Joining in the Middle East love affair with the Rolls-Royce

You sit back in the leather seat, press the button that gently closes the door, and hear … nothing. Even when the engine is running all you can hear is a deep-throated purring sound.

If you gun the 6.6-litre V12 engine fast, the purr becomes a little more audible, but nothing intrusive. It’s only the dramatic acceleration that lets you know you’ve put your foot down hard, and the fact that by now you’re powering past all the other cars on the road. It is exhilarating.

Nothing quite prepares you for driving a Rolls-Royce. The British-designed, German-owned car has long been the final word in motoring luxury. But even so, the actual experience is a step beyond your imagination. I was lucky enough to be lent one by a friend last weekend. It was my wife’s birthday, and my pal generously put his Wraith at my disposal as a surprise treat.

Pulling up in the car to whisk her off to dinner in a nice restaurant got me enough brownie points to see me through the Euro 2016 football championships, that’s for sure.

The Middle East, and the UAE in particular, have had a love affair with the Roller for many years. Lawrence of Arabia drove around in a Rolls-designed armoured car; there are sepia pictures of the cars back in the 1960s fitted with special sand tyres; members of the ruling families of the region have regarded the vehicles as collectors’ items.

This love affair is being tested now, in the era of sub-$50 per barrel oil. A couple of weeks ago the Rolls-Royce group (part of the BMW organisation) announced a fall of nearly 30 per cent in worldwide sales, with a big downturn in the Middle East cited as the main reason.

I can report, however, that Abu Dhabi is doing its bit to keep the numbers up. My information is that the showroom in the UAE capital – already the top-selling dealership in the world, beating the likes of Mayfair, Beverly Hills and Beijing – experienced no downturn in the first quarter of the year.

The top-of-the-range Phantom, the ultimate chauffeur’s car, actually sold more in AD in the first three months.

The problems, I am told, came mainly in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where the appetite for Rollers has been significantly diminished by the low oil price.

Even in those markets, it could be just a temporary setback. The keenly-awaited new model – the Dawn – is arriving in the region in limited numbers, but there should be enough supplied by the final quarter to give the sales figures a boost.

The Wraith I drove was sleek, powerful and stylish. A muted golden-brown colour that simultaneously spoke of opulence and elegance. It was discreet, yet still caused heads to turn at the lights. Driving into the parking area of hotels became an absolute pleasure, with a small army of valet-men rushing to assist you. We got parked in the most prominent part of the hotel forecourt, and came out to find a group of selfie-shooters gathered round the car.

The treat was all over on Sunday, when Akbar, the driver, came to pick the car up. He asked if I liked it, to which I of course replied in the positive. He patted his heart and said “it is the best in the world”. I could only agree.

My wife and I watched him drive off from the balcony, and I noticed a little tear in her eye.

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