Jaguar I-Pace: Great leap forward for EVs
Jaguar's first electric car may also be the best EV on sale, says William Scholes
JAGUAR and its sister company Land Rover are building for the future - and fast.
That ambition is clearly reflected in the shiny glass and polished steel of the multi-million pound state-of-the-art Donnelly Jaguar Land Rover showroom nearing completion at the company’s site just off the M1 at Dungannon.
It is also seen in the vehicles the showroom has been designed to display.
And none of them signposts the future more vividly than the car on these pages today, the Jaguar I-Pace.
The I-Pace is Jaguar’s first all-electric car. This alone would be enough to mark it out as being of interest - Jaguar is, after all, a significant manufacturer, with a storied past that includes the legendary E-Type, elegant XJ and a bundle of Le Mans victories.
But the I-Pace is more than merely interesting; it is also a landmark because it is perhaps the most convincing electric vehicle, or EV, to date if you actually enjoy driving.
Let me explain. When they get behind the wheel for the first time, most people who have never driven an electric car before are surprised at how quickly they can accelerate.
This rapid acceleration is an outworking of the difference between how electric motors and the petrol or diesel engine you are familiar with deliver their torque.
Torque is the invisible hand that you can feel thrusting your car along the road when you operate the throttle.
With an internal combustion unit, you need to allow the revs to rise before the engine’s torque is sufficient to make itself felt. Obviously, the more torque an engine has, the more urgently it will be able to gain momentum. But waiting for engine revs to rise takes time.
Electric motors, meanwhile, can deliver their maximum torque from a standstill; there is no need to wait for the equivalent of engine revolutions to rise.
Amplifying the instant-thrust sensation is the fact that EV drivetrains don’t use a gearbox, or at least not in the same way that a conventional manual or automatic transmission car does.
Those traits of instant, maximum torque delivery with seamless acceleration are what makes the EV driving experience feel so different from the petrol and diesel cars you have been driving all your life.
Dipping into an EV’s squirt-and-go acceleration can be pretty addictive, too. Even in something as humdrum as a Nissan Leaf, there is undeniable fun to be had in beating serious performance machinery from the traffic lights.
The I-Pace’s neck-snapping acceleration will frighten the life out of unsuspecting passengers but its genius lies in how it is also fun to drive the rest of the time
Mind you, most EVs are set-up in such a way that by 40mph or 50mph they will have given their best in terms of acceleration, at which stage the internal combustion car will have breezed past.
The problem - at least if you take the craft of driving seriously - is that EVs tend not to have too much else to offer the keen driver.
Sure, surging acceleration is good fun, but you can’t do that all day. In any case, drive like that and your batteries will probably run flat before you get to where you want to go…
Tesla gets a lot of attention because of gimmicks like ‘ludicrous’ mode which allow its cars to accelerate faster than almost any other petrol-fuelled supercar on sale.
But rocket-boost acceleration alone doesn’t make a vehicle a bona fide sports car.
That is why those who prefer to experience their driving with the depth, texture and vitality of Technicolor rather than with the digital aloofness of Ultra HD will see past bonkers acceleration statistics and prefer the broader spread of abilities to be had in an accomplished internal combustion-engined car, whether it be hot hatch, sports saloon or even humble family hack.
But the Jaguar I-Pace changes that conversation.
Sure, it does the EV thing of offering a near-silent surge of neck-snapping acceleration. It will frighten the life out of unsuspecting passengers, which is fun in itself. The 0-60mph time is quoted as 4.5 seconds, but on the move it feels even quicker, particularly with how rapidly you can add, say, 20mph to your speed.
You need a proper weapon - something like a BMW M5 with everything turned up to 11 - to accelerate faster and harder.
But the I-Pace’s genius lies in how it is also fun to drive the rest of the time. There is, for example, proper weight and feel to the steering.
EVs tend to be heavy but in its reactions and handling, the I-Pace never feels remotely like a car which weighs 2.2 tonnes.
Because most of the weight is packed low - think of the battery and motors being packaged like a low-slung skateboard, with the passenger compartment set on top - the I-Pace’s centre of gravity is also low.
That means the Jaguar is blessed with extraordinary agility. It can change direction with near-telepathic speed.
And because the steering has been bestowed with reservoirs of proper feel, the keen driver will actively enjoy leaning on the I-Pace’s ample grip and revel in its eagerness to change direction.
The throttle - is that even still the correct term? - is also a far more precise device than those found in other EVs. It is better than those found in many other internal combustion-engined cars, for that matter.
Like most EVs, you can drive the I-Pace using only the accelerator most of the time - lifting off the pedal brings the car to a halt - but when you want to hustle on a favourite back road, the brakes also offer consistency and strength. There is little discernible transition between the brake system’s energy recuperation and full-on stopping modes.
The plus points keep coming. The I-Pace’s body control is excellent. Traction is monumental - with a motor on each axle, the Jaguar can operate as a four-wheel-drive car. It drives with a fluency that would flatter a petrol- or diesel-engined performance car, never mind a binary EV.
This sports car-baiting EV is wrapped in aluminium bodywork of genuinely fresh design. It is the best-looking car Jaguar builds, and way more interesting than the dull XE and XF saloons.
The I-Pace is actually a little hard to define if you go along traditional categories.
It isn’t tall enough to be a ‘proper’ SUV, for example, nor is it coupe sleek. There’s something of the large hatchback about it, too.
Jaguars traditionally have a long bonnet, but the I-Pace has a stubby nose, a move made possible because there is no bulky engine to shroud. It also has a great stance, so it never looks awkward.
The Jaguar I-Pace is more than merely interesting; it is a landmark because it is perhaps the most convincing electric vehicle to date if you actually enjoy driving
However you choose to categorise it, the I-Pace is a handsome car that turns heads.
It is also far more spacious than you might imagine - there’s loads of room for five adults, with generous lounging room in the back, and the 650 litre boot is SUV-large.
Thinking about how far you and your passengers and luggage can travel brings us to the question of range - or, perhaps more precisely, range anxiety.
The latest official test rates the I-Pace as having a 292 mile range on a full charge. Judging by my experience with the car, I would have thought sub-200 miles was more realistic. It can be a little unnerving to watch your predicted range fall faster than the miles you have covered…
The 90kWh battery is made up of 423 lithium ion cells, which are liquid cooled. It sends its power to two motors, with one driving each axle.
At lower speeds, just one of the motors drives the car, though you can never tell.
Maximum power is rated at equivalent to 394bhp, with torque of 513lb.ft.
The actual business of charging can be a hassle if you rely on public charge points.
If you can find a 50kW DC rapid charger to plug into, the I-Pace can apparently gain 168 miles of range per hour.
I say apparently, because I charged the car at home.
When I did venture to explore the nearest rapid charger, it was already busy with Nissan Leafs and - to be blunt - I couldn’t have been bothered waiting for my turn.
Therein lies the challenge facing the charging infrastructure - there is still no more efficient way of putting energy into a car than filling it with petrol or diesel from a pump.
That ceases to become a big issue if you are able to charge at home and, perhaps also, at your place of work.
Owners will work it out for themselves, and it is unlikely that many I-Paces will be going to one-car households - one can imagine there will also be a petrol or diesel car for longer journeys.
The I-Pace is firmly in the premium category, too. Prices start from a fiver less than £61,000 once the government’s plug-in electric car grant of £3,500 is included.
Jaguar has a long list of important cars in its back catalogue, and the I-Pace looks to be the most significant since the E-Type.
It manages to be modern in every way, but what elevates the I-Pace towards greatness is how its tactile and nuanced driving experience emphatically demonstrates that EVs can be fun and engaging to drive.
- With thanks to Donnelly Jaguar. Despite the considerable investment being poured in by business in Northern Ireland to support its brands, the Jaguar Land Rover press office has not facilitated the Irish News and its readers for more than two years.