Haute Auto: Rolls-Royce Dawn

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Rolls-Royce Dawn

Dawn. Free associate the word and you’re likely to think…fresh start, the first light of day, new beginnings. In the case of Rolls Royce’s latest entry–the 2016 Dawn two-door, four-seat convertible–you might also link the word to the brand’s storied legacy. The vehicle’s creators drew on one terrific family tree that includes the 1952 Silver Dawn Drophead (convertible) Coupe, an auto considered to be the muse for this new model. A large and elegant car, the Silver Dawn was a predecessor to the Phantom and then the Silver Cloud, the latter a real cream puff of a vehicle that insulated its occupants with a quiet ride in luxurious splendor.

This 2016 two-door model is all that and much more. With a V-12 engine pumping out 563 horses and 575 foot-pounds of torque, this $335,000 (base price) car is surprisingly quick. It reaches 0-60 mph in under five seconds, which rivals the performance of 1960s muscle cars, yet it handles like a car with half its heft—a good thing given that it tips the scales at 5,644 pounds. The handling gurus from Rolls-Royce, likely with expertise imported from BMW, the German parent company, figured out a great way to make a car that rides on a cloud yet corners like it’s on rails. How do I know this?

Let’s take a small step back to the Rolls-Royce launch that introduced a lucky few journalists to the newest R-R offspring. The event was staged at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, a wonderfully luxurious retreat. (The 195-room hotel has 38 suites and 17 villas that rent for $575 to $9,750 a night. The staff’s attention to detail and to the guests’ every need is legendary.) At the launch, the bevy of Dawns in the hotel driveway looked right at home positioned next to the “house car” (a Rolls Royce, of course) and a customer’s 1952 Silver Dawn Drophead Coupe, a classic convertible, liveried in stunning red and black.

Rolls-Royce Dawn

SINUOUS SWITCHBACKS

Each of the five Dawns present was allocated to journalist teams of two, with a suggested morning route wending its way to Malibu along some of the most sinuous roads in the Santa Monica Mountains. Being a third-generation Los Angeles native, I know the area well, thanks to decades of riding an assortment of vintage Triumph Bonnevilles that I’ve owned over the years.

My first reaction to the route was concern that this drop-top boulevardier might be a tad too heavy and a skosh wide in the hips for the multitude of switchbacks and reverse-camber threads of asphalt we were about to encounter. I should have known better. With the state-of-the-art suspension and the Satellite-Aided Transmission (SAT) communicating with its own GPS, the Dawn is the epitome of a smooth highway cruiser and . . . wait for it . . . a surprising canyon carver. There, I’ve said it. This car, weighing in at nearly three tonnes, took all the steering input we could throw at it when entering corners at speeds well above what’s prudent. We not only lived to tell the tale but actually enjoyed how the car reacted with surprising aplomb.

Of course, being journalists on a romp (I mean, test drive), there was the obligatory jest or two. When we stopped at a light, we just had to ask the wordsmith in the next car for some Grey Poupon, and it all felt deliciously right. The perfect confluence of a beautiful design, gobs of power, sumptuous leathers and woods, and a superb sound system enveloped our wonderfully decadent drive—fast, smooth, quiet, comfortable, elegant yet moving with great speed and poise.

TO XANADU

The afternoon divide was spent at Olivia Newton John’s former home, Xanadu House, on the beach in Malibu, a scone’s throw from Geoffrey’s. There, as part of The Peninsula Beverly Hills’ “Academy,” the hotel’s world-renowned chef, David Codney, and his staff prepared an incredible lunch, one that could have competed with most any fine-dining experience in the world. Yet this was set up feet from the sand as the most luxurious beach party imaginable. One can easily see why Rolls-Royce is the house car of The Peninsula Hotels worldwide—the two brands share an outstanding attention to detail, warmth and comfortable opulence.

Our lunch over, we rolled down more of the Pacific Coast Highway, more canyon curves and straightaways, navigating at speeds that perhaps exceeded the local limits (although it was hard to tell because no speed felt unreasonable), and we ended our day at The Peninsula Beverly Hills’ recently redone restaurant, The Belvedere. While we had all marveled at a lunch that was more delicious than we could expect, the dinner was at another level entirely. Chef Codney was again at the helm producing a tasting menu for us of his greatest creations. Each dish was better than the last; they were not overwrought dishes made to impress, but Cordon Bleu–style comfort food unlike anything we had ever experienced.

We ended the day as we began, in awe of the ultimate wonderfulness of Rolls-Royce and The Peninsula Beverly Hills, recalling the otherworldly experience of rolling perfection bracketed by transcendent meals. Living just a day with the new 2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn really did make me want to be a better man.

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