Strive for Perfection

Rise of the Spectre

Rise of the Spectre

The Spectre model of the Rolls Royce Phantom is driving down the road.

Rolls-Royce’s Spectre represents the start of a new, all-electric chapter in the marque’s story, one to which Ray Massey is happy to raise a glass

It was frankly too good a challenge to resist. And I can resist anything but temptation.

At the global media launch of Rolls-Royce’s first production electric car – Spectre – held in the heart of California’s Napa Valley wine region, Director of Engineering Dr Mihiar Ayoubi was giving a detailed technical presentation on the landmark battery-powered fastback’s years of development and refinement.

They call the latter part of the testing process the “finishing school”, during which the new Spectre is “taught” how to become a true Rolls-Royce with refined manners and “waftable” acceleration. “Crucially,” the company stresses, “it is a Rolls-Royce first and an electric car second.”

As Dr Ayoubi was winding up, he revealed, in what was almost a throwaway line, another requirement. As well as testing the new model in the gruelling all-weather extremes of freezing Arctic cold and burning African heat, the Rolls-Royce engineers have ensured it meets one other important though quite unofficial challenge – the “champagne test”.

This dictates that, however rough the road, the ride must be so smooth that a passenger sipping champagne does not spill a drop from their glass.

“When you accelerate the car, you should not lose a single drop of champagne,” explained Dr Ayoubi. “It’s about waftable acceleration, which pulls you like a magic hand. It’s a feeling. Like a smooth golf swing. It’s not measurable. Refinement goes far beyond numbers.”

A Spectre rises silently in the darkness of a room, its luxurious Rolls Royce parked elegantly.
Spectre's global media launch took place in California's famous Napa Valley wine region
A man driving a Rolls-Royce Phantom in spectre.
Ray Massey takes Rolls-Royce's exciting new electric coupé for a spin

The champagne test

Well, there was only one thing for it. To see if it really works, and somewhat to the Rolls-Royce team’s surprise, I asked to try out the champagne test for myself. Sportingly they agreed, although to comply with California law regarding alcohol in cars (it’s prohibited unless the passenger is being driven by a legally licensed chauffeur), we replaced champagne with a sparkling non-alcohol substitute.

With the help of Rolls-Royce executive Georgina Cox at the wheel, we carried out the test. Sitting in the rear I was driven down a rough vineyard track, and so smooth was the suspension that the surface of my drink remained absolutely level throughout.

We then swapped places, and I did the driving while Georgina sat in the back holding the champagne flute. Again, not a drop spilled as the suspension levelled out any bumps in the road and the liquid within the flute remained as calm as a millpond.

Champagne test duly passed, there were non-alcoholic cheers all round. However, when I pushed my luck and suggested, tongue firmly in cheek, repeating the test with a glass of fizz perched on the elegant paintwork of the mint-new Spectre’s long bonnet, my proposal was met with a good-humoured but resolute “No!”.

“Rolls-Royce always aims to produce its renowned ‘magic carpet ride’ and with Spectre it has electrified the sensation”

A new breed

The finished production vehicle, which has been tested intensely for millions of miles around the globe, marks the end of an era for the luxury carmaker. “Rolls-Royce will never again produce a new model with an internal combustion engine,” it was announced at the media event. Indeed, Spectre is already attracting a new breed of super-rich, young owner who wants to flex their green credentials, as well as their wealth.

Preliminary orders for the new Spectre have brought the average age of Rolls-Royce customers down from 56 to 43 – many of them young entrepreneurs who work in hi-tech and finance – with 40 per cent of them new to the brand, having never owned a Rolls-Royce before.

Prices for the new Spectre start at around £330,000, but few customers will pay that. Instead, the high level of bespoke options so beloved of Rolls-Royce customers means the average outlay is likely to be closer to £500,000. The “hero” spec of two-tone Chartreuse and black will come in at around £450,000, but as the marque emphasises, Spectre has “near infinite bespoke possibilities”.

“As the first fully electric Rolls-Royce ever made, Spectre proves that battery-electric technology has entirely come of age”

Spectre is powered by a mighty 584 horsepower (430kW) electric motor and battery configuration, which propels the near 3 tonne (2,890kg) vehicle from 0 to 60mph in just 4.4 seconds, up to a top speed limited to 155mph. It also boasts a significant full-charge range of up to 329 miles (530km) – enough to drive from London to just north of Newcastle.

The car’s propulsion comes from two electric motors – one driving each axle (190kW at the front and 360kW at the back). And Spectre is Rolls-Royce’s most aerodynamic motor car ever, with a presence and size similar to that of the earlier petrol-powered Phantom Coupé. It is also the first production Rolls-Royce coupé to run on 23-inch wheels in almost 100 years.

But before even the first customer had driven or taken delivery of the sleek, emissions-free fastback coupé, I was given the chance to drive it on the west coast of the USA – Rolls-Royce’s biggest market.

The Spectre of a Rolls Royce Wraith is driving down a road in a vineyard.
Spectre is presented to the world after years of development and refinement
The SEO of a rolls royce.
The model features an aerodynamic take on the Flying Lady

Spectre specs

So, what’s it like to drive? Cruising around the vineyards of the Golden State, I was privileged to be among the first of a select group of motoring journalists to be allowed behind the wheel. To give us a sense of the lifestyle of Rolls-Royce’s Spectre clientele, we were based at the Four Seasons Napa Valley resort in Calistoga. But this wasn’t California dreaming.

Stretching to nearly 5.5 metres, the low-riding, battery-powered Spectre is truly, well, electrifying. It certainly has real road presence – first impressions are of a sweeping, aerodynamic, two-door four-seater fastback with a streamlined Spirit of Ecstasy at its prow. The famous hood ornament has been specially shaped and wind-tested over 830 hours to reduce its air resistance. You can even specify an illuminated version as an option.

Yet close up, you realise that the new model is surprisingly big for such a sleek-looking car thanks to its clever design. Inspired by modernist sculpture, nautical design and haute-couture fashion, it looks slimmer and lighter than it actually is.

The fun begins, however, the moment you open one of the two rear-hinged doors and step into the Spectre’s low-slung cabin. And at around 1.5 metres in length, these laser-welded aluminium doors are the largest pillarless coach doors ever fitted to a Rolls-Royce. Normally there is a button for the driver to press, so that the door closes automatically, but with Spectre you simply press your foot on the brake, and the door silently and elegantly swings shut.

The snug cockpit with its smart digital dashboard is sophisticated, simple, relaxing, restrained and sedate without the need for whizz-bang flashing lights or sci-fi styling to proclaim its electric car status. First and foremost, it is a Rolls-Royce. In the driving seat, Spectre feels cosseting, low and sporty. Yet there’s also a surprising amount of room for two passengers in the rear, thanks to the slightly reclined positioning of the seats, as I found to my own surprise and delight when being driven.

Switch on the ignition and there’s a calm, faintly perceptible tone as the motors spring into 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 – the car does most of the work for you leaving you to enjoy the experience. There’s no clutter of dials and buttons, and even the digital dials are designed with an analogue look and feel.

Spectre is sure-footed, nimble and amazingly responsive. Rolls-Royce always aims to produce its renowned “magic carpet ride” and with Spectre it has electrified the sensation. Acceleration is phenomenal, but also seamlessly smooth and controlled – you won’t feel your neck jerk back, despite its awesome power. One thing owners will need to take care about is watching their speed if they want to keep their licence. Exceptionally fast can seem rather relaxed.

It also feels remarkably intuitive and even the slightest touch on the tiller feeds instantaneously into the wheels. 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. Even after 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 on the column-shifter to activate brake mode. I liked this as you can reduce your reliance on the brakes and let Spectre take the strain with so-called single-pedal driving, which can even bring the car to a complete stop. But everything is seamless. Not at all forced or jerky. It all feels so natural and smooth. Spectre looks and drives just as you would expect a Roll-Royce to do. At no time did I think, “this is an electric car.” I didn’t need to make any compromises or allowances.

Charging the 102kWh battery to 80 per cent using a 195kW (DC) charger takes 34 minutes. A full charge on a less powerful 22kW (AC) charger takes 5 hours 30 minutes, so can be done while at home or in the office. Years ago, Rolls-Royce bosses were sufficiently concerned that their customers would not want to get their hands dirty charging up their own cars that they looked into remote induction charging over a pad. But the world has moved on and DIY charging is no longer a deal breaker.

Rise of the Spectre

A yellow car parked in a parking lot, silently waiting for its driver to return.
The sleek lines of Rolls-Royce’s most aerodynamic motor car ever
A close up of the wheel of a Rolls Royce, showcasing its grandeur and exquisite craftsmanship.
Aesthetics and performance merge in the model’s formidable wheels
A close up of the rear light of a yellow car with a Spectre effect.
Spectre’s detailing mirrors the luxury marque’s spirit of innovation
Rolls Royce Phantom Spectre Concept
The distinctive grille in a car that marks a new vintage of electric vehicles for Rolls-Royce
The Rolls Royce Phantom Concept is rising down a road in a vineyard.
The battery-powered fastback coupé seen in its “hero” two-tone finish

A prophecy fulfilled

Spectre marks the first step in a transformation that, by the end of 2030, will mean that all new Rolls-Royce models are purely electric. The company believes that its cars are perfectly suited to electric power and points out that in 1900, its co-founder, Charles Rolls, actually prophesied an electric motoring future. “The electric car is perfectly noiseless and clean,” he wrote. “There is no smell or vibration. They should become very useful when fixed charging stations can be arranged.”

The shortage of public charging points remains an issue following the UK government’s controversial ban on the production of all pure petrol and diesel cars from 2030, and hybrids from 2035. But Rolls-Royce Chief Executive Officer Torsten Müller-Ötvös, who took over in 2010 and has led the company’s electrifying journey since, says that fulfilling its co-founder’s forecast was “an audacious promise kept”.

“This has been the highlight of my career to date and a landmark moment for Rolls-Royce,” he explains. “We promised we would do it. We kept our promise. We hope Rolls-Royce’s founders – the Honourable Charles Rolls and Sir Henry Royce – will be looking down with approval. Fingers crossed.”

The Rolls-Royce team are certainly confident that this is Spectre’s time, as they observed at the Napa Valley launch. “As the first fully electric Rolls-Royce ever made, Spectre proves that battery-electric technology has entirely come of age and can be successfully deployed at the very apex of automotive excellence, luxury and performance.

“It also represents an epochal technological and intellectual shift for the marque. Spectre is the Rolls-Royce that changes everything – the world’s first ultra-luxury electric super coupé, ushering in the marque’s bold new all-electric future.”

Engineering chief and creator of Rolls-Royce’s unofficial champagne test Dr Ayoubi concludes, “We sent Spectre to finishing school. We’ve been educating Spectre to behave like a Rolls-Royce and preparing it for graduation. We believe it has now graduated with first-class honours.”

Ray Massey is Motoring Editor of the Daily Mail.