If price is really no object, and you simply must have a hand-built luxury convertible, there’s only one place to turn - to Rolls-Royce and its Corniche. It comes with a sticker price that reaches well past a third of a million dollars. Today’s version of the Corniche convertible debuted early in 2000, but it was by no means the first soft-top model of that name from the British automaker. No details on changes to 2002 models have been announced.
Bentley, Rolls-Royce’s sister marque, also turns out a handful of convertibles each year, under the Azure nameplate. Both the Corniche and Azure are related to Bentley’s Continental R coupe. The Azure is structurally similar and costs less than the Corniche, but both are top-end motorcars.
For the time being, Bentley and Rolls-Royce retain their original ownership, and production continues in Crewe, England. But this will change on Jan. 1, 2003, when BMW takes over the management of Rolls-Royce and Volkswagen ssumes ownership of Bentley. Until then, the company’s current owners will produce, sell and service both marques worldwide.
Rolls-Royce and Bentley models differ mainly in the appearance of their grilles, with Rolls displaying a statelier version. In addition, Rolls-Royce is nearly alone in putting whitewall tires on its 17-inch wheels. The Corniche is about 213 inches long and measures a few inches shorter than the Lincoln Town Car. Available in shades to match or contrast with the body color, the flush-fitting power top stows beneath a chrome cover on the rear deck.
The Corniche seats four occupants in sumptuous pleasure and simply exudes luxury - just as its predecessors always have. Connolly leather is the same sort used on the seats in the British House of Lords. Power front bucket seats have four-position memory settings, and a remote control unit lets backseat passengers operate the eight-speaker audio system. Despite the use of front bucket seats, the automatic transmission’s gearshift lever is mounted on the steering column rather than on the floor.