Rolls-Royce Gets Down-To-Earth With New Dawn Drophead

After a century of making ultra-luxury cars mostly driven by men, Rolls-Royce is delivering a model a little less masculine.

The marque’s new Dawn drophead is configured to court a new group of customers: women. From its name to its size, Rolls-Royce calls the four-seater convertible its most accessible car yet.

“We are breaking into a new era for Rolls-Royce,” C.E.O. Torsten Müller-Ötvös told me over lunch last week in the gardens of the lush Delaire Graff Estate outside of Cape Town, where Rolls-Royce held the Dawn’s global launch.

The Rolls-Royce marketing machine has ascribed many words to the Dawn – sexy and social, foremost – so I decided to verify the portrayal for myself. I spent a day meandering through Cape Town and its otherworldly vineyards and ocean vistas in an attention-grabbing turchese and silver model. I had fun.

 

That’s good news for the British carmaker. Women comprise 15% of Rolls-Royce buyers, a proportion expected to rise now that the automaker has begun accepting orders for the Dawn, according to Müller-Ötvös. Meanwhile, the company is making headway in its bid to attract younger drivers. The average age of a Rolls-Royce buyer fell from 55 to 45 over the last seven years, a drop Müller-Ötvös called dramatic.

During the car’s reveal last week, Rolls-Royce emphasized what it considers a major selling point: you can fit three friends in it. “It’s a nice and sociable car for getting your friends in,” Müller-Ötvös said. To underscore this point, Rolls-Royce had my drive partner and I host the car’s designer and its lead publicist in the backseat, which, needless to say, was as much inside baseball as any Rolls-Royce driver could hope for.

But just because it’s accessible doesn’t make it affordable. The Dawn starts at $335,000, with early orders averaging $400,000 after adding amenities such as bespoke carpets and tread plates.

Less mystical in nomenclature than its Phantom, Ghost and Wraith counterparts, the Dawn symbolizes Rolls-Royce’s strategy to appeal to new segments of the uber-wealthy market while keeping the brand’s standard 6.6-liter V12 engine. Meanwhile, it will reveal a “disruptive” new series called Black Badge at the New York Auto Show tomorrow.

Perhaps the price can be justified given that the Dawn is also “two cars in one.” On a gorgeous day at the tail end of South Africa’s summer, we had occasion to transition the car from convertible to soft-top at the push of a button – a process that takes 22 seconds and can be completed at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. That’s how we noticed that the car is strikingly quiet (in fact, Rolls-Royce calls it “the quietest convertible in the world” owing to its multi-layered roof insulation), even while whipping around countryside cliffs.

The Dawn fills the hole in the Rolls-Royce lineup once the much larger Phantom drophead retires later this year. “It wouldn’t make sense to carry two convertibles,” Müller-Ötvös said. “Dawn is more casual and easier to drive.”

Meanwhile, the marque is speeding the cadence of its product launches as it tries to reach a wider audience. After maintaining the same lineup for seven years, Rolls-Royce introduced its first new model, the Ghost, in 2009 and the Wraith in 2013.

Rolls-Royce declined to say how many Dawns it will produce, but suffice to say, this year should bring more eye candy to the road.