Test Drives

Jaguar I-Pace review: The Li-ion King



It’s not that large but it’s certainly in charge. Jaguar’s I-Pace might be the car to convince Singapore to forsake fossil fuel forever

UPDATE: We’ve tested the I-Pace in Singapore! Click here to read what we think of it in local conditions

ALGARVE, PORTUGAL — F-Pace, E-Pace and now I-Pace. Jaguar’s Sport Utility Vehicle family is complete for now, and if you’re wondering why the big jump between E, F and suddenly I, it’s because the I-Pace is like nothing before it. So sit back and ready yourself for a long read. There’s plenty to talk about with Jaguar’s Tesla-killer.

What’s the pitch?
Basically, EV plus SUV plus Jaguar equals I-Pace. It’s a proper Electric Vehicle: no engine, no fuel tank, just electric motors and a whopping great battery. As for the SUV part, it’s a five-seater that occupies a similar footprint to a Porsche Macan.

Why put batteries into an SUV?
Jaguar reckons there’s a double business case here. Battery power is hot; EV and Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle volumes grew 58 percent to over 1.2m cars worldwide last year, with growth expected at 56 percent this year, to 1.9m sales.

As for SUVs, everyone seems to want one now (Jaguar says the world will buy 24.3m a year by 2020, which is conservative if you ask us). Even Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini are building them.

Ugh, don’t remind me! So let me guess, take an E-Pace, put EV hardware in, job done?
Not at all. The I-Pace is not just a ground-up design, but is a car designed around EV hardware. The same way people had to design carriages differently when engines replaced horses, Jaguar has structured the car around its EV drivetrain, the way BMW did with the i3 as well.

At the I-Pace’s core there’s a 90kWh bank of lithium-ion batteries that’s sort of arranged into a broad plank. The body sits on top of that and at each end of the car there’s a 200 horsepower, 348Nm electric motor, giving the car four wheel-drive.

The motor assemblies include a reduction gearset and weigh just 78kg each, about as heavy as your chubby mate. They’re also tiny, each one about the size of a barrel-chested, extremely well-fed baby.

You don’t seem to know much about babies, but it sounds like the I-Pace is a featherweight?
Well, it’s just a smidgen over 2.2 tonnes. That sounds hefty, and it is, but Lambo’s Urus is just as heavy. If you want a more apples-to-apples reference, a Tesla Model X is nearly a quarter-tonne heavier. So it’s not light, but it’s light for an EV.

Why’s it so heavy, though?
Most of the flab is from the battery pack, which weighs 640kg by itself. But Jag has offset that by building the I-Pace out of aluminium. Anyway, for the mass you’re carrying around you get big car dimensions, at least inside.

How so?
The Jaguar’s overall length is a bit shorter than, say, a BMW X3’s, but the wheelbase is more than 12cm longer. In fact Jaguar design Simon Tovey told us you get as much room in the back as you’d get from a longwheelbase XJ. Not sure if they were exaggerating, but it does feel roomy in the back.

You’re not perched upright like in some SUVs, and there’s room for your legs to stretch a bit, with the slim front seats aiding kneeroom.

Hang on, how can it be shorter than an X3 but have so much more wheelbase?
Look at how snub-nosed it is. Compact motors means there ain’t much need for real estate ahead of the cabin. Behind it, there’s still room for a 656 litres of stuff even though there’s a whole drive assembly back there, too. Fold the seats down and that grows to 1,453 litres.

That’s not the only cargo-related trick, either. Up front there’s a small boot (designer Ian Callum jokingly calls it the “froot”) that holds 27 litres.

Also there’s no driveshaft or exhaust pipe (motor drive, remember?) so the centre console can hold a handbag (or 10.5 litres, if you measure things by thirst). There’s room under the rear seats for laptops or tablets — in a normal car that’s where the fuel tank would be.

Would anyone care for some froot?

That’s EV packaging for you. And there’s another benefit worth mentioning.

What’s that?
Slipperiness. The car’s shape, with a low nose, gently rising roofline and high rear bustle, are pretty much ideal for aero efficiency. There’s a flat floor and the rear diffuser isn’t just for show.

Tovey says the I-Pace has a big grille to ensure a family resemblance (along with the slim headlights), but there’s a slot that guides air through the grille and out of a bonnet vent to keep the airflow from detaching from the body. It effectively reduces the car’s frontal area, too.

You can’t see any of that in action, I suppose, but the lack of a rear wiper is telling — the I-Pace doesn’t need one because the airflow blows the rear screen clear (although a hydrophobic glass coating helps).

What about the “pace” part of its name?
Glad you asked. Jaguar’s SUVs are all badged “pace” and believe it or not, this one is able to get pretty mucky. We crawled up steep muddy hills — too steep and muddy to walk up — and covered gravel travel tracks, and get this, drove the I-Pace through a shallow river.

The batteries live under the floor, remember, so that sort of thing seems like a recipe for the kind of spark-filled demise that would do a Texan executioner proud. But Jaguar seems immensely confident about this car, and that faith extends to how watertight the juice pack is.

The I-Pace can tackle water 500mm deep, and the relevant point here is not that you’ll be able to cross rivers with impunity, but that you shouldn’t let the thought of it driving it in monsoon season keep you up at night.

All that assumes you’ve specified the optional air suspension system, which can jack the car up by 50mm. That said, driving the I-Pace doesn’t particularly feel like being in an SUV. There’s no towering view of the road ahead or awkward clamber when you get on board.

Actually I was asking about its actual pace, not “pace” in the Jaguar sense.
Oh! Well that just happens to be the single best thing about the car. Put your foot down and those electrons really ball their fists up and come out swinging. The 0 to 100km/h time is a sportscar-like 4.6 seconds, but the delivery of the forward thrust is what feels special.

There’s 696Nm of instant torque, so when you put your foot down there’s a seamless, immediate, headlong pounce to the horizon. No gearchange, no waiting for revs to build or a turbo to gather boost, just instantaneous, take-no-prisoners thrust.

By the second day with the car I thought the novelty would wear off, but no. The way the I-Pace accelerates is addictive.

Presumably this all happens in silence?
Yes and no. Those motors make very little noise, and the car’s slippery shape keeps the wind down to a rustle even at serious speeds. But there’s either plenty of tyre roar or the rumble coming from under the car is simply exaggerated by the lack of other sounds.

When you’re at Singapore speeds, however, it’s so quiet you could hear a fly fart in the cabin (so best to avoid a curry lunch yourself).

He swears it was the fly

Some people find too much silence unnerving, or even dull, and if you’re one of them you can add some decibel action via a sound generator. The “Dynamic” setting mixes in a bit of whirr that sounds like the contraption from that 1960 Rod Taylor picture, The Time Machine.

Blasting down a mountain road or around the track, I can’t say I wouldn’t have preferred a V8 growl, though.

You took this thing onto the track?
Absolutely, but with Jaguar’s consent (and with a Portuguese racing driver in the passenger seat as a minder, the poor sod). As I said, Jag is immensely confident about the I-Pace and thought the Portimao circuit would be a good place to show off its handling chops.

After all, the I-Pace has all the classic attributes for terrific handling: 50-50 weight distribution, a rigid shell (the stiffest body of any Jaguar ever made, in fact), and a low centre of gravity, courtesy of those low-hanging batteries.

So did you set a lap record?
Here come the excuses, but I wasn’t there to. Also it was a bit damp in places. Also I don’t know Portimao well. Also its blind crests are terrifying.

Also, I only had three laps with the car, and driving an EV on the circuit requires some driver recalibration. The braking power’s immense, so I sometimes stopped short of corners, and there are no auditory cues about how you’re slowing down. Because the power is instant, you have to be super, duper smooth and precise about feeding it in, too.

The way it handles is a treat, though. The I-Pace has the front suspension of an F-Type, so it snicks into bends with a zeal that borders on the hyperactive.

After a while you realise how difficult it is to unstick the car, and that the body control is superlative, and then you can really have fun. That said, the racing driver and I shared a couple of giggles when the car needed a dash of opposite lock to keep the tail in check over the circuit’s final crest. Twice.

You’re making it sound flawless.
I’m getting to the wrinkles. Honestly, I’d have liked more steering feel. There’s an artificiality to the Jaguar’s helm that makes it tricky to judge the levels of grip available. You have to pile in on faith that the front tyres will bite, and they do so fairly heroically, but when they let go you’ll have wished for more warning through your hands.

And I’m not sure about the brakes. They made us lift off in the middle of the circuit’s main straight so we could “feel the regenerative braking”, which goes up to 0.4G of retardation. But I suspect that was done to save the actual brakes from a pounding.

Why’s that?
Because back in the real world, and with a glorious mountain road through which to put the I-Pace through its sportscar-like paces, I felt the left pedal get a bit spongy. The brakes didn’t stop braking, but ominously, they’d also started to smoke a bit.

That’s the sort of thing you expect after three laps of Sepang, not after a run up and down Cameron Highlands.

Could you even make it to Sepang or Cameron Highlands without stopping for an overnight charge?
Ah, the old range question. Under the new (and more realistic) WLTP protocol, the I-Pace should travel 480km on a single charge. Your results will vary, but it seems safe that the average Singapore driver could get away with charging it just once a week.

Probably better to spread the charging sessions out a bit, though; with a 7kW wallbox it takes more than 12 hours to top up a flat battery. But basically every hour feeds 8 percent in, so a good overnight charge add hundreds of km to your range.

Our part of the world doesn’t have a highway network with rapid charging stations, the sort that can add 80 percent to the batteries in 40 minutes (China apparently has 14,000km of highway covered by rapid chargers), so those trips to Sepang or further north are probably a bad idea. Not impossible, but not without plenty of planning.

How long do the batteries last?
I just told you, 480km!

No, I mean how long before you have to change them for new ones?
Oh, that. Well, in the UK Jaguar guarantees they’ll retain 70 percent of their capacity for eight years or 160,000km. But it’s worth pointing out that EVs seem generally reliable.

Five years after launching the Leaf in Europe, Nissan had sold 35,000 of them, and only three had battery problems. That’s a failure rate of 0.01%. Back then one British insurer estimated that within the 50,000 petrol or diesel cars in its book aged three to six years, the engine failure rate was 0.255%, or 25 times higher.

Local power grid operator SP Power runs a fleet of EVs here and after 140,000km of cumulative mileage there have been zero breakdowns.

Anyway, Jaguar put I-Pace prototypes through 2.4m km of real world testing across three continents. You wouldn’t be a beta tester if you bought one.

Hmm, ok, fair enough. Could I live with one?
Honestly, this will only work if you have someplace to charge it. That means getting the management committee at your condo or workplace to agree to letting you install one — if Trump and Kim could shake hands on something, nothing’s impossible.

If you have a piece of landed property and can install a charger in your porch, so much the better. There are more than 70,000 landed houses in Singapore, so there’s a sizeable market for I-Paces.

We hear that SP Power is about to announce an island-wide and “pervasive” charging network, too.

Will I get to brag about how much money I’m saving by giving up petrol?
Almost certainly. Let’s see, charging the I-Pace is like topping up 1,000 iPhones, but that’s not as scary or expensive as it sounds. We figure a full charge will cost S$20 at today’s power tariff. Let’s be conservative and say you only get 300km from the battery and cover 15,000km a year — that works out to S$1,000, which is like keeping a Prius in petrol, maybe less.

But do I want one?
Well, it’s a terrific driving experience and practical, but if you want some road tester type advice, the touchscreen system will drive you mad with its lagginess, and if you don’t like the sun you should avoid the panoramic glass roof.

There’s no retractable shade for it. Jaguar says it’s tinted so it doesn’t need one, but then Jaguar doesn’t live in our climate.

Oh yes, the climate. This will still change it, right?
Well, no car is truly zero-emissions. The energy for your I-Pace still has to come from somewhere. Happily, it’s still fairly clean; the authorities reckon every kWh of electricity entails 400 grammes of CO2 emissions in Singapore.

Back-of-the-envelope calculations from us reckon that works out to 75g/km of CO2 for the I-Pace. That’s clean enough for the cleanest A1 Band under the Vehicular Emissions Scheme, and certainly cleaner than any fuel-burning car could manage at this performance level.

Here’s the most important question of all: how much?
Great question! This is speculative (though not purely), but if you have around 400 big ones to set aside, that should be enough for one. We drove a well-specced First Edition model with, among other things, fancy 22-inch(!) wheels with carbonfibre inserts, along with a cheaper S version. The latter’s 20-inch alloys gave a noticeably calmer ride and a smidgen more steering feel, although the I-Pace in general soaks up bumps astonishingly well.

Anyway, you’ll find out how much it costs when it goes on sale here in November. That assumes the approval fairy at the Land Transport Authority gives it her blessing by then.

So… am I ready to wave goodbye to petrol and diesel for ever?
The main thing is, as lovely as the I-Pace is, it can’t do what the cheapest, nastiest hunk of combustion machinery can: take you to, say, Penang and back without fear of being stranded. If you can get over that hump, the I-Pace is likely the sort of car that would get even the most jaded driver excited again.

Plus it would feel convenient on a day-to-day basis. Most likely, if you owned one and had regular access to charging, you would soon find the thought of stopping somewhere for petrol every week a pain and wonder why you didn’t switch to an EV sooner. Some studies show that 95 percent of people who go electric never want to go back.

More to the point, the EV drive is an addictive experience, and the Jaguar itself is stylish, well-packaged, peerlessly refined and, above all, fast. That last one was only to be expected, I guess. Trust an electric car to go like lightning.

Jaguar I-Pace First Edition

Electric Motor 200PS, 348Nm (one at each axle)
Battery Lithium-ion, 90kWh
Range 480km (WLTP)
Charge Time 10h (80 percent, with 7kW wallbox)
0-100km/h 4.8 seconds
Top Speed 200km/h (limited)
Efficiency 18.75 kWh/100km
VES Band TBA
Agent Wearnes Automotive
Price TBA

 

about the author

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.