When an automobile executive says, “We’re not a car company. We’re a luxury company. We build a lifestyle,” my skepticism alarm sounds. But when that company is Rolls-Royce, there’s clearly some substance to the notion. At the invitation of this automaker, I found myself in Wyoming a few months ago, along with half a dozen other scribes, for a grand tour of that lifestyle in the new Rolls-Royce Dawn, a four-seat convertible with generous room in the back for two adults.
Our odyssey began in Sheridan, a delightful small town in the central north of the state, and would end in the better-known Jackson Hole, an eight-hour drive (with stops) west-southwest on wide-open empty roads through flat valleys and winding mountain passes flanked by shimmering lakes, jagged young peaks, and buffalo, elk, and antelope—a feast for the senses with the top down.
This car is not about numbers, but rattling off five up front sets the stage for its story: the 563-hp twin-turbo V12 and the 605 lb-ft of torque it produces from as little as 1500 rpm is more than up to the task of enthusiastically propelling three tons. Despite the “supercar” makers’ noble quest for achieving power loading of ever fewer pounds per horsepower, heft can be a wonderful thing in a luxury touring car. Done right, it makes for a motoring experience like no other; done wrong, and you feel as if you’re in a 1970s Detroit prairie schooner with flabby damping, terrifying understeer and wallow, and an all-around bloated lethargy.
For the tour Rolls-Royce had planned—embracing all manner of roads from Sheridan to Cody for lunch, to Yellowstone, and on to Jackson Hole—the Dawn was ideal. It lacks the overbearing bulk of the otherwise desirable Phantom Drophead Coupé. The Dawn’s V12 drives the rear wheels through an eight-speed transmission that is essentially seamless. (I hesitate to use a word so hackneyed but it applies.) Drawing on GPS and a database of roads and the terrain beneath them, the car even knows when it is approaching an incline or down gradient and adjusts the shift map accordingly. Had I not been told about this artfully camouflaged system, I would never have known it was there.
Back to that bloated lethargy thing: there’s not one trace of it in the Dawn. The suspension supporting all this heft flattens out wrinkles and undulations in the blacktop like a steam iron, and when I tackled the twisties with gusto in the mountains, it propped up the stressed corners with a precision, authority, and assertiveness I wasn’t expecting. If you feel compelled to throw the Dawn around, it will play along to an extent that will surprise you. But that’s not the point of this car. It’s the antithesis of the taut, high-strung fire-breathers that telegraph their stress to the driver and leave this 61-year-old wrung out after a couple of hours.
If you get stuck behind a motorhome, as we did on a few occasions, and espy a passing opportunity, the V12 launches those three tons of aluminum, leather, and wood around the temporary obstruction with the relentless turbine-smooth shove that only a dozen cylinders can generate. One word sums up the Dawn experience: effortless. Step hard on the gas and you’re vaguely aware of some muffled commotion beyond your toes and the thick-pile lambswool carpeting, but the overwhelming sensation is one of smooth, silent thrust producing the acceleration of a lightly loaded jet. As on all Rolls-Royces, there is no tachometer, only a “power reserve” indicator, which shows how much gallop from the 563 horses remains on tap; while we were cruising at 80, the needle barely budged off 100 percent.
Virginia may be for lovers, but Wyoming is for drivers. During a burst of serious velocity with the top down on a long stretch of straight, open, flat, unoccupied, and uninhabited road, I had to raise my voice only slightly to converse with my co-driver, the affable auto and travel journalist Harvey Briggs. Had it not been for the occasional glance at the speedometer and the obvious rapidity the passing scenery had acquired in my peripheral vision, I would have had no indication of the speed territory we’d entered: no wheel shudder, no mechanical distress in the engine room, no float, no change in how well that magnificent suspension ironed the Earth’s crust. Among luxury cruisers, the Bentley Mulsanne is the only other car I’ve driven whose suspension comes close to that of a modern Rolls.
The engineers who made all this unintrusive mechanical stuff work so well are no less artisans than the people who meticulously tanned, cut, stitched, book-matched, sanded, polished, and flawlessly assembled the living quarters. To combine all this opulence and mechanical excellence on one set of wheels is an extraordinary achievement, a credit not only to the workers in Goodwood, England, and Germany but also to BMW management for demonstrating the fortitude to foster such an enterprise. When BMW bought the rights to the Rolls-Royce brand of motorcars from Vickers in 1998, the claim to being “the best car in the world” had gone silent because it had been hollow for many years. BMW has turned that around dramatically, and a Roller these days could legitimately claim once again to be the best—were there still a place for such an unqualified boast, coined a century ago.
When we arrived in Jackson Hole, 330 miles from Sheridan, I could have driven the Dawn another thousand miles. For me, it is the best long-distance touring car in the world. I’ve driven a Veyron, a 599, a V12 Aston, an Exige, and many other high-end cars, but on a long road through breathtaking scenery, there’s no place I’d rather be than at the wheel of the Dawn.
Nigel Moll (firstname.lastname@example.org), who founded Business Jet Traveler’s Low-Level Flying feature, is a longtime auto enthusiast and the editor of BJT sister publication Aviation International News.