Every public car charger is an oasis where EV species come together to feed and mingle. Brand hierarchies and rivalries are largely set aside. A motley collection of owners, wary of ambush from notoriously unreliable public chargers, cautiously plugs in to meet a basic need: making it back home, to work, and now even through migrations over vast distances. For the full, regal David Attenborough effect, I set out on my own EV road trip in the sumptuous new Rolls-Royce Spectre, a battery-electric fastback coupe with coach doors. Its unchallenged style and status made it the Simba of every charging spot from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, leaving other luxury EVs looking like quivering hyenas.
This story originally appeared in Volume 20 of Road & Track.
Over four days, I covered more than 600 blissful miles in this plug-in plutocrat, and the only anxiety involved dinner reservations. Admittedly, my journey took me through Northern California, not North Dakota or regions where public charging remains rarer than an endangered rhinoceros. In a state where one in four new cars is now an EV and half the electricity comes from solar energy, wind, hydropower, and other renewable sources, the Spectre underscored a tech future foretold by none other than Charles Rolls. In 1900, six years before he and Henry Royce founded the company that bears their names, he noted that electrical vehicles “are perfectly noiseless and clean. There is no smell or vibration, and they should become very useful for town use when fixed charging stations can be arranged.”
Indeed, the Spectre was very useful, as one might demand from a nearly 18-foot-long and seven-foot-wide coupe that starts at $422,750 and climbed to $526,275 with options.
The rippling effects of the Spectre’s near-embarrassing regality begin at San Francisco Airport. A cop at arrivals, the kind tasked with shooing cars from the curbside with Stalinesque rigor, turns into a cooing tsarina instead. She marvels at the pillarless motorized doors, which at nearly five feet long are the largest ever fitted to a Rolls. They swing open like Daddy Warbucks’s generous arms. Sensors ensure the doors open and close at the same rate regardless of hills or transverse slopes. The charmed officer chuckles over the umbrellas hidden in the doors and even climbs aboard to grip the Rolls’s traditionally slim-sectioned, wood-spoked steering wheel. I’m not going anywhere soon.
This car’s spec matches my own Powerball dreams and perhaps even the demands of someone as discerning as Ralph Lauren. The cocooning cabin leans into the superyacht vibe with lovely white-and-navy leather seats and book-matched paldao wood, a rich-striped gray-brown timber typically sourced from Indonesia or the Philippines. Anyone spending this much money and choosing a boring black-on-black limo interior is missing the point.
The moody Starlight headliner paints a constellation above, with optional starlit door panels offering another 4796 points of light. Billet-aluminum vents feel as rich and chilly as Tiffany champagne buckets, with damped organ-stop sliders. The quality of materials and the execution make the screen-heavy interiors of other high-priced EVs look as luxurious as an iPad.
Up front, the retractable Spirit of Ecstasy hood figurine is aerodynamically optimized for this electric iteration. It now crouches more athletically atop a Pantheon grille bookended by frosty split headlamps. Fortunately, that widened, lowered grille stays within the bounds of tastefulness, even when backlit like a tourist temple. Long a Rolls-Royce signature element, that imposing grille is purely trompe l’oeil here, leaving actual systems cooling to fascia openings below.
The Spectre’s entire design hasn’t gotten due credit for how craftily it suffuses Rolls’s British traditions into mesmerizing modern form. Philosophically at least, the Spectre’s clean-skinned, large-canvas effect recalls Gerry McGovern’s deceivingly minimalist designs for Range Rover. Some colleagues have groused that the Spectre fails to flaunt its electric status, in either styling or novel packaging. But why should it? Rolls bided its time for a decade after floating its 102EX electric concept car in 2011. This stately and decorous brand isn’t about to flip tradition on its head overnight, even as it vows to go all electric by 2030. The Spectre may not match the Mercedes EQS’s slippery drag coefficient (a Cd of 0.25 -versus 0.20), but it avoids the Benz’s posh-Prius silhouette. Spectre occupants surely won’t mind the lack of a frunk for their Ferragamo bags once they get a load of what’s working under the bulwark--size hood and below the floor.
Whisking into San Francisco, I come upon City Lights bookstore. It’s blocks from the landmark Sentinel Building, owned by Francis Ford Coppola. The fabled bookshop, co-founded by the late Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is celebrating its 70th anniversary this very week. I park the Rolls and buy a Charles Bukowski collection in tribute, even if the deceased laureate of American lowlife might happily gob on the Spectre or pass out in its back seat. He’d have some difficulty with the latter, as a console bisects that intimate two-place perch. It’s mounted atop a vestigial transmission tunnel from underpinnings shared with the combustion--engine Ghost and Cullinan.
Before crossing the Golden Gate en route to Napa Valley, the Rolls makes its case as the most spooky-quiet car ever made. It’s like being entombed with a pharaoh, but with a better audio system. Behind a steeply raked windshield, virtually all wind noise is muted below 75 mph, leaving a distant thrum from the Pirelli all-season tires mounted on 23-inch wheels. The Rolls can waltz to a digitized power-train soundtrack that sounds good by EV industry standards—think a synthesized chorus of the flying monkeys from Oz—but best expresses itself in silence. The aluminum space frame makes the Spectre 30 percent stiffer than any previous Rolls and eliminates a need for the Ghost’s upper-wishbone damper. A 102.0-kWh battery, plucked from the BMW i7, provides motive power and doubles as 1543 pounds of sound deadening. That battery, its cells produced using 100 percent renewable energy, allows the Spectre to range for a good 260 miles, according to the EPA’s preliminary estimate.
Synchronous electric motors, one at each axle, combine for 577 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque. Officially, the glide to 60 mph takes 4.4 seconds, but this Rolls feels quicker, with a step-off as graceful as Astaire’s.
The Spectre effortlessly wafts past Sonoma Raceway to Napa, its patchwork hills doing their best Tuscany impression. First stop, the storybook estate of Far Niente, the Rolls now in its element in a gracious allée of ginkgo trees along Acacia Drive in Oakville. The Spectre’s sparkling Iguazu Blue paint changes hue like vintage wine, turning a dusky plum in the dappled vineyard light.
Far Niente is a Napa Valley original, its winemaking roots extending to the 1860s, planted by an uncle of painter Winslow Homer. The estate was restored to post-Prohibition glory by the late Gil Nickel, an Oklahoma native and accomplished vintage racer domestically and in Europe. In an outdoor garden, surrounded by some of the most prized soil in the valley, I sample a luscious late-harvest semillon. That’s followed by celebrated estate-bottled cabernets whose classic structure and layered style pair nicely with the Rolls, as do their price. I encountered Far Niente wines as a much-younger man in Detroit, and I recall splurging at $30 or $40 a bottle. Scott, my excellent wine guide, seems to have me confused with an actual Rolls owner when he pitches a wine-club membership with discounts: Far Niente’s latest cabernet release is now just $300 a pop. Luckily, the near-silent Spectre is capable of discreet exits.
Following dinner in St. Helena, the Rolls’s refueling keeps us on budget and schedule. I plug the Spectre into the only CCS--standard Level 2 plug in the hotel parking lot, surrounded by five Tesla NACS posts. I’m reminded again that for old-school, see-the-sights travel—as opposed to hectic 80-mph interstate cross--country sprints—even 260 miles of range seems ample. I feel like I’ve been driving all day, but I’ve covered just 130 miles. Even at a modest 5-kW charging speed, I wake up to a 90-percent-full battery and a claimed 268 miles of range. And the juice is free, even for this half--million-dollar Rolls. With no gasoline stop, I actually save 10 minutes. The Spectre’s only faux pas so far is a weirdly massive charging-port flap, which extends nearly a foot from the rear quarter panel when open. Big doors all around, I suppose.
In California, and many states, the plug-in habitat has undergone a remarkably swift evolution. Only a decade ago in Silicon Valley or L.A., I struggled to find a trickle of public charge, nursing along a Nissan Leaf or BMW i3 that couldn’t cover 100 miles. Now mighty DC chargers are springing up everywhere, including dozens of stalls between here and Lake Tahoe. Do chargers always work seamlessly? Are they everywhere you’d need them? Absolutely not, as any owner of a non-Tesla EV will attest. Even the CEO of Ford, Jim Farley, admitted it during his own well-publicized road trip in an F-150 Lightning.
But my trip goes off without a hitch. I head east to Lake Tahoe, climbing into the Sierra Nevadas on sublime Highway 50. This is California at its most unfairly golden, its grasses and canyons aflame in misty light. Here, the Rolls becomes a gilded stagecoach with surprising getaway moves.
With wheels pointed straight, the Spectre can decouple anti-roll bars, allowing wheels to independently dispatch road imperfections. Before the Rolls leans into an apex, its systems recouple those bars and activate four-wheel steering, using nearly 20 parameters of steering, braking, power, and suspension to maintain tracking and stability. Under that slablike hood lies a decentralized software system, with dedicated controls for each of 141,200 sender-receiver variables, three times as many as any previous model. Additional subvariables respond to speed, road type, driving style, even climate. Now, batten it all down with an underfloor battery that lowers the car’s center of gravity. The result is Aladdin’s magic carpet with luxury stuffing and near-instant electric acceleration.
On mountain passing lanes, the Rolls feasts on every car in sight. There’s a touch of front-to-rear bob in certain situations, and brake travel is long and squeezy. The artistic steering wheel spins as if it’s lubed with California EVOO. But, man, this car can hustle, its rear-wheel steering helping a driver tighten the line at will and catapult it from corners. The combination of isolation and domination recalls the best BMW Alpina sedans, only the Spectre is quieter.
A single B button on the column stalk dials up smartly chosen regenerative braking, ideal for one-pedal driving or to mimic engine braking in curves without touching the pedal. For all the zeros and ones churning below, the regen highlights the Spectre’s philosophy of authentic, transparent luxury. There’s omnipresent ease and tactility, attributes that are becoming extinct in luxury cars or even mainstream rides. Here, instead of overly fiddly driving modes, distractingly sized touchscreens, or confusing complexity, you will find a singularity of purpose. Driving the old-world point home, the spectacular audio system has no treble, fade, or other sound controls. Rolls has determined what works best. If you want more surround sound with your Taylor Swift, buy an Audi.
Coming around a mountain, I suddenly find myself in Mordor. Postcard canyons give way to fire-ravaged hillsides, where twisted and blackened trees stand in witness to a previous devastation. The same week as my road trip, Hawaiians experienced paradise transformed into a circle of hell in a blink. It’s impossible to avoid connecting the charred dots to climate change, even from within this billionaire’s sanctum.
Scoff at one-percenters’ “virtue signaling” or use of carbon-spewing private jets, but some facts are beyond dispute: The Spectre lords it over these roads while carrying the energy equivalent of three gallons of gasoline. It delivers about 500 percent better energy efficiency than the guzzling Ghost’s 14 mpg, at a company-estimated 72 MPGe in the city and 75 MPGe on the highway, and whips any Prius or plug-in hybrid in the process. And it drives like a John Constable painting, cloudlike and ethereal. Conspicuous consumption but with a lighter tread.
Following lunch at the charming Sportsman’s Hall in Camino, a former stage and Pony Express stop that has served travelers since the 1850s, I swan into Lake Tahoe. Plugged in at the Coachman, a fashionably upgraded motel, the Spectre starts filling at a piddling 1 kW, a rate I mistakenly attribute to an ancient-looking Wallbox unit. By morning, just 30 miles of range has been added. Then I discover on the BMW-based, Rolls-skinned infotainment system a charging menu—which I don’t recall touching—set for a 1-kW limit during AC charging. Take away that self-inflicted glitch and my four-day, three-night trip could have been accomplished without a single charge beyond free hotel overnights.
Not to worry. A bank of Electrify America 350-kW chargers—fully functioning—is two miles from the hotel on the shores of the lake. While I breakfast at the adjacent Dragonfly Bagel Co., the Rolls hits the juice bar and briefly peaks at its advertised maximum rate of 195 kW. I chat with a Rivian R1T driver, another road-tripper. From a 30 percent charge, the Spectre’s pack reaches 80 percent in 24 minutes. As with any EV, the DC charge rate ramps down around that point to ensure longer battery life. I keep going to 100 percent in 50 minutes, because why not? Rolls says the Spectre can add 62 miles of range in nine minutes at these ultrafast stalls.
I start the 72-mile scenic loop around Lake Tahoe. The Spectre makes the journey feel like touring Italy’s Lake Como. At a majestic overlook, several tourists stop shooting Emerald Bay and train their lenses on the Spectre instead.
The Rolls’s photogenic nature can’t be faulted, but human nature also calls. I can’t resist a hike down the steep trail to Vikingsholm, a sod-roofed, 1929 Scandinavian mansion on Tahoe’s shoreline. Then it’s on to Eagle Falls and a refreshing dip in the shimmering lake.
The memorable return to Napa shows the power of well-engineered brake regeneration in a three-ton-plus EV. The British dreadnought romps, packing power into its battery thanks to a nearly one-mile elevation drop over the course of a 50-mile trek into the Sierra foothills. What gravity taketh away on the ascent to Tahoe, it now returneth: I’m on track for 330 miles on a single charge and on time for a student-made dinner at the Culinary Institute of America. After an overnight at a hotel, I wake up to another 90-percent-full battery and set a course for San Francisco. I pass a premium-unleaded pump advertising $5.60 per gallon. Really, I don’t know how drivers with engines deal with all of that stopping.
Rolls’s first EV underwent 1.6 million miles of testing. Yet a typical owner drives a current Rolls only about 3200 miles each year, choosing among an average of seven personal cars. My Spectre racked up 20 percent of that annual mileage over a few days. Electric road trips have come a long way but still have a long way to go, especially off the coasts. Yet, through massive public and private investment, our charging infrastructure is poised for another explosive leap by 2030. More oases, for all EVs great and small. In the Spectre, you arrive at such places with indisputable authority. The automotive landscape is changing. But it’s still good to be the king.
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