The guards at National Cemetery waved it through security without a glance away. Asheville honeymooners took their picture alongside it. An entire Chili’s in Roanoke, Virginia, whipped around and watched its top-folding acrobatics while their baby-back ribs grew cold.
You see, a $359,900 vehicle virtually paralyzes every one else on the road with surprise. "It’s really a Rolls!" It morally bankrupts the driver too: by the end of our 800-mile holiday weekend in the newest edition of the Rolls-Royce Corniche, we were half serious about pasting a "WON BIG GAME" sign on the tail and soaking up all the good will — or envy.
If it’s only attention you crave, save yourself $339,000 and buy a PT Cruiser. But if you want to shout "Money!" without ever opening your mouth, just drive the Corniche.
The latest two-door, four-seater to wear the black-backed Rolls badge is amazingly free of any zeitgeist from current parent company VW. You’d never confuse this for a Audi TT Roadster, and that’s exactly how VW would have it. Smartly, they realize that motor cars like the Corniche have less in common with the performance crowd’s 911s and SLs, and more in common with the big-ticket items favored by the truly rich — third homes, personal airplanes, yachts and powerboats.
In particular, the Corniche feels most like the latter choices, because of its immense size, its handcrafting (just 200 are constructed each year) and particularly, its on-road amble.
Even the sound from its 6.8-liter V-8, with its supercharged sturm und drang, sounds more akin to a watercraft than a road-going roadster. It motivates the Corniche quickly, but not exceedingly fast; Rolls quotes figures of 8.0 seconds to 60 mph, and a top speed of 135. The transmission is a four-speed automatic, a sturdy and smoothly responsive unit that’s a strong contrast to the ever-hunting five-speed autoboxes common in less expensive convertibles such as the Benz SL600.
2000 Rolls-Royce Corniche
For such a large car, the Corniche’s steering is quite quick, probably a little too fast. Try to hustle it quickly and the steering turns in long before the car’s mass settles itself and prepares for the next launch. You don’t thread switchbacks or cut close corners in the Corniche — you apply a little turn-in, press into the throttle deeply, and let it create a wake among other drivers. Between the size and price, there’s little encouragement to drive fast through mountain roads — all the more reason to encourage stares and gather in the scenery. For safety’s sake, the Corniche includes anti-lock brakes, automatic suspension control and dual front airbags, but side airbags aren’t available.
Rolls Royce Corniche Rear
As a perch for observing the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Corniche provided good comfort to go with the panoramic top-down visibility. The front seats are supportive, the rears nearly as comfortable minus a good bit of leg and kneeroom. When six-footers sit behind the wheel, it’s likely the top third of their vision will be blocked by the windshield header; with the top up, rear-corner vision is seriously hampered by the top’s wide sail panels.
As folding tops go, the Corniche’s is, um, tops. The lid is lined with thick cloth, the plastic window necessitated by the huge top and convertible mechanism. Have your royal friends in the back seat lean forward as it does its best impression of a Russian gymnast, releasing latches, flipping the rear window up, stowing the top under a hard boot, then closing it all up. Or reverse it and let it perform all the latching — then find the correct power-window switch among five to raise all the windows in unison. Perhaps next time around, Rolls could borrow BMW’s automatic-raising convertible windows, as well as an audible beep when it’s complete (the Corniche makes do with a red light on the windshield header).
2000 Rolls-Royce Corniche
Of course, the cabin is swaddled beyond repair with luxuriant finishes and fitments: Wilton carpets, Connolly leather seating and wood-veneer trim of the owner’s choice create the clubby atmosphere critical to the Corniche’s sensuous appeal. Ergonomics are less considered: there’s automatic temperature control, but left-hand drivers will find their temp wheel is on the bottom, not the top (it works perfectly in Britain and Japan, we’re certain). The CD changer communicates from the console but the dash light dimming switch hides inside the glovebox door. Then there are the maddening concessions for the sultan-worthy materials: the gimbaled air vents have gorgeous valve-style pulls, but the chrome vents themselves sweat in humid air and splash kneecaps with cold droplets. The wool floor mats are so plush it seems criminal to actually use them.
It’s difficult to separate the reality of the Corniche as a good if not great four-seat convertible with the fantasy of being a lottery winner, dot-com billionaire, or hockey celebrity (which I was confused for on a cross-Canada trip in the nearly identical Bentley Azure). Casually, we figured you’d need about $10 million in the bank for the Corniche to even begin to make sense. Behind the wheel, it actually seems within reach — if only until you’ve got to return it to the people who actually own it.
|2000 Rolls-Royce Corniche Base Price: $359,990
Engine: supercharged 6.8-liter V-8, 325 hp
Transmission: four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 120.5 in
Length: 212.8 in
Width: 81.0 in
Height: 58.1 in
Weight: 6836 lb
Fuel economy: 11 city/ 16 hwy Major standard equipment:
Wilton wool carpets
Six-disc CD changer
Dual automatic temperature control
Automatic ride control
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