So, this really was it. I was among the very first to drive Rolls-Royce’s very first electric car called Spectre.
And it truly was electrifying.
I was privileged to be one of only a handful of people from around the globe to be allowed behind the wheel of a near production-ready version of the sleek battery-powered zero-emissions luxury fastback that is set to revolutionise the British luxury car-maker.
And what an eye-opening treat and delight this super-coupe turned out to be.
Although prices for Spectre will start at around £350,000, the high level of bespoke options so beloved of Rolls-Royce customers means the batting average outlay is likely to be closer to £500,000. So, you’d expect it to be special.
For my road test I had flown to South Africa, where Spectre is coming towards the end of its global 1.5 million-mile testing programme – equivalent to circumnavigating the globe 62 times - with around 1.24 million miles already completed.
Here, the drives were taking place in two locations – baking hot and dry Augrabies in the Northern Cape where temperatures top 50C - and in the more Mediterranean-style Western Cape French Corner winelands, around Franschhoek, near Cape Town.
On those twisting country roads, I took to the driving’s seat for my own exclusive spin.
This was not my first encounter with Spectre.
In March last year, I rode shotgun in the passenger seat of a camouflaged test version on the edge of the Arctic Circle, with much of the dashboard covered up, as it underwent severe cold weather testing around the remote Swedish town of Arjeplog.
Spectre has also been tested in the more temperate Cote d’Azur, in the South of France, where many of its high net-worth customers are more likely to relax.
My driver then was Spectre’s project leader, the effervescent and irrepressible Dr Joerg Wunder – ‘Doctor Wonder’.
Price: from around £350,000
Price with expected ‘extras’: £500,000
On sale: Now
First deliveries: Autumn 2023
Doors: 2 Seats: 4
Kerb weight: 2975kg
Propulsion: Two electric motors – one driving each axle
Battery set-up: Low flat ‘skateboard’ style underfloor battery system doubling as sound insulation
Chassis: All aluminium flexible space-frame chassis
Steering: Four wheel steering system
Power source: Battery
Power consumption: 2.9 miles/kWh
Charging time: 0-80% on a 195kW fast-charger in 34 minutes (est)
Range: 323 miles (London to just north of Newcastle)
Acceleration 0-62mph: 4.5 seconds (est)
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Turning circle: 12.7 metres
This time round, in the gloriously hot summer of the African southern hemisphere I now climbed inside a glamourous fully-revealed Spectre and it was Dr Wunder’s turn to be passenger.
Spectre certainly has real road presence. First impressions are of a sweeping aerodynamic two-door four-seater, with a streamlined Spirit of Ecstasy Flying Lady at its prow. It’s been specially shaped to reduce air resistance even more, and you can even specify an illuminated version as an option.
The fun begins the moment you step through one of the two rear-hinged doors and into the low-slung cabin. For there’s the delicate matter of closing the door behind you.
Now, as customers will most likely be driving themselves – it’s a driver’s car after all – there won’t be an attendant or chauffeur to do it for you. And at around 1.5m these are the largest pillarless coach doors ever fitted to a Rolls-Royce.
Normally there is a button for the driver to press, so the door closes automatically. But Spectre goes one better. You don’t even have to strain yourself do that. In a motion which both surprises and delights, you simply press your foot on the brake, and the door silently and elegantly swings shut and seals you in.
Pure genius. It made me smile every time. Whoever came up with that idea should get a medal.
The dashboard and cockpit is sophisticated, simple, relaxing, restrained and sedate. No whizz-bang flashing lights or sci-fi styling, shouting ‘I’m an electric Rolls-Royce’.
It’s simply a Rolls-Royce, though a beautiful one at that. And making things look simple and effortless is usually the most complex of tasks that the luxury legend pulls after masterfully.
As a driver Spectre feels cosseting, low and sporty in front. Yet there’s also a surprising amount of room for two passengers in the rear, thanks to clever design and the slightly lie-back positioning of the seats.
Then I fired her up. There’s a calm almost silent but faintly perceptible tone as the motors spring to life. Rolls-Royce used the strains of a professional harpist to create just the right ambience.
Driving Spectre is the easiest thing in the world. There’s no clutter of dials and buttons. The car does most of the work for you, leaving you to enjoy the experience.
It is powered by a mighty 577 horsepower (430kW) electric motor and battery configuration which propels the near 3 tonne vehicle from 0 to 60mph in just 4.4 seconds up to a top speed expected to be limited to 155mph.
But it also has a significant full-charge range of up to 323 miles (520km)– enough to drive from London to just north of Newcastle.
It is Rolls-Royce’s most aerodynamic motor car ever, has a presence and size similar to that of the earlier petrol powered Phantom Coupe and is described as its spiritual successor.
On the winding mountain roads of the Cape, Spectre is sure-footed, nimble, and amazingly responsive. Rolls-Royce always aims to produce in its cars a magic carpet ride, and with Spectre it has electrified it.
When, after a period following some slow-moving traffic, the opportunity on a long straight road came to overtake, the acceleration was phenomenal - but also seamlessly smooth and controlled.
One thing owners will need to take care about is watching the speed if they want to keep their licence. Exceptionally fast can seem rather relaxed.
It feels remarkably intuitive and even the slightest touch on the tiller feeds instantaneously into the wheels. Your Spectre goes exactly where you are looking, as if you and the car are joined. And it is fun. You won’t get bored driving this car. After for a long drive in this electric grand tourer, you’ll probably arrive feeling fresher than when you started.
If you want to increase the driving resistance – and generate some more charge – you simply press the ‘B’ button. I liked this as you can reduce your reliance on the brakes and let Spectre take the strain. But everything is seamless. Not at all forced, or jerky. It all feels so natural and smooth.
I joined the new Spectre at a critical time in its progression towards first customer deliveries later this autumn.
All of the mechanics and clever software are in place, but it is undergoing the latter part of its ‘finishing school’ education in which it is being ‘taught to be a Rolls-Royce.’
This of course means detailed tests and checking of electronic data. But it also means that traditional, old school seat-of-your pants feeling in your posterior. There’s nothing to beat it.
Rolls-Royce engineers reckon at the stage I’m driving, the Spectre is around 60 per cent there, and by the time it finishes its time in South Africa it will be closer to 80 per cent. But as many know, that final 20 per cent to achieve ultra-refinement is often the hardest.
There’ll be a penultimate four seasons revamp to double-check how it performs now in a variety of climates, before potential customers are given a chance to try it for themselves to iron out any last minute lifestyle and marginal issues.
‘We’re educating the car to behave like a Rolls-Royce. ‘We’re preparing Spectre for graduation’, says Rolls-Royce’s director of engineering Dr Mihiar Ayoubi as he briefed on his latest life’s work.
What is so remarkable about Spectre, though only in rarefied Rolls-Royce terms I should stress, is just how unremarkable it feels. It looks, drives, and cossets you just like you would expect a Roll-Royce to do. At no time did I think: ’This is an electric car.’
I needed to make no compromises or allowances. The company insists it is making a Rolls-Royce first, and in that respect it has fully succeeded.
Rolls-Royce customers want their luxury cars to be hassle free – but they also trust Rolls-Royce’s engineers to know what is good for them. And they only know that when they experience it for themselves.
Built with pride by the 2,000-strong workforce at Goodwood, near Chichester in West Sussex, Spectre has the biggest set of cobalt-lithium batteries in the parent BMW group.
And they don’t just provide power. They also double as 700kg of useful sound deadening. But while silence may be golden, total silence can be disorienting and even make you feel queasy. So, engineers have to carefully allow some controlled, natural ambient noise, as this is what we, as human beings, are used to. It’s an exceptionally delicate balance, but it works.
Spectre is also highly digitised and the most 'connected' Rolls-Royce ever, packed with 'intelligent' components. Its electronic nervous system has more than 141,200 links. There are 1,000 electronic functions and 25,000 subsidiary functions measuring variations in climate, ground speed, road type, vehicle status and driving style. It has nearly 4.5 miles of wiring, compared to 1.25 miles in petrol driven Rolls-Royces, and 25 times more programmes or algorithms.
Special suspension, sensors and a four-wheel steering system prepares the car for the road ahead. Under cornering, some 18 sensors are monitored, and steering, braking, power delivery and suspension parameters are adjusted to maintain stability.
And the great thing about all of this – as an owner you wouldn’t actually need or want to know any of it. It’s all under the skin. Invisible. But you’ll feel the benefit when you drive it.
Rolls-Royce say their cars are perfectly suited to electric power and that in 1900, Rolls-Royce co-founder, the Honourable Charles Rolls actually – who bought his own early electric car - prophesised an electric future for a clean, noiseless motor car.
In 2011 Rolls-Royce produced an experimental one-off electric prototype – based on a Phantom – called 102EX which I drove around Sussex. But it was before its time and battery range need to develop. It was followed in 2016 by the futuristic concept 103EX.
Last year Rolls-Royce enjoyed record financial and sales performance – which feeds into German parent company BMW – and is on course to beat that this year.
Spectre marks the first step in a transformation, which by the end of 2030 will see all new Rolls-Royce models be purely electric.
Rolls-Royce chief executive Torsten Müller-Ötvös, 62, who took over as CEO in 2010 and over 13 years has led that transformation, told me at the drive in South Africa: ‘I think time will show, once the brand goes completely electric by the end of 2030, that this was absolutely the right decision and that electric is the perfect propulsion for a Rolls-Royce.’
And the new Rolls-Royce Spectre, which carries at its prow the famous flying lady Spirit of Ecstasy, really does now also embody the Spirit of Electricity.2023-02-08T09:01:31Z dg43tfdfdgfd