First Drive: Rolls-Royce 102EX

At nearly 6000 pounds, the electric Rolls is less than ten percent heavier than a normal Phantom; it will hit 60 mph in less than eight seconds and is limited to 100 mph.

The styling isn't radically different, to keep the focus on the tech. There's a gorgeous new sixteen-layer Atlantic chrome paint finish, and a new, more environmentally friendly, vegetable-tanned chestnut leather trim shows more of the hides' natural creases and even covers the now-flat floor. The Spirit of Ecstasy is made of translucent Makrolon polycarbonate and is lit with blue LEDS. The RR logo is red, as it always has been on Rolls-Royce's "experimental" models. Few have been as experimental as this.

Numbers can't describe what it's like to drive an electric Rolls-Royce. The 102EX might be the most refined car ever made, and driving it is one of the weirdest experiences I've had at the wheel. There's a faint, Star Trek sigh as you pull away, and because the Rolls has arguably the best chassis refinement of any car, there isn't much left to hear or feel. There is none of the noise or vibration from the chassis or tires that are unmasked by the absence of an engine in other electrified cars. Your eyes tell you you're moving, but your ears and your backside disagree. It's eerie yet delightful; it made me giggle aloud the first time I moved off, and I think Rolls-Royce owners are going to love it.

But the engineers are less happy. They have made some graph of energy use against distance, and we're some way south of the "critical path" we need to follow. From the support car behind us, they call the Rolls-Royce guy traveling with me, and in the calm of the cabin I can hear what they're saying. "Slow down! You've got to get him to slow down!" Of course I take no notice. I want it to be a fair test, so I'm driving this car the way a Rolls-Royce should be driven, accelerating moderately and sticking to the speed limits. And the devil on my shoulder says that readers would find it much funnier if we run out of power and have to be rescued. At our lunch stop at the halfway point, the engineers plug in their laptop, read the car's true state of charge, and again plead with me to slow down.

Sounds like the ideal vehicle to go battery-powered. I'm glad there are alternatives popping up.

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