Test Drive: 2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn Convertible

Courtesy Rolls Royce

The latest convertible coupe from the British car manufacturer makes top-down driving a dream. Just ask the passengers—they won’t even have to shout in agreement.

I’m at the Grassini Vineyard in a remote part of California’s Santa Ynez Valley where it is so quiet you can practically hear the grapes growing (813 Anacapa St. #6; 805-897-3366; grassinifamilyvineyards.com). I’m headed toward Santa Barbara and I have the top down on a new Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible. With 12 cylinders under the hood offering 563 horsepower, you’d expect to hear a roar that could knock the grapes off the vine. Thankfully, there will be no premature harvest today; the Dawn runs as smooth as chardonnay filling a glass.

A Rolls-Royce may conjure images of chauffeured luxury, but consider yourself deprived if you let someone else drive this two-door: The Dawn offers more fun behind the wheel than I ever expected. That may be because the Dawn is a little smaller than the Drophead Coupe convertible it replaces—and it’s certainly easier to maneuver. The Dawn is surprisingly quick, with a top speed of 155 miles per hour, and  the ability to rocket to 60 from a standing start in under five seconds. In practice, that means passing slower traffic on a two-lane road is an easy task. A driver’s aid, carried over from the Wraith, uses satellite tracking to determine the path ahead, delivering the data to the eight-speed transmission for smooth shifting. That may be partly why no matter how fast I drove, I never felt hurried.

Of course, it also helps that I’m sitting in a very plush interior with superbly comfortable Mandarin orange leather seats and a high beltline, making me feel secure and tucked in. It helps too that, even with the top down, wind noise isn’t noticeable until I start sailing beyond posted speed limits. The six-layer canvas cloth top, by the way, extends forward in about 20 seconds, creating a visual effect that captures the essence of the mid 20th-century Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn that inspired this new incarnation.

The keen-eyed also will spot some 1950s inspiration in the exterior design. For an extremely expensive car, the Dawn sports horizontal lines reminiscent of a low-slung hot rod: a wave channel emanating rearward from the wings of the Spirit of Ecstasy on the hood evokes a vapor trail—a design trait that recalls the advent of the Jet Age. (The look of most Rolls-Royce vehicles, by contrast, tends to emphasize the car’s height rather than its length.)

By now, the Grassini Vineyard is practically a memory. But not quite. I’m pulling up to Santa Barbara’s Belmond El Encanto Hotel (800 Alvarado Pl.; 805-845-5800; belmond.com) where a wine tasting on a deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean is waiting for me. I’ll be watching the sunset, but I’ll be thinking of the Dawn.

From $355,000; rolls-roycemotorcars.com.