Rolls-Royce Phantom 102EX, experimental electric prototype, New York City, November 2011
If you're going to have your very first drive behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce, what better car than a one-of-a-kind experimental all-electric Phantom?
The metallic silver-blue Phantom, given a rare factory experimental designation of 102EX, has been touring the globe to gauge the reactions of roughly 500 Rolls-Royce owners and potential customers to an entirely battery-driven vehicle from the most luxurious marque in the world.
We drove it for about 20 minutes in Manhattan this week, blending speeds up to 65 mph on the West Side Highway with the sweeping curves and frequent stops of Riverside Drive.
Handful of hints
Outside, there are only a handful of hints to its special status: the red lettering in the grille badge, the crystal "flying lady" ornament, and a see-through door for the charging port, located in the right rear roof pillar where the petrol filler is usually found.
Inside, it's almost entirely Phantom, with a couple of small changes to the instrumentation.
So what's it like to drive?
Remarkably like any other Phantom, we imagine--largely silent, with adequate acceleration to move a very large amount of car--with a handful of differences.
No idle creep
First--and most noticeably--its engineers did not program in "idle creep," as found in any automatic-transmission car. That means the driver has to accelerate vigorously while modulating the brake with the left foot.
Nor was there any hill-hold function. And we found that on uphill slopes, the 3-ton-plus weight of 102EX very much wanted to roll backwards.
Only flooring the accelerator seemed to get it going again. Once underway, accelerator behavior was fairly normal.
Regenerative braking felt mild under standard circumstances, not notably different from an automatic-transmission car.
The "low" setting (requested through a lovely chrome button on the steering wheel) made the regeneration more aggressive, but probably not enough for true one-pedal electric driving. At least, not in Manhattan traffic.
Rolls Royce Phantom Experimental Electric 102EX live photosEnlarge Photo
(Though we did find that other drivers tend to give the Phantom more room. Even pedestrians paused and waved us by--which never happens in New York. Golly.)
Second, according to the engineers, 102EX has somewhat slower acceleration than a conventional 2012 Rolls-Royce Phantom.
The car certainly kept up with traffic, but it didn't particularly have the instant-torque-from-stop sensation delivered by most electric cars. Rather, it gathers momentum--as, our minders said, the standard Phantom does too, starting out in second gear.
It definitely wasn't the "grab you by the small of your back and throw you toward the horizon" boost of a Tesla Roadster. Nor was it the slightly appliance-like sensation of a Nissan Leaf.
Rolls-Royce 102EX Electric PhantomEnlarge Photo
Instead, it was quite...errrrr...Rolls-Royce-like. The car simply proceeded. Given that it weighed 3 tons, that's a fairly impressive accomplishment all by itself.
A few odd noises
Third, given the general interior hush, we noticed a distinctly electromechanical noise coming from ahead of the driver's legs as the car slowed to a stop.
It was, according to Rolls-Royce electrical and electronics analysis specialist Rupert Kirkham, a pre-charge pump for the hydraulic braking system.
Rolls Royce Phantom Experimental Electric 102EXEnlarge Photo
He explained that to fit the battery pack into the engine compartment, many of the ancillary components and systems had to be moved around into the remaining space.
No noise masking
"Without the usual level of isolation from the engine," he said, "there's no noise masking" and components like that pump that moved closer to the driver became audible. (Another was the surprisingly noisy electric parking brake.)
Compared to a standard Phantom, Kirkham said, passengers are far more aware of tire noise--again due to the lack of masking sound provided by the mechanical bits that were removed.