Road Tests

First Drive: Jaguar I-Pace (2019) whirrs without the purrs

It’s TopGear’s EV of the Year

True, but that was in 2018. 2019 promises a spate of highly credible challengers from the luxury petrol-preaching world who are ready to uproot, swing the needle of their compasses and resettle their brand right in the murky corner of electric cars currently colonised by Tesla. Jaguar is currently enjoying the SUV EV monopoly niche in South Africa but the race from the horizon for second is between Audi’s e-tron (expected in a few months) and Merc’s EQC – here, briefly, for hot weather testing as a bellwether for what the next few months will hold. The Jaguar I-Pace will test the temperature of the EV community, but even if it’s icy cold, the others are leaping in.

Will Jaguar owners embrace EV?

The tweed wearing, pipe-smoking, classic car restoring XJ or XF owner will fill up at the pumps until fine arid dust is wheezed from each nozzle. But Jaguar Land Rover is a company that’s been stealthily rejuvenating its image over the last five years – back to rekindling the innovative, highly desirable brand that made Britain the worldwide authority of car manufacturing after the war put the Germans on the backfoot. Over the last few years Jaguar has struggled to find that next gear, and ironically they’ve done so with a car that has none. By 2020, every Jaguar will hatch an electrified version – in either plug-in or full EV – in every one of their model ranges and unlike BMW or Mercedes, they’re not doing it under a sub brand.  This gives JLR the versatility to mix and match bodystyles and drivetrains to offer customers the right car at the right time without all the idiosyncrasies of a sub-brand.

I thought EVs needed to look alien?

There are two paradigms of thought; design them like the polarising Nissan Leaf or like the inoffensive Audi e-tron. The I-Pace follows the same introverted template as the Audi, minus (thankfully) the digital wing mirrors, where the only clue to its peculiar source of power is the small EV badge on the boot, or the one-piece rear bumper where engineers normally have to hollow out sections for the exhausts. With the performance this I-Pace offers, there’d be four of them. But it does show a little bit of intent in other ways with the roofline, low ground clearance, sizeable wheels – for an EV – and lopsided ratio of metal to glass. But have they pushed the envelope enough? Electric cars give designers a completely new sheet of paper so why not doodle something fresh: suck in the overhangs or restructure the crash protection to further split the two camps.

Is this a new departure point of Jaguar interiors?

I-Pace boasts the sexiest interior this side of a Range Rover Velar, which is a very high point to start from. Previously on the backfoot vs BMW, Mercedes and Audi, it was always going to be a daunting step for Jaguar to create an interior that resonated the same posh quality as that of similarly priced Range Rover – although in the future it will be interesting to see how effectively they reduce this design into cheaper models. Removing the bulky rotary gearlever has leaked extra space for loose items to be stored which now flow under and around the floating double stacked screens which divide content so efficiently that returning to a premium brand with just a singular screen would now be unbearable.

 I saw it beat an F-Type on a drag strip

Full disclosure – that’s up to 100kph. About half the I-Pace’s top speed but really, we use our cars 80- per cent of the time in the 0-120kph zone so this roomy SUV has truthful sports car credentials sans any of the typical load, stress or snap in the drivetrain that 696Nm maliciously likes to wear and tear. The I-Pace zips and tschoows an overtake pass like a flying saucer with its afterburners on despite weighing as much as a small planet and as controversial as this next admission coming from the TopGear team is, you can’t resist a smile.

Imagine you have a glass bottle of ketchup and you’re trying to get that last bit out onto a plate of hot chips. You’ll turn it over, smack the bottom of the glass while shaking it furiously until it has messed all over your plate and missed the chips – that’s a petrol car. In the Jaguar, it’s like jumping on the end of a squeezy ketchup bottle.

Besides, the new performance metric for an EV isn’t point A to point B speed as we know it. The new battle is happening at the charging points; empty to full before you’ve had time to finish your Nandos.

Speed is a trade-off with range

A year ago you’d be right. The range and driving style walked such a thin tightrope that driving fast came at a high price. This time we left with a 350km range, completed a round trip of 200 kilometres at a speed that would make Elon’s Boring Tunnel seem like it was suffering temporary closures, then popped it on charge for around 30mins (on the right charger) and the range was back up to where we started.

Will I save money by owning an EV?

The base I-Pace – if anybody will buy such a thing – costs a whopping R1.6 million, therefore countering the notion that an I-Pace owner is buying one on the premise that it will save him money. Back home his electric towel rails or underfloor heating probably won’t be adversely affected by the I-Pace charging away in the garage. Made me wonder; who is the I-Pace for, and what do they do with it, because as well as not trying to save a few rands each month they’re not going to tow with it or go off-road – two things the more capable F-Pace will do.

Jaguar I-Pace review in South Africa

Verdict

At the price of an I-Pace you’re shopping in a very special corner of the showroom where SUVs like the GLC 63 AMG, BMW X3 M, Jaguar F-Pace SVR and Porsche Macan Performance Pack are parked. They’ll light up all five senses with similar sprint times but with fatter speedometers and muscular bodies.  In parts of the world where electric cars are fostered by the governments, the I-Pace might persuade one to switch to EV but in SA I can’t see Jaguar’s first EV being anything more than the incubation period until something drastic changes. Still, that can’t discredit the flawless electric SUV Jaguar has built straight out the box… it is like Ford’s Model T lapping the Nurburgring in under 8 minutes while everyone else is commuting by horse and cart.

Jaguar Land Rover together with GridCars has already built the Powerway to give the I-Pace some early traction but for now the EV picture is severely prejudiced that at TopGearSA we’ll wait for the early adopters to continue with this experiment while we drive around in our twin turbo SUVs – even if that means visiting Jaguar Land Rover with a different hat on. Andrew Leopold

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