‘This electric super-coupe is so cossetting it’s like being trapped inside a 24-carat marshmallow’

Published: Yesterday 06:00 Updated: Yesterday 08:24

► Puzzling over the size of new cars
► T&E report lambasts supersized moderns
► How does Rolls-Royce Spectre size up?

A recent report from Transport and Environment (T&E), a campaign group based in Brussels, tells
us something we already know: cars are getting bigger. Anyone who takes an interest in classic cars knows this is true: if you’re the kind of person who stops in the street because there’s a Renault Fuego parked kerbside, then you’ll appreciate how dimensions have changed over the last 40 years. Older cars seem impossibly teeny now, with spindly A-pillars, low bonnets and toy wheels.

So we know that cars are getting bigger, now let’s fold the report into the circular file under my desk… But wait! I see one surprising claim in the work that catches my eye. T&E reckons that cars have been growing 5mm every year, and the average width of new cars broke the 180cm mark for the first time in 2023 (up from 177.8 cm in 2018). But they also claim that if we don’t legislate now, cars will keep growing until they’re as big as trucks and buses.

Wow, that’s quite a mental picture, isn’t is – the school drop-off looking like a truck festival, with kids climbing out of their articulated lorries. T&E points out that ‘the current EU maximum width applied to all vehicles, 255cm, was enacted to limit the expansion of buses and trucks in the mid 1990s – and was never truly intended for cars.’ In other words, no one foresaw that cars would keep growing and so no car-specific limit was applied.

‘Currently, the law allows new cars to be as wide as trucks,’ ex- plains James Nix, vehicles policy manager at T&E. ‘Cars have been getting wider for decades and that trend will continue, until we set a stricter limit.’ And if we don’t? ‘Large SUVs and pick-ups will continue to expand to the cap meant for trucks,’ the report says.

Now, normally I would be sceptical about this. First, because the growth in car size hasn’t been linear over the years. In 1979, a Porsche 911 was about 1.65 metres wide, almost exactly the same width as a Model T Ford from 1912. Cars have bloated over the last 40 years but that doesn’t mean the weight gains will continue.

Supersized cars: it doesn't have to be that way (Getty)

And second, while the T&E report was big on scaremongering (‘Unless we act now, more and more of our precious public space will be taken away from people’) it was a little light on mathematics. At 5mm a year, it’ll take over 100 years for cars to grow to that 2.5-metre maximum wide. So not exactly an imminent apocalypse, then. 

However, you could say my normal scepticism became ‘Specticism’ last week (ha ha), because I drove the absolutely humongous Rolls-Royce Spectre, one of the biggest cars I’ve ever driven. This electric super-coupe is absolutely gorgeous: so hushed and cosseting on the move, it’s like being trapped inside a 24-carat marshmallow. It accelerates like a muscle car and (thanks to the low centre of gravity) it steers surprisingly well too. It’s the best Rolls-Royce ever made, and proof that electrification suits some brands much more than others. Awkward silence for Ferrari…

However, the size of the new Rolls is extraordinary. Built on the same platform as the latest XXL Phantom, it has the swept-back roofline of a coupe but the dimensions of a long-wheelbase, high-cab Transit van. This clash of styling-versus-size plays tricks with your brain: it sits on 23-inch wheels, so from a distance everything looks in proportion. It’s only when you stand near it (beneath it?) that you realise it’s actually the size of a freight train.

Over 2m wider and 5.5m long: the Rolls-Royce Spectre

After my drive, I ask Rolls-Royce product manager Rhodri Good if buyers aren’t put off by the size of the Spectre. He says he doesn’t think a single customer has even mentioned it. Right. So that’s just me then. At over two metres wide and nearly 5.5 metres long, the Spectre is far too big for any proletarian parking space, and from the inside it’s like driving an SUV with a bonnet the size of an aircraft carrier flight deck. A car so big it will never go through a Starbucks drive-through or a normal car wash. But the perfect size, apparently.

So maybe that T&E report is right? In a few years time, a trip to the shops is going to look like a scene from Mad Max: Fury Road.

More opinion pieces by Mark Walton

By Mark Walton

Contributing editor, humorist, incurable enthusiast