Rolls-Royce 102EX Review by Teamspeed.com
Teamspeed's contributing editor Karl Peskett looks into the future of Rolls-Royce Words and photos by Karl Peskett What is it?
A fully electric plug-in Phantom Why should I care?
This could very well be the future of the brand, and motor cars in general How much is it?
Rolls-Royce won't give a figure because it's a concept car, but you can guess its suitably expensive.
The affable PR manager for Rolls-Royce leans in the window and says to me, “please, Karl, no burnouts.”
With a wink and a smile, he adds to enjoy the drive. Well of course we will – it’s a Rolls-Royce after all. But unlike all the others, this particular Roller is unique. There’s only one of its kind in the world and it’s sitting right here, in Singapore, on the first overseas leg of its world tour.
TeamSpeed has been invited to become one of the first in the world to experience what the future of the iconic British marque may be. Dubbed the 102EX, or Phantom Experimental Electic, this car is a plug-in, fully electric Phantom.
Finished in Atlantic Chrome, a ceramic nano-particle paint, the metallic flakes are 8000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. While that may seem staggering, it’s the time that has gone into painting it that really impresses. Four coats of the Atlantic Chrome finish are applied, and then hand-sanded for five hours. A further twelve coats of clear are then painted on, giving the 102EX its distinctive mirror finish.
Inside, there’s further evidence of Rolls-Royce’s quest for perfection. The saddle-brown leather is vegetable-tanned, ensuring an extremely natural finish. Contrasting the Old-West hide is a highly modern white fibre-weave, which is actually aluminium-glass (there’s no such thing as white carbon-fibre, you see). There’s ribbed aluminium on the dash fascia, and even the way that the aluminium sinks into the bevelled recesses for the instruments shows the time and attention paid to getting things just-so.
It’s that hand-crafted feel that ensures 102EX doesn’t feel like a concept – it seems production ready. Of course, you’ll have to excuse the bright-red kill button at the bottom of the centre console, but apart from that and the Fire Extinguisher Isolator key switch cleverly hidden out of sight, this car could pass as a customer’s acquisition.
Of course, Rolls-Royce says that there are absolutely no plans to put 102EX into production. But you get the sense that this could be a very real look into the brand’s future.
Certainly the car is being used as not only a test-bed to gather data on how it responds to different temperatures, humidity levels and road conditions, but also how customers react to a different powerplant for the Phantom. Petrol has become the fuel of choice for Rolls-Royce, as it is predictable, smooth, powerful and readily available. But that may not always be the case.
Fossil fuel supplies are finite. Once they run out, an alternative will have to be found. That crystal-ball-gazing is what prompted the 102EX’s birth.
Rolls-Royce CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, says that the project was all about beginning an exploration into alternative drivetrains, finding out what would suit the company’s expectations.
“The alternative drivetrain we choose must deliver an authentic Rolls-Royce experience,” he said. “It must be a technology that is right for our customers, our brand and which sets us on a sound footing for a sustainable future. That is why this project is so important.”
Under the bonnet lie 96 lithium-ion 71kWh batteries, made by a company called Axeon, connected to either a fast-charging wall plug (single- or three-phase) and an induction mat over which you can park, for a very convenient and Rolls-Royce-like experience – recharging should be a fuss-free affair.
There are two electric motors which power the back axle, ensuring this Phantom is still rear-wheel-drive. Combined, they produce 290kW and a whopping 800Nm of torque. That is another reason electric power was chosen – all of the torque is available from zero revs. But if you think you’re going to rock up to a set of lights and leave big black strips, you’ve got another thing coming.
The 102EX pulls away in dead silence, initially fairly slowly, but then builds pace at almost an alarming rate.
Press Officer for 102EX, Emily Dungey, spoke to Teamspeed and explained why this car isn’t like a Tesla, for example. “The software calibration which controls acceleration was done simply to give the 102EX a Rolls-Royce-like experience,” said Ms Dungey. “Sure, we could give you all the torque from a standstill and you’d launch the car off the line instantly, but that’s not in keeping with the brand.”
“We had a team of engineers who drove this car back to back with a regular Phantom and then settled on this progressive acceleration. Our cars aren't supposed to upset passengers, and burning off at the lights isn’t exactly what Rolls-Royces are about.”
Point taken, and that’s why on paper it seems a little slow – just under eight seconds to get to 100km/h. But there’s something else up this big beast’s sleeve. Its rolling acceleration is just ferocious. Sitting at the 80km/h speed limit on the East Coast Parkway, once the right pedal touches the floor, we’re pinned to our seat and easily eclipsing the normal petrol-powered Phantom behind us (it’s limited to 160km/h for the trivia boffins). All the while we’re in complete silence, save a small whirr from behind us (hey, those electric motors have to do something), yet this would out accelerate some notable sports cars. It confirms that the 102EX’s brief has been fulfilled.
Power, presence and prestige. That’s what Rolls-Royces are supposed to deliver. And this one does it in spades. All the while the 102EX maintains that fabulous world’s-best ride, super-soft yet supportive seats, plenty of space and did we mention the silence? There’s sound-proofing, but the 102EX almost seems like it’s sound-deleting. The crackle of sand under its tyres is more noisy than how its drive is.
It all seems too good to be true. And in a way, it is.
You see the batteries all crammed into the space where the engine and gearbox would normally reside means there’s a lot of heat generated. Probably too much for any production car. Given the short time-frame in which the car was created (seven months), the fact that we have a completely drivable 102EX is a miracle in itself and a tribute to the amazing work done by Rolls-Royce’s team at Goodwood. But there would have to be a significant redesign to the battery layout (like spreading them out across the floorpan) to ensure they cool off enough not to keep owners nervous about running it for long periods of time. After our drive, the engineers were nervous about cooling the car down – when it gets to Dubai, eventually, they’ll be doubly nervous.
The other issue is range. Currently, the 102EX will manage a 200km range which is dependent on driving style and whether you’re using conveniences like the radio and air-conditioner a lot (and we were in horrifically humid Singapore). Given the eight or so hours that it takes to charge, to only get 200km is a little disappointing. Put another way, that’s only 25km for every hour of charge.
Yes, it’s a 2.7-tonne car, so moving it with such ease is going to drain a lot of power, but to be a realistic proposition, the 102EX would need to last for around 400km of normal driving. Battery technology may not be there as yet, but given a few years it certainly will be.
As a concept, a way of inducing a discussion on what we will rely on instead of fossil fuels, the 102EX is quite awe-inspiring. Yes, it has its limitations, but as a window to the future, Rolls-Royce has certainly changed my mind about electric cars. There’s a thoroughness to it, a completeness that makes you feel like if this was the direction that Rolls-Royce chose, no-one would be upset. Not even die-hard brand supporters.
Charles Rolls himself said that electric cars “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. But for country use I do not anticipate they will be very serviceable – at least not for many years to come.”
Decades later, here we are, with that future in sight. Fossil fuels may have an ending, but given the progressive way in which this company is heading, Rolls-Royce won’t.