Driving the $416,100 Rolls-Royce Dawn Through an Earthquake
Five ways the end of civilization can actually feel civilized.
At 10:02pm on Tuesday, January 23, I drove a Rolls-Royce Dawn with the top down through an earthquake. The quake epicenter, just south of my location in San Francisco, measured 3.6 on the Richter scale; a minute later, a 2.7 aftershock hit. In retrospect, that’s a novel way to test drive a vehicle, especially a Rolls-Royce—which bills itself as a kind of magic carpet ride—and I’d like to say I did it all on purpose. In fact, it happened by chance, and I didn’t even find out until the following morning. The Dawn’s suspension sucked up the quake with aplomb. It was as if it had never even happened.
That’s what you’d expect from a Rolls, right? Especially the Dawn, which debuted at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show and bills itself as the “sexiest Rolls-Royce ever built.” I ended up driving the car for three days, and came up with some other conclusions. Here are five takeaways.
1. The whole world needs to get the bleep out of your way
Let’s address the purple elephant in the room now. There is no greater symbol on earth of disposable wealth than a new Rolls-Royce. How are you supposed to feel while operating one of these automobiles in public? You make eye contact at a red light with the guy next to you, who’s driving a mufflerless Saturn. Your car is worth more than he is likely to earn this year, maybe in his entire lifetime. The headlights have heated power washers built in. The seats have heated massage systems. I have to admit: I felt extremely self-conscious, like I needed to apologize to others on the road. I wanted to yell out: “I’m a Jeffersonian Democrat, I swear!” But that sensation quickly disappeared because 1) I was having too much fun to get lost in inner-dialog and 2) this car really does make you feel superior. There is a transformation that happens. You become that guy. If you are better than everyone else and you can afford to let everyone know, this is your automobile.
2. The Rolls-Royce Dawn is big enough to live in
Imagine what a Rolls-Royce interior should be circa 2018. This is better. The Dawn’s pricetag is roughly $416,100. Which means, according to Zillow statistics, the vehicle costs pretty close to what the average house costs in Reston, Virginia—home of Rolls-Royce’s U.S. headquarters. The interior is more finely-appointed than most homes I have seen, and it feels bigger than many studio apartments I have lived in (passenger volume is 100 cubic feet). The company lays claim to having the finest woodworkers on the payroll, and it’s evident here in the “Canadel” wood paneling (named for a French estate once owned by Henry Royce himself). My test drive’s interior scheme featured no less than three colors I have never seen or heard of anywhere else: moccasin, dark spice, and consort red. The “Spirit of Ecstacy Rotary Controller” puts a Bespoke Audio system with 16 speakers total in your paw with acoustics that make you feel like an orchestra is in the back seats playing live. You feel the leather on your skin and the tickle of the shag rug in your toes and you start to realize how a car can cost as much as a house. Finally, there’s that drop-top, which flips down in seconds and tucks neatly in the trunk. Rolls-Royce calls this car the quietest open-top car ever made. Sounds pretty factual to me.
3. It's really fast
There is a unique thrill in driving a car that weighs 5,776 pounds and can hammer from naught to 60 in 4.3 seconds, a road yacht with more horsepower (at 563) than a 2018 Shelby Mustang GT350. But what is even more thrilling than the power is the way it is delivered. Twin-turbo DOHC aluminum 6.6-liter V12, direct injection, eight-speed ZF automatic, 575 lb.-ft. of torque—all of this comes together in utter silence. You hear and feel almost nothing unless you really hammer the throttle. You don’t even feel bumps in the road; for you, they don’t exist. For a vehicle that can rocket to 155 mph, this is the anti-sports car, in a good way.
4. Driving the Dawn makes you a member of a very distinguished club
Exclusivity is Rolls-Royce’s calling card. The company saw 3,362 cars commissioned by customers in 2017 in nearly 50 nations. Compare that to the 9.1 million vehicles Toyota rolled out in the same period. The biggest market for Rolls-Royce? No, it’s not the Mideast or China, it’s right here in the U.S.A., home of the almighty dollar. Here in America, the highway is like a party to which anyone is invited. It’s nice to be wearing something truly unique.
5. The rest of the world doesn't matter
The whole point of the Dawn is that it is meant to sweep you up out of your reality and suspend you in pleasure and peace. Car companies claw over themselves these days to inform you of all the technology in their vehicles; this one has no Wi-Fi hotspot, nor will it park itself. In fact, I had a hell of a time finding a USB port to plug in my phone. You are not meant to be worried about such trifling things. This car is not futuristic. It’s more a nod to the luxury of the past with marvelously modern engineering, an unapologetic anachronism with an ass-kicking engine. In a word: timeless. For the tiny fraction of a percent of people on this earth that can afford a car like this, why be shy? All the power to you.
A.J. Baime is the author of Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans and The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World.