod some of RR's biggest markets. The 10.25-inch display discreetly hides behind a wood panel in the dash and isn't touch enabled, but you get all the trimmings like satnav, adaptive cruise control with radar and cameras, anti-dazzle headlights and Satellite Aided Transmission that adapts the gearing depending on where you're just about to drive.
Rolls-Royce Dawn preview: Under the hood
Sitting in the driver's seat, the dials of the Rolls-Royce Dawn look as though they've stuck to conservative norms. There's no digital display, rather a collection of art deco dials that should look out of place, but don't. The steering wheel is not drawn away into the sporty ambitions the rest of the car dictates - especially those seats - and set your hands on the wheel and you can't help but notice just how big it is.
In many ways the interior is a fusing of the old and new, a mashup of modern convenience with tradition. Rolls-Royce might be looking to a new, younger, customer, but it has a firm grip on some of those heritage elements and we love how the design fuses some of the those deco elements with some things thoroughly modern.
Pop the substantial bonnet and you're greeted with the twin-turbo 6.6-litre Rolls-Royce V12 petrol engine, giving you 570PS, mated to the 8-speed ZF gearbox. It's limited to 155mph and it will propel itself to 62mph in 4.9 seconds.
If you can afford a Rolls-Royce Dawn (and RR didn't want to put a price on it at the UK unveiling) then you might not be worried about fuel economy. The figure of 19.9mpg on a combined cycle and emissions of 330g/km will probably put a smirk on your face. For all the care that goes into selecting the best bull hide for the leather, or picking the best wood for the job, this is where Dawn will make its impact on the environment.
The Rolls-Royce Dawn steps out to throw off a slightly stuffy image, to bring vibrancy to a luxury car marque that's the very definition of quality. It's a mating of the old and new, embracing traditional techniques and presenting them with contemporary style.
The new drophead coupé is distinctly Rolls-Royce from the front with traditional style and substance in profile. But its the interior we're really taken with. As much as the exterior makes a statement for others, the interior is welcoming, comforting and enveloping place.
For those who have, there's a world of sports and luxury cars to choose from. But as one of the guides from Rolls-Royce said to us: "when you buy a Rolls-Royce, you're not buying a car. You're buying the ultimate accessory, a piece of art."
We probably don't need to mention that it will cost you around £220,000.