What you need to know about the Rolls-Royce Spectre, the first electric RR
01 Rolls-Royce is testing it to destruction
Cold weather, warm weather, hot weather, mildly inclement weather… you name it, Rolls Royce is testing the Spectre in it. Clearly it doesn’t want to get the first full electric car in the company’s history wrong, so it’s opted for overkill and embarked on a test program that will cover 2.5m km (or roughly 400 years use for the average customer). That’s why we donned our puffer jacket and an extra pair of socks to join Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös and his crack testing team in Arjeplog, Sweden (55km south of the Artic circle) to experience a Spectre prototype from the passenger seat. On ice. More on that in a bit…
02 It’s not ready yet
The Spectre won’t have its wordy camouflage removed for another year and won’t go on sale until the fourth quarter of 2023. This is extremely early days to give journalists access to a project… which might explain why the engineers are looking so nervous. This is only the sixth Spectre prototype to ever be built, we’re told, and it’s only about 25 per cent finished. Engineers refer to this as a base-car, one built around calculations and best guesses before the process of ‘teaching it how to behave like a Rolls-Royce’ begins in earnest. On top of the fine-tuning there’s a pile of new decisions to make, stuff like how aggressive the regen on an EV Rolls Royce should be, whether the throttle response is instant or progressive and what on earth should an electric Rolls-Royce sound like?
Perfect silence, says Dr Mihiar Ayoubi, director of engineering, is achievable but not desirable for humans because it puts them on edge. Tell that to any new parent...
03 It’s a spiritual successor to the Phantom Coupe
We thought with its two-door coupe silhouette this was effectively a replacement for the Wraith. Apparently not. It’s bigger than that, a spiritual successor to the Phantom Coupe. Which means it’s enormous up close and comes with the option of 23-inch rims – although the test car was riding incognito on 18s and winter tyres. As a side note, Wraith and Dawn are still being built, but are not available to order anymore, so if you want a new two door Rolls-Royce… this is it.
Why a coupe though, when an electric Cullinan or Ghost would arguably sell better? Müller-Ötvös wanted to make an impact: “It’s a seminal moment for us. We are going electric for the first time and this deserves a truly emotional body. We always had fond memories about our Phantom Coupé and when you see this in full flesh one day, camouflage off, it is spectacular. The first electric Rolls-Royce deserves a spectacular concept.”
04 Power? Range? Both sufficient…
In the grandest Rolls-Royce tradition, questions around specific figures for the powertrain were brushed aside at this early stage. What we do know is it’ll leverage the BMW Group tech bin with two motors, one on each axle for four-wheel drive and use the biggest battery available. Our educated guess is the 105kWh pack from the top-spec BMW i7 and iX, around 600bhp and 480 km of WLTP range.
Except range to a Rolls-Royce owner is a bit different than to you and I, as Müller-Ötvös explains: “Our customers mainly use their cars going into cities, outside of cities, commuting around cities, so it's rare that you'll see long distance drives like London to Edinburgh. All of them have charging stations at home and charging available at their office buildings, so for that reason, we are going to deliver what I would call sufficient range.”
05 An electric Rolls-Royce shouldn’t come as a surprise
Charles Rolls noted over a 100 years ago: “The electric car is perfectly noiseless and clean. There is no smell or vibration. They should become very useful when fixed charging stations can be arranged.” Smart man, every word of this is still true. Let’s be honest, take range out the equation and batteries and motors are the perfect solution for an ultra-luxury car – silent, powerful, effortless – which is why Rolls-Royce has been flirting with the idea of electricity for a while. The 102 EX concept in 2011 worked fine, but had a range of not-very-much, while the 103EX in 2016 envisaged a much more radical, driverless future. The Spectre is something radical in concept for the company, but fairly normcore by comparison to the 103EX.
06 It’s got some serious computing power
Based on Rolls’ own aluminium-intensive architecture of luxury, which debuted on the new Phantom in 2017, the Spectre isn’t new or special in that regard. Where it shifts the needle is with computing power. Rolls is calling it “the most connected Rolls-Royce ever” - which means very little – but then backs it up with BIG NUMBERS. Numbers like “141,200 sender-receiver relations that need RR-appropriate management”… sounds like a lot of late nights in the office. Or 25 times more algorithms to be evaluated than in the Cullinan, and 7km of cabling, compared to 2km in an average premium car. To be fair, how much of that is simply down to the Spectre’s gargantuan length isn’t clear.
07 It already feels like a Rolls-Royce
The plan was to take a passenger ride on a track etched into the top of a frozen lake, and experience some extremely luxurious skids. However, unseasonably high temperatures had caused the top layer of snow to melt, and then refreeze, creating a glassy surface with precisely zero grip. We hit some local snowy roads instead and straight away it feels like a Rolls-Royce. I’m not talking about buttery leather and heavily knurled switchgear – most of the interior was covered up with flappy material anyway – I’m talking about the way it rolls down the road with a heft and a confidence, a sense of size and occasion that makes a Rolls-Royce unmistakable whatever seat you’re sitting in.
I crane my neck to look at the speedo. We’re doing 60mph down a bumpy road, doesn’t feel like it, but even so there’s a lot of work to do. The suspension is supple, but pogos about too much, comfort isn’t just soft springs and dampers, it’s the way they control the body and that tuning comes later. There’s noise in here, too – tyre noise, wind noise, the odd-rattle - but to focus on them would be to miss the point, what struck me was the lack of engine noise… and how that felt identical to the current V12 range. The V12 is so well suppressed these days that if you’re expecting the Spectre to feel, sound or smell different to, say, a Wraith with your eyes closed, you’ll be disappointed. A perfectly silent, smooth, torquey engine has always been Rolls’ goal, this just perfects where they were heading anyway.
08 It can shift
Hardly surprising given we reckon it’ll have a variation of the dual-motor powertrain from the 610bhp BMW iX M60 – and that can tick off 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds. The Spectre has a different brief of course – it needs to remain unruffled, with power and torque in reserve at all times, rather than feeling overtly sporty. But when we egg our chassis engineer on to give it a squirt it leaps forward like a stabbed rodent, no waiting for turbos to draw breath, just fast-forward motion.
09 It’s the beginning of something big
Going electric with a two-door super-coupe might seem like a bold play, but it’s just the beginning of something much bigger. Müller-Ötvös is adamant that every Rolls Royce will be pure electric by 2030, so with the Wraith and Dawn being euthanized that leaves only the Phantom, Cullinan and Ghost to be replaced with EV equivalents. We ask Müller-Ötvös if it’ll be that simple – straight like-for-like replacements, names and all?
“There is no need to keep certain name plates automatically in the future. The brand is well known for reinventing itself when it comes to naming over time,” he explains. “We will probably always carry Phantom, the Phantom is part of our brand in the genes, but let's see what happens. And you are right, we will electrify the entire model range, rightly so, and by 2030, all Rolls-Royces are full electric.”
TEXT Jack Rix