BIG READS

The 2020 Jaguar I-PACE all-electric SUV has been on South African soil for about a year now - how many of them will you see on Mzansi roads is a discussion for another day. Contrary to what others might say, the I-PACE is not here to dethrone the capacious Tesla Model X, which is available in international markets.

Instead, Jaguar’s first fully electric car stays true to the old Jaguar philosophy of space, pace, and grace, only now the ‘pace’ part is motivated, not by a supercharged V8, but by a pair of powerful electric motors.

The motors are of Jaguar’s own design, with one motor for the front and one for the rear of the car. Each feature independent torque control and can work independently given the current driving situation. All of this is controlled by the Jaguar Intelligent Driveline Dynamics software in the background, and each motor and transmission weighs just 78kg to keep the car as nimble as possible.

Equally important is the 90-kWh hour battery pack, composed of 432 lithium-ion pouch cells. It is worth noting that the I-PACE’s packs use the most energy-dense battery chemistry on the market today, though what you really need to know is the power they put down to the road. 295 kW of power, to be specific, and a healthy 696 Nm of torque.

 It means that, despite the I-PACE being no lightweight at 2 193 kg, the electric motors can propel the car from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds. Sure, that may not make it the fastest-accelerating petrol or electric SUV, but it can definitely hold its own against modern sports cars.

More controversial, though, is the styling. As with any EV, aerodynamics play a huge part in how the I-PACE ended up looking, though I’m pleased to say it hasn’t ended up overly smoothed and bland (or, for that matter, like a Prius). The front and rear overhangs are kept as short as possible, with most of the car’s length going into the 2,990mm wheelbase. It pays dividends inside: the combination of the cab-forward design, sweeping coupe-like roofline – merrily airy with its full glass roof – and squared-off rear contribute to a spacious cabin that spoils its five occupants.

In fact, you get over 100 cm of legroom in the front, and 88 cm in the rear. Boot space is an impressive 656 litres. Fold down the rear seats, and you have 1 453 litres of storage space to play with. There is even a small boot in the front – that Jaguar affectionately calls the ‘froot’ – which adds 27-liters more storage space under the bonnet. Altogether, it leaves the I-PACE one of the most practical cars you can buy today. You read that right.

 

That flexibility has not come at the expense of aggressive style, mind you. I can quite understand that, for some, the design of the I-PACE might be a little too polarizing, particularly how the smooth and flowing front design is combined with the rather unusual squared-off rear. Looks, though, can be subjective (not to mention highly colour-dependent) and, though the I-PACE may not set standards in automotive beauty, I’d argue its design is a welcome respite from the stereotypical styling of most modern crossovers and SUVs.

Jaguar has come up with a car that manages to stand out, without looking like a weird and contrived EV. That polish continues with the interior finish. For the 2021 I-PACE, Jaguar rolled out its fine contrast twin-needle stitching, white LED illumination, and pleasingly authentic trims. The twin touchscreen infotainment system familiar from the Range Rover Velar has been carried over, seamlessly blending touch and physical controls. However, here Jaguar has mounted them on a floating centre console with a unique cantilevered design. The upper screen handles navigation and multimedia, while the lower display takes care of air conditioning, powers seats, and other settings.

 The standard sports seats feature heating and cooling, and you can have the whole ventilation system activate automatically on a schedule while the I-PACE is still charging, to save as much battery power as possible for the road. Acoustically laminated front side glass and full-frame doors help keep things quiet, too. Only the thrum of the rather silly Active Sound Design system – that mimics some mangled soundtrack vaguely reminiscent of a petrol engine as you hit the accelerator – can be heard amid the tire noise. Turn the fake noise off, though, and you can revel in the majestic silence that only a full EV can provide.

Range certainly is not an issue, given the I-PACE can run for 480km on a single charge which, on paper, seems adequate for a road trip to Bloemfontein. At the other end, a 100 kW DC fast charger can take the battery to 80 % in 40 minutes. A Level 2 charger would take 10 around hours.

In addition, there’s also regenerative braking. Here, the 2020 I-PACE offers a two-stage system: the highest setting can slow down and bring the SUV to a complete stop, just while lifting off the accelerator, converting that momentum into battery charge. It works well, too, even though I found the pedal-feel to be softer than in other electric cars.

It may be all-wheel drive, but the route I chose to take the I-PACE on to Bloemfontein was, frankly, not the road most travelled and one at first impressions never dare to take the car through. We took the N1 South to exit Johannesburg and about 45 minutes in took the detour towards Parys. My faith was quite contagious, however, and so I pointed the EV at knee-deep water, mixed in with navigating what, I’d estimate, were 37–40-degree gradients, not to mention some truly rough terrain. Consider me extremely impressed. Averaging 110 km/h and with 150km estimated range left on the I-PACE I finally made it to Kroonstad for a quick charge. 45 minutes plugged in brought the vehicle to a 73 % charge, well adequate for me to complete my journey to Bloemfontein.

On more typical roads, meanwhile, the 2019 I-PACE is surprisingly light, easy, and nimble to drive. It is quick to pick up. The air suspension-cushioned ride is as graceful as you would expect from a “proper” Jaguar, though keen drivers will still notice the heft of the vehicle when it’s driven aggressively.

The real selling point of an EV from an enthusiast’s point of view, though, is not the practicality nor the luxurious interior: it’s the pure, unadulterated rush of torque from the moment you step on the pedal. Here, the 2019 Jaguar I-PACE will happily oblige.

All too often, electrification can feel like compromise. Sacrifice the emotional engagement of an internal-combustion vehicle, in the name of environmental friendliness or practicality. Not so the 2021 I-PACE, though: rather than mimicking a petrol SUV, Jaguar has created a car that revels in its electric underpinnings.

It is, I say with no exaggeration, a game-changer for the luxury electric vehicle segment. That Jaguar has nailed it in a way that is so pitch-perfect on its very first attempt, too, deserves some serious kudos. Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz too, consider yourselves put on notice. The 2021 Jaguar I-PACE is out to win hearts and minds, and I have zero doubts this zero-emissions SUV is capable of it. Range anxiety? Go see your therapist.

Words: Papi Mabele


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