Rolls-Royce is currently developing an all-new aluminum spaceframe architecture for its next-generation lineup, and here we see one of the more advanced test mules out and about. Previously thought to be an early prototype for the next-generation Phantom, we’ve been told by Rolls-Royce that this is still a test mule, meaning the new internals are being tested under a makeshift body.
According to the British automaker, the architecture is variable in size and ride height as it will have to underpin a variety of models including coupes, convertibles, sedans and even an SUV. Yes, Rolls-Royce plans to add an SUV to its lineup. The luxury off-roader is currently doing the rounds under the Project Cullinan code name and has itself been spotted in test mule form.
The first model based on the new architecture has been confirmed for launch in early 2018 and is likely to be the SUV. It should be followed shortly by the new Phantom since the current one has been on the market since the 2004 model year. Mercedes-Benz has encroached on the ultra-luxury segment with its Mercedes-Maybach models and Bentley is readying a larger, plusher version of its Mulsanne flagship sedan, so Rolls-Royce won’t want to delay its contender in this rarefied segment.
Next-generation Rolls-Royce Phantom test mule spy shots - Image via S. Baldauf/SB-MedienEnlarge Photo
This particular test mule is likely for an “Extended Wheelbase” version of the new Phantom as it stretches nearly 20 feet in length. The test mule dwarfs other vehicles on the road, including the latest 7-Series standing next to it in some of the shots. Earlier shots show the test mule for the regular model. Inside, most of the elements are test units borrowed from the BMW Group parts bin. However, the round air vents and leather-bound lower center console are new items.
The new architecture is expected to be considerably lighter than the previous one, also an aluminum spaceframe. The lighter weight should aid the car's dynamics, given the current Phantom weighs in at over 5,600 pounds. It would also help offset the weight of an expected plug-in hybrid model, which will feature a large battery. Rolls-Royce has ruled out a fully electric model, following feedback on its Phantom 102EX concept, but a plug-in hybrid option could prove popular for buyers in emission-restricted cities. It would also technologically rival Bentley's upcoming hybrid vehicles. In addition to the plug-in model, a traditional V-12- should remain.
Beyond the new SUV and Phantom, Rolls-Royce will turn its focus to new versions of the Phantom Coupe and Phantom Drophead Coupe. Stay tuned for updates as development progresses.