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3 luxe electric vehicles you need to know about

The top-end of car design is joining the call for EVs, writes Michael Stahl.

The automotive industry is undergoing its greatest upheaval since 1908 when the simplicity of Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T cemented the future for internal combustion-engined (ICE) cars over the struggling alternatives of steam and electric vehicles. This century’s politically enforced return of the electric vehicle has effectively handed automotive designers a fresh sheet of paper. Where an ICE vehicle demands the packaging of its large engine and transmission along with occupants and luggage, an electric vehicle’s (EV) compact motor or motors are more flexibly located and its huge battery, typically weighing upwards of 500 kilograms, can be sandwiched into the vehicle’s floor. As the technology that powers these cars becomes more generic, carmakers are leaning heavily on design to distinguish their brands.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the luxury end of the market provides the profit cushion for carmakers to absorb the cost of new technologies like the still-developing EV powertrains. Luxury models effectively pay for the introduction of new designs, materials and comfort features that will eventually trickle down to the mainstream.

New competition will soon come from two legacy carmakers: Cadillac, General Motors venerable limousine flagship brand, and British sports car marque Lotus, who will each wade into the EV-SUV segment in Australia by the end of 2024. Cadillac’s Lyriq (from around $135,000) is expectedly large, lardy (at 2.5 tonnes) and luxurious and will compete against the likes of the BMW iX, Tesla Model X and Mercedes-Benz EQE. Meanwhile, Lotus aims to recapture its Formula 1 glory with the stunningly styled Eletre, due here mid-year from $239,000.

Polestar 4 Electric Vehicle

Polestar, the sino-pseudo-Swedish EV brand, has been quick in establishing itself as the design-driven nemesis of EV king Tesla. Polestar has aspects of both ‘legacy’ automotive brand and disruptor. The company originated in the mid-2000s as the performance arm of Volvo before, being spun off as a pure EV brand in in 2017. The Polestar 4 is a futuristic five-door EV priced from $81,500 for 200kW single-motor, and $92,150 for 400kW dual-motor. Its body design caps a five-seater family car with a sleek, sports-coupe roofline; a potentially discordant union first seen in BMW’s X6 of 2008 and refined since in Porsche’s Macan.

The 4 is certainly forward-looking in being the first mainstream passenger car to lack a rear window, relying on a roof-mounted camera. The Scandi-cool interior design is remarkable mainly for its sustainability, with recycled PET materials (or optional leather) and simplified recycling.

Polestar 4 Electric Vehicle
Polestar 4

Ferrari Purosangue

Imagine the Vatican announcing that it will open a chain of hamburger outlets. Outrageous, but not so far from the 2018 announcement by Ferrari of its first four-door model, an SUV. Keep in mind that this company has built nothing but pure sports cars since 1948.

Just arrived in Australia, the Ferrari Purosangue (meaning pure-blood, or thoroughbred) is to an SUV what A5 Kobe steak is to hamburger mince. The Purosangue may well have four doors, but key elements like the 6.5-litre V12 engine, 0-100km/h in 3.3 seconds, a 310km/h top speed and pricing from $728,000 – with an 18-month wait list – all sound like a Ferrari to us.

Penned by Ferrari chief designer Flavio Manzoni, the Purosangue makes earlier SUV efforts from Lamborghini (Urus) and Porsche (Cayenne) look dowdy. Manzoni’s mastery is evident in countless details such as the ‘headlight’ graphic (actually, functional air intakes straddling intense LEDs), elegant aerodynamics that flow visibly through as well as over the body, and inside, the handing over of major infotainment controls to the passenger.

The squat stance, broad haunches and pure coupe roofline sacrifice a middle passenger in the rear cabin, where two fully adjustable sports bucket seats almost replicate those in the front. Access is made easy by rear-hinged, electrically opening rear doors. Though the Purosangue makes no pretensions towards off-roading – well, nothing more arduous than the road up to Gstaad or Courchevel – it does drive all four wheels, albeit switching to rear-wheel drive above 200km/h to preserve sporty high-speed handling. While Ferrari already has hybrid models (combining ICE and electric propulsion) in its sports car range, it is expected to unveil its first pure EV sports car in 2025.

Rolls-Royce Spectre

If one is anguished about spending $750,000 on either a Ferrari Purosangue V12 or Rolls-Royce’s breathtaking Spectre EV coupe, it sadly proves the adage that one can’t afford it. Rolls-Royce knows well that many, perhaps even most, of its owners will also have a Ferrari among their garage of typically seven luxury cars. The Spectre spearheads an all-EV Rolls-Royce model family by 2030.

This is one brand for which electric propulsion’s qualities of immediate power, silent running and excusable avoirdupois make a lot of sense. Just don’t think too hard about a 5.5-metre-long, 2.1-metre-wide, three-tonne EV being built to benefit the environment.

Visually masking its size is one of the main triumphs of the Spectre’s designers, along with creating an identity that simultaneously respects a 118-year brand identity and rockets it into the future. The designers retained a long, thrusting bonnet, traditionally implying the presence of a powerful V12 engine beneath – when in fact there is only the smaller of two electric motors, the larger being mounted at the rear of the car.

Despite the Spectre’s size and muscular presence, its aerodynamic efficiency value of 0.25Cd is among the world’s best. Between two vast, electrically opening doors, the interior’s overarching attraction is the brand’s now-familiar ‘starlight’ roof lining, for which the sumptuous leather is pierced with some 4,800 tiny light sources. The brand’s near limitless customising options include replicating the night sky at a particular time and location; say, on the day the owner was born.

Rolls-Royce Spectre
Rolls-Royce Spectre