As a motoring journalist, I have a list of the cars and roads I would like to drive before I kick the bucket.
It is pretty short – top of the list is a Rolls-Royce, followed by the BMW E39 M5 and then a V12 Lamborghini.
On Wednesday I ticked off one item. Thanks to the folks at Daytona and Rolls-Royce Johannesburg, I got to drive not one but two Rolls-Royces.
Going into the Rolls-Royce Driving Experience event, I had watched hours of reviews on YouTube from reviewers such as Doug DeMuro, Ciro De Siena and Henry Catchpole, and I had an idea of what to expect – the famed Rolls-Royce magic carpet ride, unparalleled build quality and craftsmanship, and smooth power delivery.
When I got to Daytona in Melrose Arch, the cars were parked outside the dealership. The first thing that stood out was the sheer size of the automobiles.
The Phantom, in particular – that thing is a barge – is long and tall, standing taller than most crossovers and only a few inches shorter than the Cullinan, its SUV cousin.
Besides the Phantom, the other cars on offer were the Dawn, Cullinan and the Black Badge Cullinan.
Our group of excited journalists was sanitised because, you know, the Covid-19 coronavirus is out here doing the most. We hit the road.
The route chosen was pretty simple: Drive down from Melrose Arch to Pretoria, and back.
We set off in the Cullinan. I found myself sitting in the middle seat at the back.
Normally I’d complain about it, but this was a Rolls-Royce middle seat and it is was way more comfortable than the driver’s seat of the Toyota Etios I drove to the event, so no complaints from me.
I connected my phone to the car using the infotainment system – easy peasy; after all, the system is a reskinned version of the leading BMW iDrive operating system.
The first song was Biggie’s Juicy.
“Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothing/ ... It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up! magazine/ Salt-n-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine.”
At that moment, I was rhyming word for word with the man. Never has that song been so relatable. I was in a Rolls-Royce bumping Biggie and it all felt like a dream.
The man’s rhymes were coming in crystal clear, thanks to the Rolls-Royce Bespoke sound system. The bass filled the car like something I’d never experienced before. The system costs around R173 000 and, from what I heard, it’s worth every penny.
We joined the M1 and there was a bit of traffic, but traffic in a Rolls is a whole different experience.
Firstly, people do respect the car; they gladly get out of your way. Except for VW Polo drivers; them people will hog the fast lane no matter what.
But the bloke behind the wheel of the Cullinan made most of the 6.75-litre V12 and its 420kW and a whopping 850Nm torque and we dealt with the Polo like it was nothing.
Thanks to all that power, we found ourselves getting away from everything on the road, reaching speeds I can’t write about because we might get into trouble.
The cars we were in were from the UK and the speedometer was in miles per hour instead of kilometres per hour, so in my head, we were well within the limit.
I only realised we were doing ungodly speeds when I opened up the navigation software app Waze.
We could’ve hit the car’s limited top speed of 250km/hr and no one in the car would’ve noticed.
The Cullinan, even though it is an SUV, is sublime.
It is whisper quiet. Road noise, what is that? Road imperfections for who?
You are completely isolated from those things. A taxi could be outside hooting away like they always do and you’d be oblivious to it all.
We get to our driver change and car change spot, Engen Big Bird in Midrand, and I hop into the driver’s seat of the Dawn, top down, rocking my bucket hat. I join the N1 towards Pretoria.
Highway speeds, people in the car are still blabbing about, talking about how brilliant every touchpoint is.
There’s not a peep from the back about lack of legroom, something which is always in short supply in drop-top four-sitters.
Our companion from Rolls-Royce plays some tunes through the Bespoke audio system, and even at high speed, we hear the music loud and clear.
Buffeting is no issue in the car; at no point did I feel my hat hanging on to my skull by the teeth of my hair.
Driving the Dawn is easy, too easy, in fact. The steering is light.
Everything is effortless. I found myself approaching speeds that could get me arrested real quick. Again, people were getting out of the way and taking pictures.
Look, the magic carpet ride is real. It is really hard to explain. But you don’t feel like you’re driving on the road, more like you are gliding over it. No rattle or squeak can be heard.
Soon I found myself in Pretoria, where we had another change of cars. This time I got behind the Black Badge Cullinan, which is supposed to be the sportier version of the Cullinan.
So I put on the sports mode, which Rolls-Royce calls “low mode”.
The Black Badge is noticeably sportier than the other two. The V12’s engine note is different, it doesn’t shout like the Lamborghini V12s, instead it lets out a refined growl.
The car is supposedly stiffer, but on the straights, you can’t really feel it. It is only when hitting the bends that you feel that the car is more composed, more taut than the normal car.
It makes up for its flaws with an extra 20kW and 50Nm torque, which make it ridiculously quick.
The way it gets up to speed, you’d never think that it weighs near two tons.
It’s quick on its feet too, at some point I hit traffic and was changing lanes so fast I had to remind myself that I was driving a car that costs about R15 million, and so had to behave.
And that’s what I love the most about the cars – while every surface you touch feels expensive and every switch feels like a million bucks, they are welcoming and make you feel special.
Even though I could never be able to afford the car, driving it made me feel like the car wanted me to be inside it like it wanted me to have fun. It certainly allowed me to, and I most definitely did.
I have been privileged to drive a variety of cars, but nothing comes close to the experience of driving a Rolls-Royce, watching the Spirit of Ecstasy on the long bonnet with the thin-rimmed steering wheel in my hand, I was in heaven.
You feel like a billionaire even when you are wearing skinny jeans and a bucket hat.
A big shout-out to the Rolls-Royce Johannesburg crew. They allowed us to enjoy the cars, allowed us to floor them and even put on the massaging seats, which are brilliant by the way.
Joburg to Cape Town will be a breeze in one of these. And with the Covid-19 pandemic, you might want to do it in a Rolls-Royce rather than a jet.