Seven things we learned driving the new Rolls-Royce Spectre | Top Gear
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Sunday 3rd December

Seven things we learned driving the new Rolls-Royce Spectre

TG crashes Rolls' hot weather testing in South Africa... and tries not to get in the way

Rolls Royce Spectre
  1. It looks Spectre-acular on the move

    It looks Spectre-acular on the move

    Sorry, but even the amazing images here don’t do justice to the real thing. The Spectre is a huge statement car, more than ever now that Rolls-Royce has finally embraced electrification. It’s imposing rather than pretty, but fabulously coherent. The overall shape is defined by a silhouette line, a shoulder line, and what Rolls calls a waft line. It needs those 23in wheels to do its best visual work. Its aero numbers are impressive, the tapered tail helping it to a 0.25 drag co-efficient. The grille is the widest ever on a Rolls, also designed to reduce drag. The aperture beneath the grille and bumper is the one feeding cooling air. The Spirit of Ecstasy is leaning forward more than before, for improved efficiency. The split headlights look better resolved here than on other Rollses; the upper ones are permanently lit. The sense of strength this shape and body imparts is extraordinary, although South Africa’s liquid light helps. 

    Photography: Mark Fagelson

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  2. It feels... well, like a Rolls-Royce

    It feels... well, like a Rolls-Royce

    Full disclosure: we’re driving a pre-production car, on a late stage hot weather test in South Africa. ‘Feel’ is the key word, though not perhaps in the traditional road-testy sense. It’s an idea Rolls CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös is particularly keen on. Remember, the Rolls-Royce Phantom is a car that can be driven with a fingertip touch on the wheel, so these cars have a unique dynamic imprimatur. The Spectre is definitely more spirited although still no sports car. It’s 5m long, 2m wide and weighs over three tonnes with even a small human behind the wheel. But it has amazing poise despite its mass, and its control weights are very pleasingly calibrated. True steering feel is a dark art, but the Spectre delivers a linearity and balance that’s very special. The batteries weigh 700kg, so even with its aluminium chassis the Spectre is heavy. At least their location under the floor helps promote an effective centre of gravity. An active rear axle also enhances low-speed manoeuvrability, and AWD is a given. As for the fabled R-R ride quality, the components are familiar from the Ghost, although Rolls hasn’t issued full details yet. As on the Ghost, the Spectre has the Planar suspension system, which adds a mechanical mass damper on the front suspension’s upper wishbone to enhance body control. The ride is sublime, even on 23in wheels.

  3. There are very specific challenges when it comes to developing an electric Rolls-Royce

    There are very specific challenges when it comes to developing an electric Rolls-Royce

    We’re driving with Spectre project leader, Joerg Wunder. He’s the man who has to cope with a mission statement that basically says that good is never good enough. Even very good isn’t acceptable. This car has to be spectacularly refined. In the Spectre, the sound of a pin dropping on the lambswool rug could send the otherwise mild-mannered Joerg into an apoplexy. And yet, absolute silence is oppressive, so Joerg is tasked with achieving the perfect balance. “It can also be a safety issue,” he says. “You need a certain amount of noise to enable the driver to place the car properly on the road, and to know what to do on the approach to a corner.” Rolls talks in terms of marginal gains, an idea popularised by former British Olympic cycling boss, Dave Brailsford. Tiny detail improvements can add up to a big win. This explains why Joerg winces as the wind kicks up a bit of a fuss around the door mirrors. He mumbles something in German as the doors lock with a rather weak-sounding ‘kang’ rather than a Rolls-appropriate ‘whump’. And there’s a squeak coming from the driver’s seat, but that’s because I’ve motored it as far back as it’ll go and it disappears when I ease it forward a touch. Joerg looks relieved. “Presumably you thought about camera mirrors rather than conventional ones?” I ask. “We did, but not for long,” he says. “They’re not appropriate on a Rolls-Royce.” 

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  4. It isn’t perfect... but it isn’t finished, either

    It isn’t perfect... but it isn’t finished, either

    Joerg says the Spectre is only 65 per cent finished. Even at this stage, this electrified Rolls – the most important model the company has made since 1906’s Silver Ghost, according to Müller-Ötvös – is the most refined car I’ve driven. Its ambience, atmosphere and the experience of travelling in it are unlike anything else. They’re after marginal gains so I offer marginal criticisms. There could be smidge more weight in the steering, and maybe a little more feel at the top of the brake pedal. The regen braking – triggered by a ‘B’ button on the drive controller – and one-pedal driving mode could be more meaningful. Other than that, it’s bewitching to drive. And somehow it manages not to be a mobile sensory deprivation tank. 


  5. Elements of the powertrain are still secret

    Elements of the powertrain are still secret

    Rolls is keeping its powder dry on the details, but it’s safe to assume the hardware is heavily related to the set-up in the BMW i7 and iX. This is good news because they’re both brilliant. But Rolls-Royce, mindful of the overarching relationship, is extremely keen to put some fresh air between itself and BMW. So the Spectre gets its own bespoke software and the integration is all singularly Rolls-Royce. Its ‘step-off’ is even smoother than the i7’s, its overall calibration more decorous. It will also have a more powerful battery – we’d guess at 120kWh, which puts it right up there with the EV big guns. A 664lb ft torque figure is confirmed, but the exact power output remains a matter of speculation. North of 600bhp, surely, although Rolls is disinterested in any sort of power race, and no one’s going to do a silly YouTube drag race in one. If the motors are the same as BMW’s, they’re electrically excited synchronous rather than ones with fixed permanent magnets, eliminating the need for rare earth metals in the rotor. Charging software is always improving, and while Rolls claims a range of 310 miles WLTP, that’s less of an issue in this car than in other EVs. The average Rolls owner has seven cars in his or her garage, and the Spectre is likely to be a special occasion drive only. The Phantom, with its olde worlde combustion V12, can do the long haul stuff. You are unlikely to see a Spectre owner caught on social media waiting for a charger to become free, or chowing down on a Costa ham and cheese toastie while the car juices up. 

  6. Its interior is deliberately, satisfyingly analogue

    Its interior is deliberately, satisfyingly analogue

    Access to the four-seater cabin is via rear-hinged doors, which the driver closes by pressing the brake pedal. Unlike some high-end rivals, Rolls-Royce has resisted the temptation to deliver a full-bore techno onslaught. There’s no hyperscreen in here, or anything like it. But there are digital instruments for the first time, which do an excellent job of looking exactly the same as analogue ones. There’s a central touchscreen, which can also be accessed via a rotary controller. The climate control is done by big rotary knobs and the traditional Rolls red and blue discs. It’s a fabulously elegant solution, never bettered. The starlight headlining now extends into the doors, and adds up to almost 4,800 individually lit stars. (It’s a Rolls USP and also the reason why you’ll never see a 7-Series-style ‘theatre screen’ in a Phantom or Ghost.) The central console is part of the chassis, which helps rigidity, so there’s no funky real estate happening here, unlike in other big EVs. The seats are fabulous, sumptuous but effective during brisk cornering. And Rolls has designed its own monumental audio system, optimising it right from the body-in-white stage. Our prototype is deliberately rather sombre inside, but in Rolls’ bespoke division anything is possible. A brand new paint shop is planned in the next few years, along with an expanded production facility at Goodwood. 


  7. The group test will cost a fortune 

    The group test will cost a fortune 

    Its rivals aren’t cars. Spectre owners are looking for the four wheeled equivalent of the view from the One57 penthouse in Manhattan, the Project Norse super yacht, or the Gulfstream G650 (a long haul private jet, Elon Musk has one). We’ll see what power figure Rolls settles on, and some might prefer it to be a bit faster, a little more, er, electrifying to drive. But that’s missing the point. We must reserve judgement until we drive the finished car, but the Spectre is a genuinely elevating experience. 

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