In China, if you can afford a German luxury car, chances are you can also afford a chauffeur to drive it. Nobody calls shotgun in Shanghai or Beijing — sitting in the back seat is as much a sign of status and wealth as the car itself. You’d never be caught dead driving yourself around. A Rolls-Royce owner there might never drive his own car.
But Rolls-Royce says tastes in China are shifting slowly. The new generation of young Chinese elites want to actually drive their own cars, sometimes. They want cars that are social, cars that can carry them and their friends in comfort and style. These young people might be onto something — and not just in China.
We first meet the new Rolls-Royce Dawn near Cape Town, in the hilly Stellenbosch wine region. As the sun sets, the surrounding mountains change colour, from black to orange to red. The two-tone paint on our Dawn is radiant and polished to a mirror-finish.
In the morning we set off for the coast, three up. In most convertibles, this would mean someone draws the short straw and has to sit with their knees pressed into their chest in the back seat. But not with the Dawn. All four seats are equally spacious and well-appointed. It’s social, you see. Every surface is leather or wood or metal, all hand-crafted in England.
The mountain pass is narrow, and the road is winding. But this is also a driver’s Rolls-Royce. The thin leather steering wheel never gets heavy. You could drive the Dawn flat-out with just your finger- tips. It’s a huge machine — a twin-turbo V12-powered land yacht — but to drive it is to be in total command, to own the road.
The silver Spirit of Ecstasy, the famous flying lady mascot, sits proud on the hood, faithfully pointing the way forward.
In traffic, we put the cloth roof up and it’s like being sealed inside a recording studio. The sound of truck engines and honking cars and rushing wind simply disappears. The car settles into a comfortable 140 km/h cruise without making a peep. Rolls-Royce likes to describe the way its cars float over the road as having a “magic carpet ride.” Having never undertaken an actual magic carpet ride, I can’t confirm how apt the comparison is, but I also can’t think of a better way to describe it.
We arrive at the coast in what feels like no time at all, utterly relaxed and slightly tanned. This is the southernmost tip of Africa, where the warm Indian Ocean meets the frigid Atlantic. The sun sets on the Dawn again. We drink and eat and drink, and in the morning we’ll all set off again for a new destination, together. A social car. What a wonderful idea.