Charles Rolls would’ve approved, it would seem. In 1900 he said, ‘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.’ There’s still a debate about whether the fixed charging stations are ‘useful’ enough, just a century-and-a-quarter later, but his vision of an electric future has arrived: the first all-electric Rolls-Royce is nearly upon us. It's called the Spectre, and when it goes on sale at the end of 2023 it will be the culmination of a testing programme that’s been ongoing for three years.
In that time the Spectre prototypes have covered more than 2.5-million kilometres – a distance Roll-Royce estimates is equivalent to ‘more than 400 years of use for a Rolls-Royce’. It’s also the first stage of a transformation that will see a completely electrified range being produced at Goodwood by the end of 2030. It’s been written about many times before that electrification does rather suit cars in this topflight bracket. Silence, smoothness, high torque, imperceptible gear changes – all the attributes Henry Royce strove for since he began engineering and building cars in 1904 – are natural assets of electrification. This is a major change, then, but perhaps, more than for most manufacturers, one for the better.
It’s also not the first time that electricity has played a major influence in Rolls-Royce’s future. By 1906, Royce’s manufacturing facility in Manchester was already stretched. So when those two famous names formed a limited company that year, Roll-Royce Limited, job one was to find new premises. Options in Manchester, Coventry, Bradford and Leicester were all considered, but it was a proposal by Derby's council that influenced the decision: move here, and you can have cheap electricity. So that’s where Rolls-Royce ended up. On a 12.7-acres site that's now occupied by one of its main rivals at the time – Bentley, of course – and arguably the main rival today as both companies seek to produce the ultimate electric luxury vehicles.
Anyway, enough of the past, what do we know about the future? Well, read the press pack and you will discover that the Spectre’s design has been ‘drawn from worlds far beyond automotive, including haute couture, modernist sculpture, nautical design, tailoring and contemporary art.’ And to cut through that, what we see here is a replacement for the Phantom Coupé, but in styling terms, it looks more of an evolution of the Wraith. More fastback than two-door saloon bodied. Which will please those who feel that the drivetrain revolution is revolution enough for a brand not historically known for sudden or deep-rooted change.
To run you through a few of the highlights, the post-Goodwood staple of split headlights remains, but the Spectre's upper LED DRLs – just below the leading edge of its bonnet – are ultra-slim. Below them are dark-looking panels that contain the headlights. Behind these tinted panels sit ‘jewellery box-like darkened chromium housings’. In between the headlights is the ‘widest grille ever bestowed on a Rolls-Royce’. It has 22 LEDs softly illuminating the sandblasted rear side of each of its vanes. At night this is said to create a three-dimensional effect.
The Pantheon grille sits at more of an angle than is usual and with flusher-fitting vanes. This gives the front end a smoother look, but it is also about improving aerodynamics. It’s not unheard of for owners of Rolls-Royces to boast about the cost of putting petrol in their cars, so a brick-like frontal area that needed gallons of petrol to push it through the air wasn’t necessarily seen as an issue. But that's not the case anymore. In the new world, where range is everything, a more aerodynamic car is vital. So the glasshouse has been made as seamless as possible and even the Spirit of Ecstasy has undergone a wind-tunnel-induced nip and tuck, and the resulting drag coefficient is 0.25cd. In case you were wondering, that makes this the most aerodynamic Rolls-Royce ever – unless you include a Merlin shrouded in a Spitfire, which had a coefficient of much less. That was 0.02cd.
The Spectre's wheels are 23-inches and the doors are the usual suicide design and hinged at the rear. The jewel-like vertical taillights come in a colourless tone, which allows the owner to select the shade they wish to match the exterior. That’s when they’re not lit, obviously. Roll-Royce says the panel that houses the taillights is the ‘largest single body panel ever produced for a Rolls-Royce, which extends from the A-pillar to the luggage compartment.’
If you’re a fan of the Starlight roof then you’ll love this: the Spectre is available with Starlight Doors, too, with 4,796 softly illuminated LEDs producing the same effect. Then there’s the Spectre’s Illuminated Fascia, which has taken 10,000 collective hours to develop and features the Spectre nameplate surrounded by even more ‘stars’ – another 5,500 of them to be precise.
Then there’s the Spectre’s Spirit. No, we haven’t gone completely mad by quoting verbatim the press pack’s more off-the-wall bits. Spirit is a new digital architecture that underpins the car. This allows owners to tailor not just the usual physical elements of the car, like the stitching, embroidery and piping, but also the colour of the digital elements, such as the dials, in any colour of their choice. This makes the full suite of variations available for the Spectre near-endless.
Spectre is built on the ‘Architecture of Luxury’ – that's the all-aluminium spaceframe at the heart of the Rolls-Royce range, which was originally designed to accommodate a fully-electric powertrain. But there are changes, as you'd expect for such a fundamentally different application. Good ones apparently, because it's 30 per cent stiffer than the chassis of any previous ICE model, thanks to new extruded aluminium sections and the integration of the battery into the structure. Space has been left between the battery and the floor for all the wiring and climate control pipework, which creates a smooth underfloor profile, allows for a low seating position within the tall interior, and utilises the battery for ‘700kg of sound deadening’.
Rolls-Royce’s Planar suspension is deployed for its new model. That's what has been fitted to Ghost and it aims to improve both the low- and high-frequency ride of cars fitted with air suspension. Here, with the latest software and hardware developments, it’s claimed to deliver Rolls-Royce’s hallmark ‘magic carpet ride’. Using the Spectre’s high-speed processing, the Planar system decouples the anti-roll bars when there’s no lateral load, allowing each wheel to act independently to limit side-to-side sway. Planar recouples the roll bars when a corner approaches and stiffens the dampers at the same time. 18 sensors are used to unify the steering, braking, power delivery and suspension to also help keep the car stable through turns.
What about the power and speed of this electric Rolls-Royce? Well, this is a colossal car. Not only for a coupé but any car. It’s longer than a Cullinan at 5,453mm bumper to bumper, and the wheelbase isn’t far off that either at 3,210mm. It’s narrower, but still 2,080mm wide, and considerably lower at 1,559mm high. There’s no mention of the battery size, but bearing in mind the entire car comes with a kerb weight of 2,975kg, expect it to be big. That’s because the unofficial range (Spectre hasn’t been signed off and homologated yet) is 320 miles. Power is 585hp and torque is 664lb ft, which should be good for 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds – or at least that's the target. All those figures will be made official prior to its launch during the last quarter of 2023, along with the Spectre’s price. To give you a clue on that front, the Spectre is positioned between the Cullinan and the Phantom.
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