Rolls-Royce Spectre prototype

rolls royce spectre prototype drive 2023 01 tracking front
We join the Rolls-Royce engineering team for a very special early drive in the brand’s first electric car

A Rolls-Royce first, an electric car second: that was the brief from company CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös to the engineering team creating the Rolls-Royce Spectre.“People tell us they would have bought the Spectre with a V12,” says Müller-Ötvös of the customers who have already seen and ordered the car without driving it. “That shows this is the right car.”The Spectre, then, is Rolls-Royce’s new flagship two-door coupé that just happens to be powered by electricity. At 5.5 metres long, it’s the indirect (and lower and sleeker) successor to the Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupé that went out of production in 2016, and it’s bigger than the also now retired Rolls-Royce Wraith and Rolls-Royce Dawn two-door models.“The Phantom Coupé is seen as one of the most striking Rolls-Royce cars, and it’s pretty rare: maybe only a couple of hundred [were made],” says Müller-Ötvös. “If you own one, look after it and don’t sell it… Clients say it would be great to bring it back, and this inspires what we do. We didn’t want to do an EV, we wanted to do the most luxurious coupé. Electric is just a by-product. This is just the next phase for V12.”The Spectre was revealed late last year, and it looks like the finished article when we arrive in South Africa’s Western Cape to drive it. Yet although it looks nished from the outside, this isn’t an ordinary first drive: the car is only 60% ready for production and at least eight months away from being in the hands of its first customers towards the end of this year.For this is part two of a story we first told in the spring of last year, when we got to ride in Spectre prototype number six in Sweden’s Arctic Circle, right at the beginning of the Spectre’s development programme. That was extraordinarily early to be offered such an opportunity, but Rolls-Royce wants the development of such a milestone model in its illustrious history documented, warts and all.So now it’s to South Africa to join part three of the programme, with a further two stages to come. Not that there are many warts to find here. By the end of our drive, 60% seems barely believable; try 95% and just some detail changes to make. But this is Rolls-Royce.“We’re never satisfied,” says Mihiar Ayoubi, Rolls-Royce’s director of engineering. “We’re always searching, provoking the car. It’s marginal gains, like in sport; we’re trying to make lots of very small detail changes to make up big changes. It takes much more to achieve exceptional.”The Spectre starts from a pretty exceptional base to begin with. It’s based on Rolls-Royce’s bespoke aluminium spaceframe, the Architecture of Luxury, which was introduced first on the eighth-generation Rolls-Royce Phantom and used since on the Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Rolls-Royce Ghost. This makes much of its hardware familiar, including the clever active roll bars, adaptive dampers, Planar suspension, four-wheel steering and air springs, but the body is all new, as is, of course, the drivetrain and the electric architecture (what Ayoubi calls the car’s “backbone”, allowing its 100-plus complex sub-systems to be integrated with one another and deal with more than 140,000 send-and-receive functions).The drivetrain features electric motors front and rear for four-wheel drive that draws power from what’s described as the “largest battery pack in the BMW Group”, at around 106kWh. The motors, co-developed with BMW, produce a combined output of 577bhp and 664lb ft, and the Spectre has an estimated range of 320 miles. The kerb weight is as vast as you would expect for such a big car and the battery to power it, coming in at 25kg under three tonnes, but it can still accelerate from 0-62mph in 4.5sec… As well as being 5453mm long, the Spectre is 2080mm wide and 1559mm high. It has a wheelbase of 3210mm.Jörg Wunder, head of projects at Rolls-Royce and the man leading the Spectre’s testing programme, looks a little nervous in the briefing before our drive, much like he did when we first entered his place of work in Sweden last spring. “You’re the first to drive it from outside the company,” he says. The disclaimers we have to sign run to several pages long, because these are not normal production cars, rather engineering prototypes.But he’s far more relaxed in the front passenger seat when we join him in his fourwheeled of office, the vast 1.5-metre rear-hinged door, the largest yet fitted to a Rolls-Royce, having automatically opened for us. Everything in this cabin is very familiar from other recent Rolls-Royces, and the words of Müller-Ötvös are ringing in my ears: “It’s a Rolls-Royce. There are no gimmicks for the sake of gimmicks, like putting a huge screen inside. There’s no need for something super-funky and high-tech; our customers have other cars for that.”The more restrained centre touchscreen is neatly integrated and the driver’s display is now digital, but it doesn’t shout about its tech or give away any impression that this is an electric Rolls. I like to sit low in cars, but such is the Spectre’s vastness that I move the seat far higher than normal in order to get a view of the end of the bonnet and to be able to more accurately place the car on the road.Lifting up the seat gives a glimpse of the Spirit of Ecstasy that has been redesigned for better aerodynamics, in turn helping to contribute to the 0.25 drag coefficient, the lowest yet for a Rolls-Royce. The cabin’s front doesn’t feel exceptionally spacious for something so large, but this is a more shrink-wrapped coupé, and perhaps the slight shortfall of airiness is accentuated by the standard black trim that you can’t ever imagine a Rolls-Royce customer choosing, given the level of customisation. It’s still more than generous in size, though, and in the back there’s room for two adults.Don’t expect BMW’s Theatre Screen rear-seat entertainment package to find its way into a Rolls-Royce, however, because it would prevent the starlight headliner being offered. “Our customers have screens at home, and this is their room without a screen,” says Ayoubi.The Spectre starts in silence and moves away in the same state. Rolls-Royces are known for many things, most notably their exceptional refinement, quietness and sense of calm. This has always made electric power such an obvious next step for the brand. “‘Are you sure you want to leave behind the V12, a masterpiece?’” Müller-Ötvös says he’s asked by customers. His response? “V12 is the best we had, but this is a next step.”And so it proves on the road in the Spectre: silence suits it well. In many ways, there isn’t anything that revolutionary about the Spectre’s drivetrain. Character has been lost from the V12, for sure, but the way Rolls-Royce has tuned its powertrains mean they both perform in a very similar way – except one is quieter. The no-gimmicks policy extends to driving modes. There aren’t any, only a ‘B’ mode to turn on regenerative braking for one-pedal driving. This is what I used for most of the drive. It’s well calibrated and allows for aggression-free onepedal driving in most circumstances.The Spectre is supremely refined, beyond the quietness of even the BMW i7, which has nailed refinement best of all so far in the EV world. If anything it’s too quiet, to the point that you lose connection with the outside world. The ride is smooth, comfortable and so good at absorbing bumps; and the steering isn’t disturbed by what is happening at the point of the car’s connection to the road surface.Rolls-Royce has developed an artificial sound that can be turned on or off for those inside the car (it defaults to off), but it’s subtle. Sound levels in the cabin are still to be tuned to get the ‘right kind’ of silence. “You can achieve absolute silence, and this is luxury,” says Ayoubi. “We’ve reached such a low level of silence that it can become too quiet, too uncomfortable, so you need an equaliser to connect you to the outside world. It could even become a safety issue. You need some coupling.”One thing that’s right straight out of the box is the acceleration. The novelty of nausea-inducing acceleration in electric cars has long since worn off, and this wasn’t a trend that Rolls-Royce was ever going to experiment with. The Spectre feels as fast and as effortless in its performance as it needs to be, no more.As with any Rolls-Royce, the first couple of miles are spent taking extra care placing the car. It doesn’t feel excessively wide, and no more so than a large SUV. This is helped by the light steering’s accuracy: turning the wheel and navigating through a busy town is effortless. For the most part, it rides very well indeed. There are some low-speed trade-offs, due to the vast 23in alloys, but this is still being developed. Fundamentally, this is a seriously comfortable car with excellent body control. It really does handle when pushed on, too, there being plenty of grip and the four-wheel steering allowing far greater cornering speeds than you would expect.The test programme has a few more days left in South Africa, before the accumulated knowledge gets pooled back to Goodwood and the next iteration of the car is created – ready for more testing. Yet even after all that testing, and with the car overall feeling so close to production, Rolls-Royce estimates that it’s not even close: just 80% of the way there.
Source: Autocar

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