First Drive Review – 2019 Rolls Royce Dawn Black Badge – By Carl Malek

When we last met Rolls Royce’s Black Badge lineup, it was at the 2018 MAMA Spring Rally where we had the chance to go for a brief spin in the Wraith Black Badge. The Wraith’s rendition was supposed to appeal to a younger audience, and give the ultra bespoke coupe a small but welcome pinch of performance engineering to go with its world class levels of luxury and opulence. With the Dawn convertible proving to be an equally popular choice for the small sector of Rolls Royce’s customer base that want to add droptop cruising to the list of things that their Rolls Royce purchase should be able to seamlessly do. The British ultra luxury car maker has sprinkled the Black Badge formula into the Dawn as well, but can the Dawn prove to be a compelling counterpart to the Wraith in its transformation from elegant boulevardier to a sinister performance convertible? Or has something been lost in translation?


Roof Down Elegance:

Like the fore-mentioned Wraith, the Dawn convertible has a timeless design that draws stares no matter where it goes. The styling here does have some basic cues from the Wraith that carryover intact, But Rolls Royce is quick to point out that over 80 percent of the body panels are exclusive to the Dawn with even the tires being specially made just for this particular model . But the Dawn is the Rolls to go for if you want to feel the wind in your hair, and that foldable roof is arguably the Dawn’s most potent party trick. With the Phantom Drophead convertible being discontinued sometime ago (and with the current Phantom not offering it at the moment) the Dawn is the only way to experience a true luxury convertible experience and it certainly hits the mark in doing so. Named after the 1950’s era Silver Dawn, the modern interpretation still retains a high degree of swagger and ambiance, with the sheer length of the car accenting the rest of the design quite nicely. The front fascia is very bold yet elegantly simple with the traditional Rolls Royce stainless steel grille being a very prominent piece of eye candy. The slick LED headlights lend a modern flair to their otherwise traditional shape, and the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament is front and center on the top of the grille, where she should be. The elegant curves and creases that are also scattered about the Dawn also pay big dividends to the design, with Rolls Royce reps claiming that the Dawn is the sexiest Rolls Royce that the company has ever designed. When compared with the decidedly more function oriented Cullinan that we reviewed prior at the same event, the contrast between the two is very striking, and we do indeed agree with Rolls Royce’s assertion on that front.

But what does the Black Badge bring to the party? More than you might think once you have the opportunity to take a more detailed examination of the Dawn. While a lot of the upgrades are found underneath its seductive bodylines, Rolls Royce designers still wanted to make sure that owners know they are indeed driving something very special. For instance all the chrome pieces are pitched for darkened versions, with even the Spirit of Ecstasy leaving her traditional flowing robes at the tailors, and instead wears a much darker motif that would make her feel at home at a swanky Halloween party. These touches also help compliment the black fabric top as well as the equally black tonneau cover. Even the rims get in on the act with the color scheme on those sizable hoops being inverted for Black Badge duty. Other humble touches include smoked taillights that do their best to further enhance the sinister vibe.

Lastly unlike the Wraith we tested which featured the blackest black paint that the company has ever offered, our Dawn Black Badge tester served as an example of how flexible Roll’s color configurator is, with the car featuring a very striking Magma Red paint. Like many other bespoke automotive brands, Rolls offers a wide selection of colors, and the possibilities are quite frankly limitless, and only depend on a prospective buyers imagination. If we were to order one for ourselves after we hit the figurative lottery, we would either go for this color, or opt for one of the lighter blues that Rolls has available.


An Interior Fit For A King Or Queen:

While the exterior styling of the Dawn tries its best to wow you with its super model good looks, it is ultimately the cabin where the bulk of the Rolls Royce driving experience is to be found. Step inside the Dawn, and you are immediately greeted by an oasis of high quality materials, with a forest of burl wood accents accenting not only the doors and the dashboard, but also the supple leather seats as well. Stepping up to the Black Badge model adds carbon fiber and select applications of metal trim that further enhances the ambiance, and truly drive home the point that you have indeed arrived in the world. The equally comfortable lambs wool carpet is best experienced with your shoes off, but your toes will appreciate how much give and feel there is in the elegantly crafted fabric. Two full sized umbrellas are stowed away in both of the swinging coach doors, and the doors themselves can be opened or closed automatically via an interior mounted switch. The six layer fabric convertible top can be raised or lowered via a switch in the center console, but the beautiful sunny weather that was present during our drive allowed us to keep the top down during our whole time with the Dawn, which is fine with us, since we did not have to worry about the massive blind spots that it creates when the top is up. With the top down, the bulk of our attention centered on leg room, and our tester did a good job of allowing us to stretch out and relax especially when cruising down some of the roads that dot Metro Detroit.

The Dawn also doesn’t skimp on electronic wizardry, with owners benefitting from a whole suite of luxury and driver assistance aides. While some of these goodies doe require multiple trips to the owners manual to fully master and understand, we did enjoy the pristine sound quality that emanates from the optional Bespoke audio system, and we also liked how easy many of the basic functions were to find and use in the I-Drive sourced infotainment system. The rear seat is actually very roomy for a large convertible, though look for this space to appeal to shorter adults, with this author’s long legs being somewhat squeezed by the seatbacks when we made an attempt to squeeze back there. No other automaker takes the interior experience as seriously as Rolls Royce, and its pleasing to see that even the most minor of details are covered and enhanced. In short, this is a car designed to help the leisure set perform their leisurely duties, and the amount of luxury and opulence on hand will serve as very subtle but potent reminders of this fact.


Black Badge Is The Way To Fly For Performance:

As mentioned earlier, the bulk of the changes that the Black Badge brings to the table are indeed found in the inner workings of the Dawn, with Rolls engineers going all out in making sure the Dawn Black Badge can deliver the driving experience that younger buyers crave. Underneath the long hood is the familiar 6.7 liter (or as Rolls likes to call it the 6.75 liter) twin-turbocharged V12 but power goes up by 30 ponies to a revised figure of 593 horsepower and an equally potent 619 lb-ft of torque (a gain of 15 lb-ft.) The Dawn’s eight speed automatic transmission and throttle software have been recalibrated, but while the V12 still delivers very forceful acceleration, we wish that 100 more horsepower were on hand to help further blunt the effects of the Dawn’s 5,750 lb curb weight. The Dawn Black Badge doesn’t offer steering wheel mounted shift paddles or a formal manual mode for its transmission, but the Dawn Black Badge is not about hard driving or setting records at the local track day, instead, its all about enhancing the experience when going on long road trips, and when viewed that way, the amount of upgrades here do a very good job of making the Dawn a fun companion in certain driving situations.

Handling in the Dawn Black Badge will never be known for its track ready prowess either, rather, the exercise here is enhancing its ability to carve twisty roads, and our tester did feel much more secure than some of its rivals, and like the Cullinan, ride quality is pillow-esque, with many holes and divots still being effortlessly absorbed despite the slightly stiffer springs employed by the Black Badge. The thin rimmed steering wheel feels good in the hands, and while feedback is on the muted side at first, the Dawn’s tiller delivers satisfying feel the further it is taken from its center position, and still the rack as a whole does a good job of communicating to the driver exactly what is going on when the car glides its way down the road. Lastly, the Dawn is capable of surprising drivers with the amount of poise and confidence that it has when tasked with sportier driving (a rare trait.) Rolls claims that owners “engage” with their cars when driving, and the Dawn certainly delivers on this in spades, with the car seemingly becoming one with the driver as they become more familiar with its inner most capabilities. Braking is strong and secure, with our tester delivering smooth yet stable stops from a wide range of speeds.


Value Quotient:

Like the Cullinan, the Dawn and its Black Badged cousin operate in a very different playing field when it comes to pricing, with base Black Badge models starting at $353,000. The Black Badge treatment itself is a $48,200 appointment, and when paired with other goodies such as the $5,425 Bespoke Editing package, the $10,925 Rolls Royce Signature package, and its $11,550 Magma Red paint scheme. Our tester ended up with a final sticker of $458,025 which is admittedly a very lofty sum to pay for a large luxury laden four seat convertible. However, we are willing to forgive it for this, considering that the driving experience it delivers is truly out of this world, and whether your cruising down Hollywood boulevard, or the mean streets of Metro Detroit, the Dawn in either of its forms makes the occasion a truly special one indeed. The Dawn is in a segment largely to itself, with the smaller Bentley GTC convertible perhaps being the closest rival available for ultra luxury open top motoring. But if we had to choose between the Bentley or the Rolls, we would be swooned by the Black Badge’s vampiric like charms, as well as the Dawns ability to be a true four seat luxury convertible.