Review: Tempus puts the Rolls-Royce Spectre through its paces on a highland road trip for the all-electric ages
Can Rolls-Royce’s new EV capture the magic of the grand tours of the past? We find out as part of our exclusive cover shoot
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has carved a clear path of luxury innovation stretching back over a century to their foundation in 1906. In those early days, motoring was an adventure where routes had to be meticulously planned and petrol stations were a rarity. Rolls-Royce, from the very birth of motoring, personified the pinnacle of luxury motoring in this new, exciting and independent mode of transport.
By the 1930s, transcontinental motoring became the new Grand Tour and, for an adventurous elite, Rolls-Royce was at the forefront of this pioneering movement.
Innovation went hand-in-hand with luxury, and Rolls-Royce was known to carefully balance the needs of the owner with the definition of their brand. No better example of this was a lever on a 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom, which simply said: ‘Not to be used in Great Britain’. This mysterious lever bypassed the exhaust to deliver more power while speeding through the Swiss Alps but, of course, the additional noise was inconsistent with the marque’s reputation for silent and effortless motoring — and so this interesting compromise was found. This innovation would prove en vogue some 80 years later, with supercars regularly changing their harmonics at the touch of a button or blip of the throttle.It wasn’t long ago, when in conversation with former Rolls-Royce Motors CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös, that I considered aloud whether the heritage brand would be the last car manufacturer to go electric, given the driving force of its powerful V12 engines. Unbeknown to me, work on Spectre was already well underway.
Rolls-Royce ventured into the brave new world of EVs in October 2023, staking 120 years of reputation and motoring excellence on its vision of what electric luxury motor cars should represent through these transitional years of fundamental changes in the industry. Spectre was therefore ready for the world — but was the world ready for Spectre?
Having never driven an electric vehicle before, this ambitious review to put Spectre to the test was set to be a totally new experience. Thinking back to those early pioneering days of motoring — and understanding that with EVs it’s all about the range — I set about challenging Spectre to deliver a luxury tour of Scotland, visiting some of the finest hotels and most spectacular scenery in the United Kingdom along the way.
Range would be the biggest challenge, but we planned to test that to the max and I was convinced that careful planning — and dining in carefully selected stop off points equipped with EV charging — would be the key. Arrangements were made and the scene was set for the most ambitious test of Spectre’s capabilities yet.
THE BEST LAID PLANS
Early on a rainy, windswept morning at the Rolls-Royce Technology Logistics Centre in West Sussex, I was handed the key to a glistening Spectre. From the driver’s seat, the familiar starlight headliner and opulent interior greeted me, and the beautifully crafted Spectre logo, with its galactic swirl, shone from the glovebox fascia.
Pressing an EV accelerator for the first time is a strange experience. Spectre literally moved off without a sound as I pulled out of the carpark. All I could hear were my hands moving on the steering wheel — such is the noise suppression and attention to detail. The silence remained as we pulled away up to 60mph while, at higher speeds, tire noise from contact with the road and the gentle flow of air over the wing mirrors was the only sound evident in the cabin. I reached for the media controls and selected some classical music and this ultra-high performance sound system, even at its lowest setting, immediately drowned all external noise, providing background music appropriate to explore Spectre’s personality and unique features.
In the military they say that no plan survives first contact. Suddenly, I realised what the big number staring at me from the beautifully crafted dashboard meant: the range was significantly less mileage than I required to reach my first waypoint just north of Cambridge. In addition to starting out with just 70% battery charge, the range had been compromised by the cold weather. Cold temperatures reduce EV battery performance and, with heated seats and cabin climate controls set to a comfortable ambient temperature, the car’s range was well-short of my first destination. It dawned on me that I would have to experience my first EV charge alone.After being directed to an EV charging point on the M11, near Stansted, I reversed the Spectre into the space between charging cars and connected to the available port, only to be met with an error. Hastily deploying the famous umbrella from the car’s front wing, panic and gloom set in as I wrestled with the charging station in the rain — until another EV driver called out: “It’s probably the charging point, mate”.
Apparently, this happens quite often with public charging points. Soon enough another became available, and I plugged in only for the Spectre to predict a charging time of 1hr 50mins. Not what I’d signed up for, I sought out a coffee as I realised I would never make the fabulous lunch venue we had planned, where a four course meal and EV charger beckoned.
However, I had encountered the strong electric car community and, naturally, the Spectre created a lot of interest. Within minutes, fellow drivers huddled in the drizzle to provide many hints and tips for my continued journey. Happily, Spectre’s battery charged much quicker than estimated, rapidly reaching 80% before slowing down, significantly. Hey presto! We were off and running.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
On the open road, the Spectre is masterful. All chagrin from my unexpected charging experience fell away as I powered north in absolute serenity. With my friend and co-pilot joining me onboard (with technical skills far superior to my own), the full navigational magnificence of Spectre came to life: its systems identifying charging points, predicting mileage and length of charge — all designed to optimise performance.
My inexperience meant we had missed our lunch appointment and so, with a passing visit to Greggs and yet more coffee, we decided to make a sprint, with a series of shorter stops, to our Edinburgh hotel, Prestonfield House.
A five-star hotel by James Thomson, owner of Edinburgh’s celebrated Witchery by the Castle, Prestonfield House came highly recommended as a city oasis. As our reward for making it north of the border, it was a very welcome sight as we arrived in the falling light. I was blown away by the welcome we received. Festive decorations adorned an immaculately detailed classical décor, with rich interior architecture, and artworks packed into a stunning interior. The bedrooms were rich, warm and inviting with classic designs, and punctuated by spectacular views of the mountains and beautifully manicured lawns. Although we were in the heart of Edinburgh city, the expanse and layout of Prestonfield’s grounds gave the impression of being deep in the countryside.
With Spectre safely stored and hooked up to the hotel’s charging point, it was our chance to relax and enjoy Scottish hospitality, and a sublime à la carte menu coupled with a hugely impressive wine list, which we dived into with relish.The next morning, with a reassuring 100% charge on the Spectre, we pushed on towards Fife. There, the renowned Fife Arms welcomed us for lunch before we headed over Strathdon — and drifting snow — in –5˚C weather that Spectre took in its stride. Sophisticated electronics kicked in to manage the lack of traction as the car moved confidently through treacherous conditions.
The sprint north and across to the west coast, and our next pitstop at Inverlochy Castle, was a delight. The well-maintained and constantly twisting A86 and A82 tested the Spectre’s poise into corners. The car’s incredibly low centre of gravity, with no heavy engine or gearbox, together with its overall weight meant it was sure-footed with virtually no body roll through corners and, without an automatic gearbox hunting for gears, Spectre accelerated smoothly out of the corners, pulling away effortlessly with progressing torque on demand.
Braking was progressive and the low weight transfer reassuring, which meant the Spectre was moving much faster than it would appear. The smoothness of ride and silent surroundings made for exceptional distance coverage without fuss or fluster.
A NEAR-PERFECT CAR
The next morning, following a sumptuous full Scottish breakfast, we stepped out from the luxurious Inverlochy Castle into a sub-zero morning. The Spectre was noticeable in that it had totally defrosted itself of its own volition, and was ready to go. The drive through the ‘Skyfall’ road — where scenes from the 007 film was shot — on the way down to the A66 on our way home was spectacular, with some of the finest scenery on the planet racing past our windows. Loch Lomond glistened as the sun burst through the clouds, with ice and snow at the corners of the road as we began our journey south and back to the factory where this marvel of modern engineering had been created.
In summation, Spectre is incredible. It encapsulates everything that Rolls-Royce represents in terms of technical excellence and luxury. It embraces new technology and electric power, with smooth delivery of constant, uninterrupted power. Combined with its near-silent running — a feature that has for so long been the hallmark and essence of Rolls-Royce — the Spectre has stepped into a new definition of the art.
If you accept and embrace this new way of driving, and accommodate Spectre rather than expecting Spectre to accommodate you — particularly if asking so much of it as I was, in terms of range — then you have the near-perfect car.After all, if you were running Spectre out and back within its range, to plug it back in at home during the night, you would never need to see the inside of another petrol station again — a very attractive proposition for many of its owners. For lengthier trips, I would suggest planning overnight stays or longer lunches en route, to ensure the ability to recharge — thus preventing lengthy stops at public charge points while you drink your body weight in coffee.
Within the parameters of its extensive capabilities, Spectre is the next generation of definitive Rolls-Royces that take driving luxury to the next level. Attention to every detail and cutting-edge technology come together to deliver a truly world-class luxury experience that, I believe, heralds the next phase in Rolls-Royce’s illustrious history as the number one luxury car manufacturer in the world.