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Rolls-Royce Spectre EV Is the Brand's Most Important Car Yet

The Spectre promises a 260-mile range, supreme ride quality and spectacular design touches.

Rolls-Royce Spectre EV
Now that's a Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce has gone through a number of revolutions in the past couple decades. First was the 2003 Phantom, the first Rolls-Royce developed under BMW's ownership and the brand's only truly new model in decades. The early 2010s brought along the smaller Ghost and sportier Wraith and Dawn models, as well as the debut of the Black Badge models. Then in 2018 came the Cullinan, the first Rolls SUV that became an instant sales success. But now Rolls-Royce is undergoing its most radical reinvention since its inception in 1906. On Tuesday, the brand debuted the Spectre, Rolls-Royce's first fully electric production car that will go on sale in 2023.

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Despite an overall shape and profile akin to the now-dead Wraith, Rolls-Royce describes the Spectre as the spiritual successor to the Phantom Coupe of the 2000s in terms of market positioning, and it's certainly imposing in size. Its 214.6-inch overall length and 126.3-inch wheelbase are 7.2 and 3.8 inches longer than a Wraith, respectively, while the Phantom Drophead measures 6.2 and 4.4 inches longer in each respect than the Spectre. The Spectre's fastback roofline is similar to the Wraith's, but the EV has much more dramatic proportions with a longer hood and rear overhang, with the rear trunklid coming to a sharper point. The Spectre also features the crispest lines and surfacing of any Rolls, with fender lines coming to sharply lit peaks and more drastic shadows falling on the bodywork.

The Spectre has the sleekest interpretation of Rolls-Royce's Pantheon grille yet, made from a single piece of aluminum and fit nearly flush into the front end. It's also the widest grille ever on a Rolls, and the inner vanes have a flusher fit that aids with airflow. The hood is topped by a redesigned Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament that helps make the Spectre the most aerodynamic Rolls ever made, with a drag coefficent of 0.26 equalling the radical BMW i8. Rolls-Royce is the latest automaker to go with a split headlight design, but I think it's effective on the Spectre. A super-thin LED running light is aligned with the top of the grille and fender cutlines, while the main beams are inset below in a sculpted panel. And remember, the 2003 Phantom and its spin-offs had double headlight arrays that seemed weird at first, too. Best of all, the sandblasted vanes of the grille are backlit by 22 LEDs.

Baby got back.

Rolls-Royce

Blocky lower air intakes in the front bumper, a streamlined rear diffuser and gloss black lower cladding aid the Spectre's futuristic look. The taillights are relatively tiny rectangular pods with dual vertical LED stripes that protrude from the bodywork like vintage tail fins -- I love basically any car with tail fins -- and the Spectre even has a bit of a Bangle butt in the way the trunk is more upright than the fenders that house the taillights. Rolls-Royce also picked a pretty wild spec in which to launch the Spectre, with sparkling mustard yellow bodywork paired with a metallic black finish on the hood, roof and upper trunk. The two-tone look really aids the Spectre's in looking sleeker and, dare I say, more sci-fi.

The Spectre is built on the same modular Architecture of Luxury platform that has underpinned everything since 2017 from the Cullinan and Ghost to the Phantom and the insane coachbuilt Boat Tail. Rolls-Royce designed the all-aluminum Architecture of Luxury to be ready for fully electric powertrains from the start. The battery is integrated into the structure itself, which makes the Spectre 30% stiffer than any Rolls before it, and the car's floor is between the sills instead of below or on top. There's a channel between the battery and floor for wiring and climate control piping, allowing for a lower seating position and a smooth underfloor. The battery also conveniently acts as 1,543 pounds of sound deadening.

Where other marques are locked into a battle of who can achieve the lowest 0-to-60 time or the highest EPA range figure, the Spectre is harking back to the days when Rolls-Royce would simply describe its cars' power figures as "adequate." While the brand isn't saying yet, the Spectre likely uses a pair of electric motors, with one at each axle for all-wheel drive. According to Rolls' current testing, the unknown electric motors provide a total of 577 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque -- conveniently the same torque output as the twin-turbo V12 used in the Ghost Black Badge, with only 14 fewer hp. The Spectre has an anticipated 0-to-60-mph time of 4.4 seconds, which is a tenth quicker than the Ghost, and it will reach a limited top speed of 155 mph. (A more powerful Black Badge model will come later.) We don't know the exact battery size yet, but Rolls-Royce says the Spectre is aiming for an EPA-estimated range of up to 260 miles, 14 miles better than a Porsche Taycan GTS.

The Spectre is the first Rolls-Royce in 100 years to have 23s.

Rolls-Royce

One thing that absolutely could not be adequate was the ride quality. Rolls-Royce's signature "magic carpet ride" had to be intact, even with the Spectre's available (and incredible looking) 23-inch wheels, the first time 23s have been fit to a Rolls in nearly 100 years. To achieve the perfect ride, the Spectre has the latest version of the brand's Planar suspension. For a smooth ride along a rough surface or when the car detects a pothole or undulation ahead, the Spectre can automatically decouple its anti-roll bars, allowing each wheel to move independently and eliminating the side-to-side motion that you normally would encounter. When the Spectre's sensors and GPS detect a curve ahead, the system recouples the anti-roll bars, stiffens the dampers and readies the four-wheel steering system for the ideal entry angle. In all there are 18 sensors monitoring the Spectre's various braking, power, steering and suspension inputs, constantly adjusting everything for improved control and a smoother ride.

All of that serenity comes through to the interior, which takes fewer risks with the overall design -- it does need to feel familiar to traditional Rolls-Royce drivers, after all. But as is typical with recent offerings from the Goodwood brand's modern era, there are more than enough details that have me foaming at the mouth. The dashboard features a mix of real aluminum, leather and wood trim, with traditional design cues like the round metal air vents, physical climate knobs and organ-pull controls intact. There's a wide center screen running, thankfully, a new infotainment system that looks to be based on BMW's iDrive 7 (the rotary knob on the center console matches, too).

Like the Wraith, the Spectre has a four-seat layout with a fixed rear center console bisecting the sculpted bucket seats. Given the lack of transmission tunnel, it seems physically possible that Rolls-Royce could actually offer a five-seat configuration, which the Wraith and Dawn never had. (The Phantom Coupe and Drophead didn't, either.) The front seats have a much more modern design inspired by British tailoring, with new lapel sections for added contrast. Where the Spectre's interior gets really radical is the gauge cluster, which is fully digital for the first time ever. Rolls isn't talking details yet, but the gauges look modern while paying enough homage to vintage watch-like instruments. And don't worry, there's still a physical clock set into the dash next to the large passenger trim panel, which on this Spectre has a fabulous illuminated design.

The Spectre's dashboard is mostly traditional.

Rolls-Royce

But to me, and thousands of other adoring fans around the world, the only feature that truly matters on a Rolls-Royce is the Starlight headliner, and the Spectre takes its execution to another galaxy. Made up of thousands of fiber-optic cable hand-stitched into the headliner, the Starlight option is so desired by customers that it increases a used Rolls' value by multiple times the original cost of the actual option if fitted -- already close to $20,000, and it's mimicked by many aftermarket tuners. Obviously the Spectre is available with the Starlight headliner, but it is now augmented by Starlight doors, too. The curved door panels have 4,796 individual stars that are arranged in a new type of pattern that gives the overall Starlight effect a globe-shaped 3D effect, like being in a planetarium. Rolls-Royce says the Starlight doors are its Bespoke division's most technologically advanced feature ever -- a lot of superlatives with this car, right? Like with the existing Starlight headliner, the Starlight doors should be personalizable, so you can make the cabin's stars look like the real-life stars did on the night Cher was born. That's what I'd do, at least.

Rolls-Royce isn't ready to talk pricing specifics yet, only saying that the Spectre's base price will land somewhere between the Cullinan (around $350,000) and the Phantom (around $460,000). But Rolls-Royce doesn't actually sell any cars at their base price, or really anywhere close to it. As with every modern Rolls before it, the Spectre will be basically infinitely customizable -- the brand offers more than 44,000 paint colors alone, along with the option to design your own.

But look at the Starlight Doors!!!

Rolls-Royce

With the start of 2023 just two months away, many high-end luxury brands are just at the point of showing electric car concepts, like Bentley with the EXP 100 GT and Mercedes-Maybach with the EQS, and some are only talking eventual EV timelines, like Bugatti and Ferrari. But Rolls-Royce, traditionally one of the stodgiest, slow-to-change automakers on the planet, is here with its production EV now. The first customers have already finalized their specs, with deliveries to start in the fourth quarter of 2023. Rolls-Royce knows that the future of the luxury car is electric, and every car it sells will be fully electric by 2030.

There is one production EV entering production just a couple months after the Spectre that will be its only true rival for now, but it's from an unexpected brand: Cadillac. This Monday night, Cadillac unveiled the production version of its Celestiq EV, a stupendous, gigantic four-door fastback with an art deco interior that will be fully hand-built and made to order in Michigan, to the tune of at least $300,000. As much as I hate to be corny and admit the cliche, we're at the start of another roaring '20s, and it's pretty wild that Rolls-Royce and Cadillac are already emerging at the forefront of electric luxury.