Fortune got an exclusive tour of the British carmaker's take on autonomous.

By Sue Callaway
December 13, 2016

I was recently invited to a stealth, nondescript West Hollywood studio space for an exclusive experience: To be one of the few people worldwide allowed inside Rolls-Royce’s $10 million one-off, called the Rolls Vision Next 100. The concept recently made its stateside debut along with three other concepts from corporate stablemates BMW, BMW Motorcycles and Mini. The haute autonomous vehicle is a superlative example of what may be coming driverlessly down the luxury road in the next 20 years.

The grand 20-foot limo, painted in a shimmering sea-foam silver-green, dominated the studio—the automotive equivalent of a top model doing a couture fashion shoot, larger than life and boldly confident under the gaze of multiple cameras. I was allowed to gently step inside, onto the snow-white carpet and sit on the curve-backed built-in white leather couch.

Using remote controls, a Rolls engineer closed the car around me, and suddenly I was in a hushed cocoon of luxury, the face of future-tech in front of me in the form of a large infotainment screen that doubled as the windscreen.

Rolls refers to the way the car’s roof and door simultaneously clamshell open as the “Botticelli Moment”—referring to the Birth of Venus, of course. It’s a somewhat dramatic reference, yet once you witness it in motion, an oddly appropriate one. As is the red carpet of light that the vehicle beams onto the ground as you alight—which I had to do far too soon.

By reaching so far ahead to put a stake in the ground of what absolute mobility supremacy and romance will look like decades hence, Rolls has managed to also make a languorous nod to pinnacle pre-World War II motorcars like the Bugatti Royale and Duesenberg coupes. And although the car’s a one-off, already there are signs of Rolls continuing in this design direction: The company just released a short film about the origins of its “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament—narrated by Kate Winslet and using graphics straight from the Vision Next 100’s interior screen.

Will this imagining of a model year 2040 vehicle ever be built? I’m not sure that matters. It’s already the most sumptuous and hopeful view of haute autonomy the world has seen.

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