We Drive the Electric Rolls-Royce -- It's Amazing

PHOTO: The Rolls-Royce 102EX Phantom Experimental Electric car.

The Rolls-Royce 102EX Phantom Experimental Electric is the most extraordinary EV yet.

The list of superlatives you can apply to this car is as long as its wheelbase. The first electric Rolls-Royce is big. It is smooth. It is mind-bogglingly luxurious. And the torque just keeps coming. It has the largest battery ever installed in a passenger car, a 71-kilowatt-hour monster that would power your iPhone until Armageddon.

The 102EX is a one-off prototype to test the waters, a $3 million bet on the future. And it is bloody brilliant. Combining the peerless chassis engineering of a Rolls-Royce with a pair of silent electric motors in a vehicle that defines opulence yields what is arguably the most refined automobile, electric or otherwise, ever built.

And Rolls-Royce built it because its customers haven't asked for it.

The people who spend the kind of money required to buy a Rolls-Royce have no interest in Goodwood building a hybrid or an electric vehicle or anything else "green."

It isn't that they don't care about such things, it simply isn't what they want from a Ghost or a Phantom.

This worries the venerable British marque. Rolls-Royce knows that it if it is to survive its second century, it must adapt to the times. Its customers may not be particularly concerned with things like fuel economy and emissions, but regulators on both sides of the Atlantic sure are.

The brass at Rolls know they have to start developing an alternative to the beautiful, but remarkably thirsty, 12-cylinder engines that power their automobiles. And they have to start developing it before customers start asking for it.

Electric power is a natural fit.

High-torque electric motors offer seamless, refined power delivery, which fits perfectly with the brand's values. The 102EX, unveiled last month at the Geneva Motor Show, will spend the next year touring the world, being tested like any other prototype but also being driven by the well-heeled folks who already own a Rolls.

If it's something they could see themselves buying, something very much like it might appear in showrooms within a decade or so.

But the firm's top brass are open to the possibility people might hate it and they'll have to start all over again with a fresh idea.

There are a couple other reasons electric drive could work for Rolls-Royce. First, because its cars already are eye-wateringly expensive, the astronomical cost of the battery is more easily absorbed within the cost of the car.

No one who makes batteries talks about what it costs to make batteries, but it's a safe bet you could buy a nicely appointed mid-size sedan for what the pack in the 102EX costs.

Second, range (the Achilles' heel of EVs) is less of an issue for a Rolls. The company claims the mammoth pack in the 102EX is good for 125 miles. That's not much more than a Nissan Leaf but plenty for the city-center chauffeuring and airport runs most of these luxo-liners are used for.

The typical Rolls-Royce owner has a great many other autos available for long trips — and most likely a helicopter or a Gulfstream, too.

The car's massive battery weighs 1,410 pounds. It is comprised of 96 lithium nickel cobalt manganese oxide pouch cells, arranged in five packs and laid out to mimic the V-12 and gearbox that were cast aside.

A trio if 3-kilowatt chargers are mounted up top. The car can recharge in eight to 20 hours, depending upon what you've plugged into.

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