by Jared Rosenholtz
There's no shortage of exotic vehicles that cost more than the average US house, but the Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible stands out as a rather special one. Most convertible vehicles in this price range prioritize speed and performance, but the Dawn envelops its occupants with decadent luxury while presenting an elegant face to the outside world.
In the Rolls-Royce lineup, the Dawn is relatively outdated next to models like the Ghost, Cullinan, and Phantom, while compared to its closest rival, the Bentley Continental GT Convertible, it's downright ancient. Newer Rolls vehicles ride on the carmaker's contemporary Architecture of Luxury platform, while the Dawn still uses an older BMW setup shared with the previous-generation BMW 7 Series. Don't let this hold you back from buying one; the Dawn still relies on a silky 6.6-liter twin-turbo V12 engine producing up to 603 horsepower and 620 lb-ft of torque in Black Badge guise. It's mated to one of the finest eight-speed transmissions in the world, yielding an effortless driving experience. In the realm of drop-top luxury, the Rolls-Royce Dawn exists in a class of one.
2021 is the Rolls-Royce Dawn's final year in the US, so we spent a week with a Black Badge on review to see if it's still worth purchasing. Spoiler alert: it is.
There are no upgrades when buying a new Rolls-Royce Dawn for 2021. In fact, there's only bad news. The Dawn and its closed-top sibling Wraith are being axed at the end of the year. The platform that the pair is based on is now causing legislative issues in the USA, resulting in the decision to discontinue. However, the two models will be sold internationally for a further two years.
See trim levels and configurations:
While the Cullinan can blend in with certain circumstances, the same can't be said for the Dawn. The British manufacturer has a set design language dating back to the 2003 Phantom. A stately brick-like design, with smooth edges and a blunt snout. At the front, you get that signature hand-crafted grille design, dating back all the way to the beginning. Slim headlights are now a Rolls-Royce staple, and they work exceptionally well here. The rear is pure, elegant simplicity, with two subtle exhausts and relatively tiny taillights surrounded by metal. Rather than a trendy folding hardtop, the Rolls-Royce Dawn convertible calls upon an old-school soft top that raises or lowers in 22 seconds. An available Aero Cowling tonneau cover transforms the Dawn into a two-seater with a sleeker roofline. Buyers who opt for the Dawn Black Badge enjoy darker trim elements, such as the grille, badges, and Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament.
Rolls-Royce doesn't make small cars, even at the more accessible end of its model range. To refer to a Roller as "entry-level" seems wrong, even though the Dawn sits towards the lower end of the company's price ladder. The Dawn is based on the same platform as the Wraith, which borrowed some components from the F01 BMW 7 Series, discontinued in 2015. Rolls-Royce reworked the platform thoroughly, however. So much so that the wheelbases don't even match.
The Dawn has an overall length of 208 inches, riding on a 122.5-inch wheelbase. That's longer than many midsize SUVs. It's 76.7 inches wide, 59.3 inches tall, and has a curb weight of a whopping 5,644 pounds.
The possibilities are endless. In addition to browsing the existing color palette, you can select a coachline color and whether you want twin coachlines or a two-tone feature line. There are also nine hood colors to choose from, ranging from a tasteful basic black, beige or blue, to the simply outrageous Mandarin orange. There isn't enough space here to list every single color. Still, we can tell you that the palette is broken up into five categories: Standard, Commissioned Collection, Special Order, Crystal Finish, and Iced Finish. Each category has at least nine colors to choose from. Since this is a bespoke product, Royce will also do paint to sample. If you want a Dawn that matches the 1971 Silver Shadow already in the garage, Rolls-Royce can do that for you. Our Dawn Black Badge showed up wearing a wild orange hue called Saint Tropez, making sure every single head turned as we drove past in it.
A twin-turbocharged 6.6-liter V12 powers the Dawn. Sounds epic, right? It is. The power is sent to a rear-wheel drive system via an eight-speed automatic transmission featuring nearly imperceptibly smooth shifts. Though the Dawn weighs more than most three-row SUVs, it scoots to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, or 4.6 seconds in Black Badge specification with more power and torque. Both versions will silently waft around at their top speed - an electronically governed 155 mph - with little effort.
We wouldn't call the Dawn a performance vehicle, but it has more sporting pretensions than the four-door Rollers. A Bentley Continental GT Convertible would out-accelerate it, but Rollers have never been about outright performance or providing scary nausea-inducing acceleration. In fact, there's a slight delay in the throttle to ensure maximum acceleration smoothness. The engine provides all of its torque between 1,500 rpm and 4,750 rpm (1,650 rpm in the Black Badge), meaning the power reserve gauge (what you get in lieu of a tachometer) rarely dips past 80% under normal driving. Few cars can move along with such ease, which is why the Dawn commands the big bucks.
The twin-turbo 6.6L V12 produces 563 hp and 605 lb-ft of torque in standard guise. Those numbers jump to 603 hp and 620 lb-ft of torque in the Black Badge as we had on test. We've never heard 12 cylinders sound so quiet, as the Dawn barely sounds like it has an engine when driving along moderately. If, however, you're in the mood for some uncouth driving, the V12 emits a smooth rumble at full tilt that feels elegant yet somehow sporty.
An eight-speed automatic is in charge of transferring all of it to a RWD system with no AWD option, with sportier tuning on the Black Badge model. There are no driving modes to choose from, save for a low transmission mode that dials in slightly more aggressive shifts. Aside from that, you get drive, reverse, and park. This doesn't mean the gearbox doesn't have some trickery up its sleeve. It works in conjunction with the GPS, so it knows when a corner or uphill is imminent. If a downshift is required, the car will handle it before you even need a lower gear. There is no need for pedestrian paddle shifters here, as the Dawn simply wants you to sit back and enjoy the pinnacle of open-top motoring.
More than any other vehicle in the Rolls-Royce lineup, the Dawn begs to be driven rather than driven in. The steering is the typical Roll-Royce feather-light affair, but there's a genuinely direct connection to the road with no vagueness. There's a slight delay from the throttle, which is likely put there to stop occupants from spilling their sparkling water. It's not meant for performance driving, but the Dawn can get up to speed in a hurry. We enjoyed putting the transmission into its low setting to hear the dignified growl from the turbocharged V12 with the roof down. Stopping it, even with the Black Badge's larger brakes proves to be a bigger challenge, as bringing this much weight to a speedy halt feels like a war with physics.
Speaking of the roof, the Dawn is easily the quietest convertible we've ever been in, and even with the roof lowered and the double-thick windows up, the wind disturbance in the cabin is minimal. Comfortable driving is this car's forte, and it does so with more grace than nearly any other car on the market. Bumps are more or less erased by the pillowy suspension, but you can feel the road a bit more than other Rollers. From the driver's seat, the Dawn is our favorite Rolls-Royce.
All that power comes at a price. According to the EPA, the 2021 Dawn is capable of 12/18/14 mpg city/highway/combined in either configuration. Not that it matters. If you can afford this car, its fuel consumption figures are of little concern, nor is the premium gasoline requirement. We couldn't even find the fuel economy setting in the trip computer. What matters is how far you can go between refills because gas station visits are second only to the DMV. It's bad news, unfortunately. Even with a 22-gallon tank, the best one can hope for is around 300 miles.
Rolls-Royce interiors are about as good as it gets. You'd have to look long and hard to find a piece of material that wasn't meticulously crafted to be as good as it possibly can be. The only piece of hard plastic is the top of the seat belt buckle, and it's legally required to be there. The rest of it is also wrapped in leather. Talking of leather, Rolls-Royce peels only the finest bulls to create its leather interiors. It has trusted the same farm for two decades, and the bulls are treated like British royalty.
Rolls has three standard interiors - or Environments as it refers to them - to choose from: Horizon, Signature, and Atmospheric. A fourth and final option exists called Bespoke, in which case you can select the color of the seat main body, valance, seatbacks, gussets, and seat inners. Even the existing Environments offer a wide variety of customization options, ranging from a wide selection of wood and metal veneers to the kind of clock you want. There simply is nothing short of a coachbuilt experience that allows you to customize every element in the same detail as this, leading us to believe that luxury isn't just determined by the final product, but rather the experience in getting there.
Few two-door vehicles genuinely offer comfortable seating for four adults, but the Rolls-Royce Dawn is the best you can get when it comes to 4-seater droptops. Much of the Dawn's length is taken up by a massive hood, but the car still manages to offer 41.5 inches of legroom up front and 36.9 inches in the rear. Headroom in the back is rather generous as well with 37.9 inches. Rolls says the Dawn can accommodate three of your six-foot-tall friends in comfort for some top-down driving around Miami or Monaco. Buyers who plan to never use the rear seats can opt for the Aero Cowling tonneau cover, which reduces the seating down to two. Don't worry, the cover is removable in case the in-laws come to visit.
As is the case with the exterior hues, there are far too many options to mention. The primary color selection is broken up into Standard, Commissioned Collection, and Special Order. The Standard selection consists of nine restrained colors, including Black, Dark Spice, and Mocassin, to name just a few. The Special catalog consists of 20 options, including superb options like Pine Green and Fawn Brown and ridiculous options like Blushing Pink. Once you select the primary color, you choose the secondary color, which consists of similar colors available in the primary selection. Royce helps you out a bit by making suggestions on which colors work well together. Our tester shipped with clean white leather, paired with bold orange accents to match the exterior.
In terms of metal trim, the two options are Brushed Aluminium and a Dark Brushed metal finish. Wood remains the favored trim option. There are nine wood options to choose from, ranging from a darker Smoked Chestnut to a lighter Ash Burr. Carbon Fiber comes standard on the Black Badge, but to us, it doesn't fit in well with the brand's identity. We'd have Rolls-Royce custom make our trim using a unique material, like volcanic ash. Write a blank check to Rolls-Royce, and you can have nearly anything.
The Dawn may ride on a large platform, but the exquisitely crafted convertible top eats into what little space there is in the trunk. Rolls-Royce claims the Dawn has a 10.4 cubic foot trunk. To put that in perspective, the BMW M8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Convertibles provide more than 12 cubic feet. Luckily, being rich means getting around this by sending luggage ahead and only keeping two overnight tailor-made suitcases in the car.
Interior storage depends on the Environment. Naturally, you can opt for a wine cooler, but the standard configuration comes with storage compartments between the two front and two rear seats. Cupholders are hidden beneath a wooden veneer, and a smartphone can be clicked into a wireless charger in the front armrest.
Rolls-Royce makes a big deal about the Dawn's social aspect. Each seat is treated as an individual entity, with its climate control and personal storage spaces. Lambswool carpets are standard, and you will want to take your shoes off to enjoy them. The front seats can be ordered with a massaging function, but, oddly, rear passengers can't have this luxury. Naturally, the Dawn is equipped with eight-way power-adjustable heated front seats, a powered easy-entry system for the rear seats, soft-closing suicide doors, a power-adjustable steering column, and every other luxury item you can expect on a car costing more than $300,000.
Navigating through the infotainment system, we quickly recognized the Dawn is Rolls-Royce's oldest model. It's not completely outdated, but other models have a newer infotainment system with cleaner menus, touchscreens, and newer safety features such as a 360-degree camera. The BMW-based system in the Dawn still does the job, with wireless Apple CarPlay included as a nice bonus. This is one of the last Rolls-Royces to feature analog gauges rather than a digital display, and we genuinely prefer this older setup as a more artful option - analog feels classier and more timeless than digital. An 18-speaker Bespoke audio system easily overpowers the minimal wind noise, but disappointingly, we've heard more impressive speakers in less expensive cars that pack a bigger punch.
True luxury is… a few things. It's the final product, it's the process of choosing every intricate detail of your vehicle, but it's also the underlying knowledge that the final product is so perfect that nothing can or ever will go wrong. That's Rolls-Royce. While Mercedes-Benz models routinely have double-digit recalls annually per model, the Dawn has only ever had two recalls for the current generation, both of which are only applicable to the 2017 model year. The first was for seat-mounted airbags that may not deploy. A second callback for the same problem was issued in early 2017.
A four-year/unlimited mileage warranty covers all Rolls-Royces, but we're pretty sure when you own a Rolls, even out-of-warranty repairs are A, unlikely to be needed, and B, unlikely to be beyond your budget.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has had the opportunity to provide a review of the Rolls-Royce Dawn's crashworthiness, which is pretty much standard on high-end cars like this. Since it's essentially a 5,000-lb brick, there's a good chance it will crash right through whatever happens to be in your way, and you'd likely barely be disturbed within the cabin.
While the exterior and interior may still be sublime, the Royce is starting to show its age in this category. It has a plethora of airbags, traction and stability control, front and rear cameras and parking sensors, low tire pressure warning, and Rolls-Royce Emergency Assist. But it's a bit light on the driver assistance side. Forward collision control is the main feature, and by that, we mean the only standard driver assistance one. Rolls-Royce offers Driver Assistance packages with features like a head-up display, night vision, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control, but you don't get the semi-autonomous functionality present in the latest Mercedes offerings, for example.
Deciding whether or not to purchase a Rolls-Royce Dawn typically doesn't involve cross-shopping any other vehicles. In fact, most customers will compare this to buying a boat or perhaps a pied-à-terre on the French Riviera. With Rolls-Royce ending orders in the US after this model year, time is running out to purchase a Dawn. If you had any hesitation towards getting your order in before the books close, we urge you to leave them behind. The Dawn is a car that feels special and makes you feel special while driving it.
There are other luxury drop-tops on the market, like the Bentley Continental GT cabrio or upcoming Mercedes-AMG SL-Class, but those pale in comparison to the luxury found here. Nothing with a removable roof envelops its occupants in this manner; you'd have to turn towards a sedan or SUV to get close. Much like other Rolls-Royce models, the Dawn feels like it belongs in a class of one; there's nothing else like it on the market and we hope it gets a replacement in the near future. There won't be a new Rolls-Royce Dawn anytime soon, so the time to buy one is now.
The Rolls-Royce Dawn has an MSRP of $363,500, excluding the destination and delivery charge of $2,750. The Black Badge model retails for $414,500, but both models are also arty to a gas guzzler tax of $2,600. Those prices are before you even look at the options list. Now the online configurator doesn't supply prices for the various options, but you can get the standard Dawn to over $400,000 without trying too hard, and if you go the bespoke route of tailored paints and trim inlays, we wouldn't be surprised to see the price of the Rolls-Royce Dawn surge to beyond half a million dollars.
The 2021 Dawn 4-seater convertible is available in two models: Dawn and Dawn Black Badge. Both are powered by a twin-turbo 6.6-liter V12 engine. The power is sent to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. On the outside, it comes standard with a power-folding soft top, 20-inch alloy wheels, and that famous Rolls-Royce grille and Spirit of Ecstasy.
Luxury items include a touchscreen interface with an 18-speaker sound system, wireless phone connectivity, and charging, real-time traffic updates, power-adjustable heated front seats, easy entry for the rear passengers, and dual-zone climate control in the front and rear.
The customization options are boundless, with no two Dawns being the same. (According to the math, at least.) Aluminum inserts, carbon fiber, real wood veneer, a leather dashboard, and an aluminum overhead console are just a few of the highlights. Rolls-Royce offers Driver Assistance packages with features like a head-up display, night vision, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.
The Black Badge model has some performance-inspired additions like more power and torque and some black exterior styling elements, but it's still no sports car.
There aren't many packages available, with only the two Driver Assistance Packages worth mentioning. Driver Assistance 1 adds the basics like a head-up display, high-beam assist, and lane-departure warning. Driver Assistance 3 (there is no 2) adds night vision and active cruise control. Rolls-Royce also offers a television tuner for the touchscreen interface and a universal garage door opener. There are various treadplate and trunk floor options available as well and we're particularly fond of the Wooden Boot Floor option.
The sky's the limit when speccing a Rolls-Royce Dawn, so we'd try to reach as high as possible, especially as it's not long for this world. Go for the Dawn Black Badge with the more powerful engine, starting at $414,500. That's a fair bit more than the base $363,500 MSRP, but at this price, what's another $60 grand? The average Black Badge customer adds another 15-20% in Bespoke content, meaning you might spend over half a million dollars on it. We'd go for a crazy color like the Saint Tropez on our tester, then pair it with a neutral interior with a few color-matched accents. To own the showiest model in the Rolls-Royce lineup, we think it's well worth the cost.
These two are essentially the same car, with the Dawn being the convertible option. The Wraith is marketed as a sporty take on the Rolls-Royce brand, but it will never live with supercars in its price league, nor was it meant to. At its core, it's still a bespoke luxury barge with continent-crushing abilities. It does, however, get stronger specs from the V12, generating up to 624 hp and 627 lb-ft and dropping the 0-60 sprint to 4.3 seconds in Black Badge format. Considering it's $25,500 cheaper than the Dawn, it presents itself as exceptional value for money, all things considered.
So, which is better? It boils down to personal preference. Some people just don't like convertibles, and in that case, you should buy a Wraith. Heck, in this price range, you can likely afford to get both and choose which one to use depending on the weather. When it's sunny out, the Dawn will be perfect, but the starlight headliner in the Wraith's roof is ideal for nights when the sky is overcast. Since driving a Rolls-Royce is more about the journey than the destination, we'd go with the convertible. It adds that extra layer of pomp and circumstance.
We believe the Conti GT Convertible is the real reason Rolls-Royce no longer wants to compete in this segment. Bentley built an absolute beauty of a car that does everything the Rolls does and more. It, too, can do the luxury cruising thing, but it has a sporty persona as well. And, if anything, it looks even better. Bentley isn't scared of using modern technology, and its cars are all the better for it. Rolls-Royce uses a twin-turbo V12 to create 563 hp, while Bentley only needs a twin-turbo V8 to get 542 hp. And what a V8 it is. With the roof down, you can bask in the magnificence of the dirty, dirty noise it makes. Then there's an available W12 for when, well, more is more. The Bentley is also more efficient, which means a cruising range that's 200 miles more than the Rolls. All that, and the Bentley is a whole Mercedes-Benz S-Class cheaper than the Dawn. Of course, some might argue it doesn't feel as special, and there might be some credence to this argument, but objectively speaking, we'd have the Bentley. Subjectively, we'd have both.
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