The chrome Spirit of Ecstasy bobs and weaves at the edge of the horizon and the huge tyres squeal just before I rocket out of a bend on a wave of electric thrust. Rolls-Royces are at home in Wine Country, but I'm sawing at the wheel and trail braking into bends and… these are not things you do in a Rolls-Royce, well, anywhere. But there's never been a Rolls-Royce like the 2024 Spectre. And I'm going to get in trouble for writing that.
Because if there's one message the company's impeccably dressed staff pounded into my head over and over during two days in Napa Valley, it's that the legendary British brand's intention was not to build an EV, but a Rolls-Royce. And whilst it's succeeded, divorcing the Spectre from its powertrain is impossible simply because of how natural the pairing feels.
Rolls-Royce is switching to electrification as easily as you or I change our shoes. And that's because more than any other brand on the planet – not Mercedes-Benz, Bentley, Ferrari, or Tesla – Rolls-Royce can justify, rationalise, and flat-out engineer its way out of the problems inherent in today's BEVs and draw the maximum benefit out of electrification's strengths.
But there's a tinge of sadness in this vehicle, which marks the beginning of the end of Rolls-Royce's legendary V12 engine. The company is moving on with an inarguable spectacle (and enjoying strong early demand for the Spectre in the process, even if delivery times are stretching out), but there's no question that this first taste of the future left me a bit sad about the demise of the past.
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|Quick Stats||2024 Rolls-Royce Spectre|
|Motor:||Dual Separately Excited Synchronous Motors|
|Output:||584 BHP / 664 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH:||4.4 Seconds|
|EV Range:||260 Miles (est)|
|On Sale Date:||Q4 2023|
Gallery: 2024 Rolls-Royce Spectre: First Drive
For a brand that famously under-describes the performance of its vehicles as “adequate,” it feels a touch uncouth to focus on performance. But when I pulled onto the Silverado Trail in Calistoga and called for flank speed, being couth was the last thing on my mind. The Spectre's 4.4-second run to 60 is leisurely in today's world of sub-three-second EVs, but in a vehicle that weighs 2,850 kilograms (6,300 pounds) and is 5,460 millimetres (215 inches) long – 180 kg (400 lbs) and 12.7 cm (5 in) more than a Chevy Tahoe – it's spectacular. It's also different from any other EV.
The addicting thing about modern EVs is the immediacy of the torque delivery. Rolls-Royce Director of Engineering Dr. Mihiar Ayoubi said that didn't fit the experience the company wanted for Spectre, though.
“In an electric vehicle, you have instant torque from the machine on the axles to the wheels,” Dr. Ayoubi said during our pre-drive engineering brief. “But this is not what we want to have. We want to put a delay in this instant dynamic system in order to deliver a waft of acceleration.”
The Spectre's 4.4-second run to 60 is leisurely in today's world of sub-three-second EVs, but in a vehicle that weighs 6,300 pounds and is 215 inches long – 400 pounds and 5 inches more than a Chevy Tahoe – it's spectacular.
“Waft” is a word Rolls-Royce should probably trademark, even if it is tough to describe in relation to acceleration. In a V12-powered Rolls-Royce, like the Cullinan, wide-open throttle yields processional, but immense, acceleration, like a gentle song that builds predictably to an all-consuming crescendo. Capturing that sensation with two electric motors that produce 584 bhp and 664 pound-feet of torque is no small feat. But Rolls-Royce manages it with the Spectre – even as the speeds climb, the power arrives gently and the suspension is so beautifully tuned that feeling the 2,850 kg (6,300 lbs) shift rearward is difficult.
Rolls-Royce–worthy acceleration wasn't the only goal. The Spectre needed to stop like a car with the Spirit of Ecstasy on the nose, and for that reason, there is no one-pedal driving mode and only a very modest level of regeneration available on startup. A “B” button on the gear selector stalk ups the regen, but even relative to the BMWs it's related to, the Spectre's regen experience isn't nearly so configurable.
Instead, Rolls-Royce focused on a brake pedal that will feel familiar to owners. There's plenty of travel and nary a hint of grabbiness. Every braking experience, from gentle “champagne stops” – where a passenger wouldn't spill a drop of bubbly – to emergency slow-downs was predictable and easy. In fact, I rarely used the “B” mode to kick up the regen. The brake pedal is that satisfying to use.
The other major benefit of electrification for an ultra-luxury brand like Rolls-Royce is the total lack of sound from the twin motors. One would think, then, that Dr. Ayoubi and his team would shun artificial acceleration sounds like an aristocrat turning their nose up at the unwashed masses. But no, even Rolls gets in on the fake sound game.
And yes, you can have the artifical acceleration sound, much as you can drink red wine with ice cubes. But you shouldn't.
“We learned from our clients that actually they love the [acoustic] response of the V12 and the very subtle feedback that you get when you accelerate. So with Spectre, we have the best of both,” Dr. Ayoubi said. “You can enjoy the complete silence, but there is a sound in the interior to give you that similar response whilst you accelerate.”
And yes, you can have the sound, much as you can drink red wine with ice cubes. But you shouldn't. The soundtrack is vaguely reminiscent of Rolls' sonorous V12, but the volume is at least 25 percent too high. After an initial blast, and seeing my co-driver scrunch his nose at the audio accompaniment, I switched it off. Blissful silence reigned.
That's The Spirit (Of Ecstasy)
That silence was all encompassing, as the ghosts of Charles Rolls and Henry Royce would demand. It's always easy to chalk up a silent cabin to hundreds and hundreds of pounds of sound deadening, but Rolls-Royce did some very clever things to keep the outside world out.
Automakers have been taking advantage of battery placement to improve aero, but the structure of the Spectre allowed Rolls-Royce to go a step further. The battery and floor exist between the top and bottom of the sills with a channel between the two for wiring and climate control pipework. Rolls says making the battery part of the car's architecture allows it to double as a huge chunk of sound-deadening material, but the real benefit is that the construction allows a super-smooth underside.
That aero focus extends to the rest of the car, too. Viewed in profile, the Spectre's nose droops far further than any previous Rolls-Royce. The company even reprofiled the iconic grille and Spirit of Ecstasy, closing off the former and tweaking the body and wings of the latter to minimise the impact on drag. The result is a 0.25 drag coefficient, impressive for any car but even more so for a bluff-faced Rolls-Royce. For reference, the Spectre's spiritual predecessor, the Phantom Coupe, had a CoD of 0.35, while today’s production-car champs, the Tesla Model S and Mercedes-Benz EQS, measure 0.20.
The result of smart aero and plenty of sound deadening is a total absence of wind noise. I'm not just saying it's quiet in here – the sound of rushing air simply doesn't exist. It's like driving through the vacuum of space. I was surprised by the amount of tyre slap over bigger bumps and imperfections, although that criticism is relative. While the dull thud – likely the fault of my tester's 23-inch wheels and 35-series tyres – was surprising, the Spectre was still quieter than just about anything else on the road. I would be curious to try the high-luxe EV with a more conservative wheel/tyre package, though.
I'm not just saying it's quiet in here – the sound of rushing air simply doesn't exist. It's like driving through the vacuum of space.
And while some tire noise did reach the cabin on rough roads, that was the only sign the Spectre was working. The ride quality is immaculate, with the Spectre benefitting from an “evolution” of the planar setup introduced on the Ghost. But the electric Roller is far stiffer, with a 30-percent increase in torsional rigidity. Active anti-roll bars work alongside the revised suspension to limit the effect of single-sided impacts, while four-wheel steering imbues the Spectre with excellent agility at car park speeds.
At higher speeds and on twisting roads, the Spectre is surprisingly delightful. I won't go as far as saying this is an athletic vehicle, but its composure – despite the lack of something so unbecoming as a Sport mode – and willingness to take a bite out of turns is surprising. Body motions are tightly controlled for a big, heavy luxury coupe, and the steering reacts quickly to inputs. In fact, gripping the steering wheel's surprisingly thick rim grew a touch tiresome around town, owing to the Spectre's quick (for a Rolls-Royce) reflexes. It bordered on nervous – a larger dead zone would better match the isolated tiller.
That thick-rimmed wheel is not the lone oddity in the Spectre's cabin. It features a full digital cluster for the first time, and the centre touchscreen runs a new infotainment OS called Spirit. Rolls-Royce calls it the “digital architecture of luxury.” I call it BMW's iDrive7 with a substantial reskin complete with soft colours in a striking scheme. But aside from those three items, the Spectre (thankfully) does precious little to advance Rolls-Royce's gorgeous interior designs.
Leather, wood, and real metal elements cover every surface. Tap the climate vents with your fingernail and they make a delightful “ting,” while the sheer breadth of leather shades and woods is enough to boggle the mind. My only complaint is the abundance of piano-black finishes on the centre stack and console. I don't generally bemoan this on more affordable cars where accountants carry outsized influence, but the Spectre has a £333,175 starting price and caters to the wealthiest individuals on this stupid little planet. Make it wood or metal or carbon or anything other than fingerprint-prone, uninspiring piano black.
There's been a tendency to equate the Spectre with the Wraith (I'm guilty myself, although Rolls-Royce did no favors by using synonyms for its two most recent hardtop coupes), but a stay in the backseats changed my mind. I spent a very pleasant 20-minute drive in the rear of this two-plus-two and enjoyed plenty of legroom and headroom. Getting out wasn't the most graceful thing I've ever done – the front seat does slide forward quite far – but carrying four adults on even a lengthy journey is a cinch in the Spectre.
Life is, unsurprisingly, delightful in front. The huge seats are amply padded and hugely adjustable. In fact, even at 6-foot-2, I found the lowest seating position (my preference) to be a hair too low. Still, sightlines are excellent in all directions, thanks to the huge windows.
An End And A Beginning
Rolls-Royce's test route covered around 200 miles and all the cars started the day fully juiced, so I can't say much about charging or how efficiently the Spectre used its predicted 260-ish-mile range. The Spectre's DC charge rate peaks at 195 kilowatts (which matches the broader BMW family), enough to go from 10 to 80 percent in 34 minutes. A 50-kilowatt DC charger nearly triples the length of your stay, while a 22-kilowatt AC charger does the job in 5.5 hours. That's a very powerful charge rate for a home charger – my home setup, a Grizzl-E Classic box running at 10 kilowatts and 32 amps, would likely do the job in 10 to 12 hours.
The Spectre starts at £333,175, and while Rolls-Royce didn't share an out-the-door price for my tester, it suggested that all the cars in attendance carried an as-tested price north of $500,000 (approx. £394,000). I get the instinct to shriek about that figure in a car that will likely return an EPA range rating of about 260 miles. Yes, yes, yes, a Lucid Air or Tesla Model S will be quicker, go further, and charge faster for about a quarter of the price (those factors all contributed to the Spectre’s verdict). But to those folks, I ask this: who gives a damn? Go touch some grass.
This is a Rolls-Royce. Through and through. That purpose, of being a Rolls-Royce and only a Rolls-Royce, permeates every piece of metal, wood, lithium, or leather. There's not a single automaker anywhere on this planet building an EV that's so quiet, so serene, and genuinely pleasurable to drive and sit in and be seen in. The range and charge speed could be better, but when the folks behind this car say the Spectre does what its customers (all of whom own multiple other cars) want, I'm inclined to believe them.
The Rolls-Royce Spectre is a triumph. And more than that, it's further proof that the move to electrification will have no bearing on the artistry and passion and attention to detail that come from the world's finest automakers. The Spectre is the end of the V12, but it's the start of something much bigger.
Spectre Competitor Reviews:
2024 Rolls-Royce Spectre