Despite Rolls-Royce’s affinity with silky smooth V12 engines, electric vehicles have been on the radar of the century-old carmaker for longer than you might think. “The electric car is perfectly noiseless and clean. There is no smell or vibration. They should become very useful when fixed charging stations can be arranged.” So said Charles Rolls, all the way back in 1900, six years before he would establish the eponymous marque with his friend, Henry Royce.
Despite Rolls’ prophecy, petrol power won out and more than a century of combustion-engine Rolls-Royces followed. Then, several years ago, the Goodwood-based marque began experimenting with electric batteries. By 2021, Rolls-Royce was ready to tease images of its first, production-line electric car – the Spectre.
The curtain was pulled back proper in June 2023, when the Spectre was officially launched during test drives around California’s Napa Valley. Its presence in the hills of America’s wine country was hard to ignore. Measuring almost six metres long, the two-door, four-seat coupe is marginally shorter than the marque’s Phantom Extended Wheelbase – the longest production car in the world. Despite its electric underpinnings, Spectre retains all of Rolls-Royce’s classic design cues with its long bonnet, upright front, high beltline and sheer surfaces. Its slick, rakish design makes an instant impression – even among other Rolls-Royces.
“For me, it’s important [the design] relates to the electrical drivetrain,” says Rolls-Royce’s director of design, Anders Warming. “But also the fact that we are referencing cars of the past. This is where a brand like Rolls-Royce pays tribute to its founders. The spirit of those founders continues in this car.”
For Spectre, the design boils down to just three lines, or “pen strokes”, as Warming calls them. There’s the beltline, that extends from the front of the car to Spectre’s thick, sloping rear pillar. Then the shoulder line, which starts at the door handle and creates another svelte curve. Lastly, and most intriguingly, we have what Warming refers to as “the waft line”. Located across the lower part of the sill, the line gives the Spectre its graceful and peerless presence on the road.
At the front, the grille is the widest of any Rolls-Royce. Above the grille sits a revised Spirit of Ecstasy, with lower wings to make it more aerodynamic. It’s a small touch that only the keenest of Rolls-Royce fans will detect, but it’s also a nod to the need for EVs to stay as slippery as possible. Range, after all, has always been the biggest hurdle.
On that front, the Spectre’s impressive 329-mile WLTP limit is the result of a whopping 102kWh lithium-ion battery. It alone adds 700kg to the car. Attached to two motors – one front and one back – the Spectre’s powerplant produces 430kW (584hp) and 900 Nm of torque, propelling the car from standing to 60mph in 4.4 seconds – that’s some achievement for a car that weighs just shy of three tonnes.
Despite the weight, the engineering wizards in Goodwood have worked wonders on the Spectre’s ride and handling. It’s business as usual when it comes to Rolls-Royce’s fabled ‘magic carpet ride’ and, on the tight and twisting canyon roads of Californian, the Spectre corners surprisingly well, with minimal roll and absolutely no fuss. Accelerating out of the bends is a pleasure – you won’t snap your neck the way you do in other electric cars, the engineering team at Rolls-Royce having deliberately built in a slight delay upon accelerating so as to keep the ride smooth.
“Other manufacturers are rocketing the car,” says Dr. Mihiar Ayoubi, Rolls-Royce’s director of engineering. “That’s exactly what we don’t do – we put in an artificial delay to the electric drive because it should feel natural.”
On the road, the Spectre’s various systems work silently in the background to ensure the car remains composed. The deliberate delay is barely noticeable in reality but it does the job. The car accelerates softly and smoothly. Boot the right foot and it is possible to make it pitch up and down but only under extreme acceleration or braking, as you might expect from a three-tonne car with close to 600hp.
In the cabin, the quality of materials, layout and feel is second to none. Few cars match the interior experience and theatre of a Rolls-Royce and the Spectre is the marque’s most advanced motor yet. The company’s much-loved starlight headliner, which debuted in 2007, now spills into the doors and the sides of the rear passenger compartment, with 4,796 softly illuminated ‘stars’ adding wraparound sparkle to the Spectre’s interior. While it might not be for everyone, it’s nothing if not an innovative and unique approach to interior lighting.
Up front, the Spectre sports new and simplified digital graphics in the driver’s dash display as part of the brand’s new digital ‘Spirit’ architecture. As well as allowing owners to configure the colour of the dials and dash display, the Spirit system manages the car’s functions and syncs with Roll-Royce’s Whispers app, meaning that owners can interact with their car remotely.
Blending a touchscreen interface with a reassuring number of beautifully-made metal buttons and switches, Spectre’s centre console marries exquisitely-realised form with best-in-class function. I spent almost four hours behind the wheel, yet emerged from the car’s sumptuous and soundproof interior feeling fresh – rested, even. Only a handful of cars have the ability to make you feel like that. It is one of the Spectre’s greatest strengths.
“Our clients clearly said it needs to be a Rolls-Royce first, and an electric car second,” says longstanding Rolls-Royce CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös. Outlining experimental vehicles like the electrified Phantom 102EX, which revealed the marque’s electric curiosity in 2011, Müller-Ötvös is keen to point out that it’s taken more than a decade for the technology to mature to a point where Rolls-Royce felt it could commit to a fully electric car.
“When we spoke about going electric, battery technology and charging were not at levels that I, or our clients, would consider as being appropriate for a Rolls-Royce,” he says.
Ahead of its own EV arriving in 2025, Bentley will no doubt be keeping close tabs on sales figures for the Spectre, which is sure to establish itself as the benchmark for any future super-luxury electric coupé. The car starts at £330,000. After extras, most models will leave the factory costing close to half a million. Is the Spectre really that much better than anything else currently on the road?
If you value the coming together of craftsmanship and technology, if you appreciate driving experience and design, then, in a word, yes.
Rolls-Royce Spectre: The Stats
Powertrain: 102kWh battery/2x e-motors
0-60mph: 4.4 seconds
Range: 329 miles
Charging: 195kW (10-80% in 34min)
Price: from £330,000