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Car reviews - Jaguar - I-Pace

Our Opinion

We like
Laugh-out-loud acceleration, sportscar-like handling, luscious air-sprung suspension, hot styling, top-notch interior
Room for improvement
Expensive, regenerative braking takes some getting used to, numb steering, limited appeal for non-urban commuters

Jaguar’s astounding I-Pace SUV points out the obvious: the future is electric

Jaguar logo6 Dec 2018

Overview

 

IT’S been a long time coming, but Jaguar’s I-Pace is finally here. No, this is not just another premium mid-size SUV, this is the British brand’s first battery-electric vehicle (BEV). As such, its importance cannot be played down, because it very likely previews the future of motoring.

 

Significantly, Jaguar is the second of the premium brands, behind BMW, to bring a BEV to the Australian market, which is plagued by an underdeveloped electric-vehicle charging infrastructure. As a result, range anxiety abounds, but the I-Pace has prepared its response.

 

So, has Jaguar pulled the trigger too early by entering into a market that simply isn’t ready yet, or could its timing not be any better ahead of the launch of the Audi e-tron and Mercedes-Benz EQC? We put the I-Pace line-up through its paces (sorry, couldn’t help it) to find out.

 

Drive impressions

 

Electrifying. It might seem cringe-worthy, but it really is the best word to describe the I-Pace. This mid-size SUV first draws you in with its seductive styling. Sitting lower than most crossovers, it’s more like a hatch with a slightly increased ride height, making it very sleek.

 

Aerodynamics have heavily influenced the I-Pace’s exterior design, with ducts, flaps and other elements contributing towards its low drag coefficient. In fact, very little has changed from concept to reality, which you can’t say about its rivals. Two thumbs up for that, then.

 

Grab a seat inside the I-Pace’s cabin and it’s clear that Jaguar has taken a leap forward with its interior layout. Key to this transformation is the Touch Pro Duo infotainment system that powers 10.0- and 5.0-inch touchscreens, with the latter handling all of the climate controls.

 

This set-up works well enough, while the large rotary dials either side of the smaller display are also digital, capable of changing their functionality from adjusting the temperature to engaging the seat heating. This all seriously cool, although a learning curve is involved.

 

The technological push is accentuated by a customisable 12.0-inch digital instrument cluster, which does the job but doesn’t look quite as flash as the units found in some of the I-Pace’s rivals. Conversely, the optional windshield-projected head up display is done well.

 

The rest of the interior is premium, which should be expected at this price. Lovely soft-touch materials adorn most of the touchpoints, while expensive-feeling hard plastics are found on the lower sections of doors, dashboard and centre stack. It all suitably feels very luxurious.

 

Our test cars were fitted with the fixed panoramic sunroof, which looks absolutely stunning, stretching across both rows and ushering in plenty of filtered natural light. However, it does impact rear headroom, with about an inch of space left between our heads and the glass.

 

Conversely, legroom behind our 184cm driving position is generous, with the second row proving to be a comfortable space … so long as only two passengers are sitting on its bench seat. Shoulder-room is tight when sitting three adults abreast. Only short journeys are okay.

 

Storage options are plentiful, thanks to the I-Pace’s lack of a traditional transmission tunnel, with the central storage bin offering 10.5L, while rear cargo capacity is generous, at 656L, but swells to a more impressive 1453L when the 60/40 split-fold bench seat is stowed.

 

With two permanent magnet synchronous electric motors, variable all-wheel drive and a single-speed automatic transmission, the I-Pace, in its EV400 launch form, seriously means business – like seriously.

 

While system outputs are limited to ensure good range (more on that later), the I-Pace still punches out an eye-popping 294kW of power and 696Nm of torque. In themselves, these figures are impressive, but consider that all of the torque is available from the get-go.

 

Stamp on the accelerator and we dare you not to laugh – it’s an intoxicating, fun experience. Occupants are pinned into their seats as the I-Pace charges ahead with the vigour of a full-blooded sportscar. Quite simply, it’s still hard to put into words, and we’ve driven a few EVs.

 

The I-Pace’s brutality is partly due to its lack of traditional automatic transmission, instead making do with a single-speed unit that helps it all the way to a top speed of 200km/h while clocking 100km/h in 4.8s. Neither of these figures are supercar-like, but they sure feel like it.

 

Naturally, lighter throttle inputs allow the I-Pace to be driven more smoothly, particularly in town, but the rate at which it gathers speed beggar’s belief. Again, it’s easy to get keen and push a little harder, especially when overtaking on highways, which is way too easy to do.

 

Three driving modes – Eco, Comfort and Dynamic – allow throttle, steering and suspension settings to be changed while on the move, so it is possible to dial the I-Pace’s aggression up and down. Dynamic is the pick of the bunch given its surprisingly accommodating nature.

 

However, the sportiest mode will be remembered for the fake engine noise that it pumps into the I-Pace’s otherwise quiet cabin under load. Yes, you read that right, this is an EV with a decent soundtrack. We’re not quite sold on it, but it can be switched off if you so please.

 

It’s all very well and good to have awesome performance, but how long does it last for? Jaguar claims a fully charged I-Pace offers a handy 470km of range under the new WLTP standard, which represents real-world driving better than the former NEDC regulation did.

 

If range anxiety is an issue for you, the Eco driving mode can optimise electricity use and the regenerative braking system can become more prominent with the push of a button, helping to recharge the I-Pace while on the move by converting kinetic energy into juice.

 

Regenerative braking, of course, is an acquired taste. Its softer setting doesn’t require much adjustment in everyday driving, but the harder setting is capable of slowing the I-Pace to a stop if you time lifting your foot off the accelerator well enough. No brake pedal needed.

 

Typically speaking, the I-Pace’s 90kWh lithium-ion battery pack will be charged using a Type 2 connector – the European standard slowly being introduced in Australia. Considering how underdeveloped our charging infrastructure is, though, some buyers will remain anxious.

 

If a 100kW DC fast charger is used, the battery pack can be charged from empty to 80 per cent in about 40 minutes, while the jump from 80 to 100 per cent takes twice as long in all scenarios. This is still not the same speed that refuelling provides, but it’s getting better.

 

Meanwhile, a 7kW AC charger needs more than ten hours to reach the same level, which Jaguar points out aligns well with an overnight charge. As a result, I-Pace buyers are being offered such a set-up by EV specialist JetCharge, who will install a wallbox system at home.

 

Anyway, back to the exciting stuff. Thanks to its all-aluminium construction and underfloor battery pack, the I-Pace has a very low centre of gravity. This is important because it acts in a way that no other premium mid-size SUV does – like a real sportscar, say Mazda’s MX-5.

 

Throw the I-Pace hard into a corner and bodyroll is staggeringly non-existent. It just remains glued to the ground and as stable as stable can be. The amount of body control exercised is, again, staggering. With most of its weight down low and relatively nothing up top, it wows.

 

As such, the I-Pace’s grip is plentiful, even when giving it the beans off the line. However, push it hard into corners and a hint of forgivable understeer can often be encountered, although the occasional bit of rear-end slip is very much appreciated during these times.

 

It’s all not favourable, though, as the electric power steering is not nearly as communicative as it should be, offering a muted understanding of what the front wheels are up to. At the same time, it is a well-weighted, direct and quick system … but just not a perfect one.

 

We’ve spent most of our time driving the special First Edition grade, which comes standard with adjustable air springs and adaptive dampers that are otherwise optional, meaning it’s hard to assess the standard coil-sprung set-up. However, the early signs are good for both.

 

The First Edition’s ride feels absolutely luxurious (there’s that word again) over most road surfaces. It’s unphased by potholes and speed bumps, or even unsealed and uneven tarmac. It just wafts along like nobody’s business, cosseting occupants with even more comfort.

 

Now it’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the room: the I-Pace’s pricing. It’s out of reach for most new-vehicle buyers, but this is the premium segment we’re talking about here. It would be nice if it was a bit more accessible, but EVs still aren’t cheapest option out there.

 

Ranging from $119,000 to $140,800 before on-road costs for the full-time line- up – S, SE and HSE – the I-Pace certainly commands a hefty premium over its internal-combustion rivals, proving that price parity between the two powertrains is still some time away.

 

While we have to wait a while longer until EVs can be readily considered for their price, range and supporting infrastructure, it’s clear that Jaguar has previewed the future of motoring with the I-Pace. SUV, sportscar … call it what you want, this is the real deal.


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