Hands On With Jaguar’s First Foray into Electric Cars, The I-Pace

To me, Jaguar has always represented power, noise, sophistication, and a touch of British snobbery, which is a direct contrast to electric vehicles currently populating the market (looking at you Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf.)

So, when Jaguar announced it was building the full-battery electric I-Pace, the traditionalist in me wasn’t sure how to feel. I wasn’t certain I  could be happy without the gutsy roar of a V8 engine, but with the weight and history of Jaguar’s name behind it.

It was time to find out.

I spent an afternoon driving the I-Pace on the roads of greater Sydney and southern NSW and I can tell you right now I am converted.

The I-Pace is gorgeous, curvaceous, sporty and above all it is fast and it is fun. Never more will I consider a full-battery elective vehicle (BEV) as a “lesser-man’s V8”, because the smile on my face is still there from when I first felt the unimaginable acceleration from this SUV.

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Jaguar has bolted out of the gates with the I-Pace, looking to get in ahead major European rivals like Audi and Mercedes-Benz with a fresh-design to keep the look and feel of a luxury car while boasting all the benefits of a BEV. Only BMW currently has a competitor in the market here, which is probably the result of Australia being such a physically large market and charging infrastructure being so limited.

It’s a risk for Jag, as Australian drivers may not be ready to adopt a AUD$130,000 drivable battery, but anyone who jumps behind the wheel will want to find a way to make it work.

The key to Jag’s sell with the I-Pace is an impressive 470 kilometre range on the battery. It’s the first question anyone asks with a battery-powered car, and rightly so because battery-anxiety is a real thing.

Driving down the South-Coast of NSW with 245 kilometres of battery life left felt much more daunting than having a half-full petrol-tank because at this stage you simply have no idea where you can actually charge the car.

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Which leads to the next most common question – how long does it actually take to charge? Well, that depends on a few factors, but the I-Pace’s 90kWh lithium-ion battery can be charged from flat to 80 per cent in 40 minutes if you use a 100kW DC fast charger (Jag has gone with a Type 2 connector which is fast becoming the industry standard). The next 20 per cent will double the charge time.

If you have a 7kW AC charger it’s around ten hours, or an overnight charge. As a result, when you buy the I-Pace you will be offered (recommended) a specialist ‘JetCharge’ system for your house which will set you back an extra couple of grand.

The fact that all of this will sound like complex gobbledygook to most is part of the battle that the whole EV market will need to overcome sooner than later.

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So, how is it to drive? I wouldn’t have even bothered explaining the above if the answer wasn’t mind-bendingly exciting. The performance can be described with one word: outrageous, while its build-quality, interior and sophistication is everything you would hope from a luxury car maker.

The I-Pace’s brand-new design succeeds in capturing the ultra-modern feel while holding onto the kind of trimmings you’d expect from a Jag; they’ve opted against trying to make you feel like you’re in a Space Odyssey style pod and it’s to its benefit.

At the centre of this new interior is a Touch Pro Duo infotainment system which I never got tired of looking at, while the leather seats, optional moonroof and high-level extras mean that once you actually start driving, you’re already in a very comfortable place.

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Hit the accelerator for the first time and that comfort turns into a smile that did not leave my face. Simply put, I’ve never felt acceleration like this.

It’s a totally different type of power that pins you to your seat with incredible precision. Unlike a fuel injection acceleration which can have a slight delay or build, this is instant torque. Even in the slow streets of the city, the I-Pace would respond to my inputs with as much precision as any sports car I’ve driven – more in certain aspects – and even though it goes from 0-100kmph in 4.8s it feels much faster than that.

Move, then, onto an open road and that experience became amplified, for example, in the instances where we passed cars on single lane roads, it was almost laughable how easily the acceleration got us past.

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It is possible to dial the aggression of the acceleration up or down, for a positive or negative impact on battery life, with Eco, Comfort and Dymanic options available to the driver, but anything short of leaving this machine in Dymanic and enjoying the ride is a waste of the very essence of what EV driving is all about.

Thanks to the underfloor battery pack its low centre of gravity means it sticks to the road while you flow from corner to corner in a way an SUV just isn’t meant to, and its adjustable air springs and adaptive dampers (which come as options on some models) both offer a comfortable and quiet ride.

The other feature that’s unique to this experience is the I-Pace’s Regenerative Braking technology, which sees the car extract battery life from the heat and energy of braking. This can be set in a number of modes, but in its most extreme setting, the car effectively begins braking as soon as the accelerator is lifted.

This takes some getting used to as it’s an entirely new style to driving but after half an hour driving came to feel natural and the added benefit of a lack of wear and tear on brake pads, and subsequent lack of brake dust, will make this a popular choice for I-Pace drivers.

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If it sounds like I’ve drunk the I-Pace Kool-Aid it’s because I have.

I’d had very limited electric car driving experience before this and, to be honest, initially wasn’t too enthused at the prospect; I have since turned 180 degrees.

In Australia, there are still question marks over the usability of a car like this in more regional centres, or in a city with limited parking next to a charge station, and that remains the big question that hangs over the head of the viability of the whole market.

But as a pure driving experience, the I-Pace is unmatched against any SUV on the market. It is fast, luxurious, spacious and pure fun.

Jaguar’s first foray into full battery-electric vehicles is a huge success, plain and simple. Find one and take it for a test drive – you won’t look at a BEV the same way again.

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