A Rolls-Royce Test Drive in Crimea

Courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars

On a drive from Sevastopol to Yalta, the updated Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe carves a top-down path between the Crimean Mountains and the Black Sea.

The last time the British had a significant presence in Crimea, Ukraine, the occasion was immortalized by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” which was set during a war in the 1850s that also involved France, Russia and Turkey. So when a Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe showed up on the road between Sevastopol and Yalta recently, it turned a lot of heads. Fortunately, what was once known as the Valley of Death is now peaceful farmland. The majestic Crimean Mountains on one side and the beautiful Black Sea on the other framed the entire journey.

“Drophead coupe” is a Britishism that translates to “convertible” for those who drive on the right side of the road—and that includes drivers in Crimea, a peninsula in Ukraine’s southern region that served as the old Soviet Union’s Riviera back during the Cold War. The Russian influence remains strong here, however, and the area still draws visits from people like Russian president Vladimir Putin. Road signs are in both the Russian and Ukrainian versions of the Cyrillic alphabet. Monuments to Communism still litter the landscape. For Americans, Crimea is like an open-air Cold War museum.

Rolls-Royce also has a long history, but the new 2013 Phantom Series II, of which the Drophead Coupe is one model ($469,900), shows how the famous female figurine mounted on the hood called Spirit of Ecstasy still cuts a modern silhouette. The look of the Drophead Coupe has been updated since its introduction in 2007, most noticeably by new rectangular headlights paired alongside the famous Pantheon grille. And with its teak decking, this luxury car is what should come to mind when one envisions a land yacht.

Under the hood, the Drophead Coupe’s V12 engine, aided by a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission, charged along the road between Sevastopol and Yalta at a pace that would have inspired Tennyson. Inside, the accommodations are as plush as expected, but there are a variety of technical enhancements that make the ride remarkably stable and comfortable even during sharp maneuvers. (Just don’t expect a sport mode.)

The Drophead Coupe also features modern touches like a 360-degree camera network that displays images on a large dash-mounted LCD screen. But it and the other electronic, navigation and communication systems don’t mar the dashboard woodwork with an overwhelming array of buttons. The display screen and the controller tuck discreetly away when not in use.

Of all the Phantom Series II permutations, the Drophead Coupe remains the most to fun to drive—and taking it through Crimea added an entirely new aspect of excitement.