Rolls-Royce Spectre: “electric super coupe” prototype ride ahead of 2023 debut

Deliveries of the British luxury-car brand’s first pure-electric model are set to begin by winter 2023

Rolls-Royce Spectre prototype

The Rolls-Royce Spectre will be the British marque’s first production electric car when it launches in 2023, before the luxury-car maker ditches petrol power for good at the close of the decade. The “electric super coupe”, as Rolls-Royce describes it, is only 40% of the way through development at the time of writing, but that didn’t stop us from getting some time in the passenger seat of a prototype.

Prototypes of the Spectre are expected to cover 2.5 million kilometres in total, simulating 400 years of real-world use, by the time it makes its world debut sometime next year. That includes extreme hot weather testing in places like America’s Death Valley and South Africa, while a lot of focus will be on European roads that match the routes likely driven by potential owners and are less polished and predictable than test tracks.

Rolls-Royce is keeping its cards close to its chest when it comes to technical details, only revealing that the Spectre will sit on a bespoke aluminium spaceframe architecture. We also know the Spectre will come with four-wheel drive, likely using the dual-motor powertrain from the BMW i7 limousine and iX SUV

Meanwhile, its battery will be the largest in the BMW group, so we expect it to easily exceed the BMW iX SUV’s 105.2kWh usable capacity. And thanks to the battery’s location in the car, and the wiring and piping channels running between the floor of the car and the top of the battery, Rolls-Royce has essentially used it as 700kg of sound-deadening. However, range and performance figures are still under wraps for now.

In terms of design, the Spectre is seen by Rolls-Royce as the spiritual successor to the Phantom Coupe that was produced from 2008 to 2016. But, pictures also show it bears a striking resemblance to the now-discontinued Wraith coupe because of the enormous fastback deck and pair of rear-hinged doors. The brand’s iconic grille and split headlight design have been carried over as well, as has the addition of an extremely long bonnet.

One design element that has been updated for the Spectre is the iconic Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament, which is now more aerodynamic. Rolls-Royce dedicated a combined 830 hours to creating the new aero-optimised iteration of the 111-year-old figurine.

Every figure destined to sit atop the Spectre’s bonnet will still be produced using the same methods Rolls-Royce has for over a century. The mascots will be cast using wax moulds, with the finer details and polishing done by hand, making each one unique.

The redesigned Spirit of Ecstasy is a relatively small component of the Spectre's design, which, according to Rolls-Royce, is the most aerodynamically efficient car it has ever made with a drag coefficient of 0.25Cd – only slightly higher than the Audi e-tron GT and Tesla Model S.

Pricing for the Rolls-Royce Spectre is still under wraps for now, but we wouldn't be surprised by a price tag in excess of £300,000. First customer deliveries will begin towards the end of 2023.

Rolls-Royce Spectre prototype ride

While there was a wealth of black fabric concealing the design of the cabin, with the two coach doors closed, you feel cocooned in your seat. And then, once on the move, it’s the silence that you notice first and foremost; not even a distant whine from the front axle’s electric motor is able to penetrate the serenity of the Spectre’s cabin. Approaching 80mph and there’s merely a faint whoosh from somewhere around the A-pillar, which Rolls-Royce’s engineers have already found a fix for.

There’s also a slight noise that Rolls calls the ‘motion sensation’, added on purpose by channels that allow air to flow between the battery pack and the side sills. This controlled amount of ‘motion sensation’ is inaudible when you’re pulling away, but at higher speeds, it’s perhaps the only thing preventing the driver from having no sense of speed – that’s the level of refinement we’re talking about in the Spectre.

Unlike your average EV, the Spectre won’t have multiple settings for the regenerative braking system. Instead the car will use multiple parameters, including data from the GPS on the road type to the radar looking at the traffic ahead, and adjust the strength of the regen accordingly.

David Monks, production project leader on the Spectre, explained: “We don’t think the clients would want to have to flick between settings for this, and we’re optimistic that they won’t really notice much change between those situations. The overall goal is to not give them any nasty surprises.” Although, there will be one-pedal mode, accessed via a stalk on the steering-column stalk that’s normally used to force the marque’s combustion-engined models into first gear.

A brief ride on the test track revealed that Spectre, however many tonnes it may weigh, does a good job of disguising it. The Spectre isn’t capable of reorganising your internal organs like the fastest Porsche Taycan or Tesla Model S can, but the electric super coupe picks up well off the line, and there’s plenty of shove mid-corner; it feels like it’ll deliver the effortless performance we expect from a Rolls-Royce.

Out on the road, closer to what you could call an everyday driving situation – for a Rolls-Royce at least – the Spectre is exceptionally refined, and looks relaxing to drive for a car of this size. It even corners surprisingly flat. All of the engineers seemed convinced that the ride in our prototype is still a touch too firm, but Jörg Wunder, the engineer leading the project, is confident that an upcoming change in damper spec will bring this car closer to the ‘magic carpet ride’ Rolls-Royce is known for. Though from the passenger seat, it feels tantalisingly close to it as is.

Rolls-Royce’s history with EVs

Rolls-Royce has some form when it comes to battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), given the company founders' passion for electric cars. Sir Henry Royce supposedly considered fitting an electric powertrain in its first cars – although elected not to due to range and charging issues at the time. Charles Rolls acknowledged the advantages of an electric powertrain in 1900, saying: “The electric car is perfectly noiseless and clean. There is no smell or vibration, and they should become very useful when fixed charging stations can be arranged.”

In addition, Rolls-Royce has dipped a toe in these waters before: 10 years ago, the brand took the wraps off the 102EX (pictured above), also known as the Phantom EE (Experimental Electric): a prototype zero-emissions version of what was then its flagship limousine.

In place of the 6.75-litre V12 found in the petrol-powered Phantom at the time was a 71kWh battery and two electric motors powering the rear wheels, producing 389bhp and 800Nm of torque. But while the electric Phantom prototype was an impressive concept at a time when many brands were yet to jump on the EV bandwagon, it could only cover 124 miles on a charge and the battery had a lifespan of just three years.

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