Back to the future: Electrifying ride

2020 SA Car of the Year, Jaguar I-Pace.
2020 SA Car of the Year, Jaguar I-Pace.

Jaguar’s electric SUV, the I-Pace, heralds in the future of luxury and impossibly fast EVs.

I remember two things from my very first Jaguar experience as a young child. The Jaguar Mark II I was travelling in was a beauty… and it backfired a lot. 

Fast-forward to 2020 and to Jaguar’s sophisticated pure electric SUV, the I-Pace. It too is a knockout, but there is no backfiring. That’s because there is no combustion engine to tune incorrectly, nor an exhaust system to emit loud popping noises. Now I’m in a car that is silent, has two electric motors, a raft of lithium-ion battery cells and loads of tech.

It has been quite a leap coming from the basic cars of yesteryear that I learned to drive in. Those naturally-aspirated combustion engine vehicles were rudimentary; steering wheel, gears, clutch, brake, accelerator and handbrake were the only driving tools – a stark contrast to the abundance of technology in cars nowadays that pretty much save drivers from themselves. Trappings too were virtually unheard of; the lucky few had a built-in radio and the forerunner to the air conditioner – a fan blowing out hot air.

But those unpretentious cars had personality aplenty and were exciting to drive. So, how excited could I get while being given the silent treatment from a sophisticated car with an electric powertrain? To find out, I spent time in the top-of-the-range Jaguar I-Pace EV 400 HSE all-wheel-drive.

Sleek, feline form

The I-Pace’s beauty, elegance and feline grace is the embodiment of Jaguar design. While quite the paradox to describe a large SUV as sleek, this electric SUV’s form is just that; long wheelbase, swooping curved bonnet with short overhang, retractable flush door handles, low sloping roof and powerful rear haunches form a coupe´-esque silhouette. It truly is a beautiful car.

Refined, conventional cockpit

Stepping into the I-Pace’s refined and luxurious cabin brings sophisticated simplicity and a conventional setup, the SUV’s green technology integrated seamlessly to present a traditional and driver-friendly interior. No rocket science stuff. It is very much a get-in-and-drive car. Even the park, reverse, neutral and drive buttons that take the place of the gearbox sit in familiar centre console territory.

This all-electric vehicle (EV) has all the trappings of a luxury SUV. Nicely-sized touchscreen for infotainment and connectivity, perforated leather sports seats, leather steering wheel, and a plethora of driver assistance features like parking assist, adaptive cruise control with steering assist, high-speed emergency braking, 360° camera and blind spot assist.

There’s room aplenty to stretch the legs and despite a sloping roof, good rear headroom. Load space too is impressive, more than doubling with the rear seats down.

Silent but deadly serious

Sound is everything to an old-school driver; from engine noise indicating when to change gears, to the emotion evoked by the exhaust note. There is none of this in the I-Pace, just silence, broken only by the soft sigh of wind through the panoramic sunroof, music playing through the infotainment system, or the chirp of the navigation system.

Step on the accelerator and there’s no exhaust rumble, just a low purr (in dynamic mode) as the car bolts forward.

Jaguar’s I-Pace is insanely fast, its sports-car-like acceleration launching it from rest to 100km/h in a mere 4.8 seconds.

And there’s no lag in an EV; response is immediate without even a nanosecond of delay. 

The car has immense power and torque and the g-forces (visible in the I-Pace’s Inbuilt G-meter) are intense. You feel the pressure in your head as speed builds rapidly. You feel it in your body being thrust back in the seat.

Handling is superb and it’s astonishingly agile, sticking to the road. No slip. No drift. No wallowing. Not even when taking it through Jaguar’s dynamic driving “slalom” course at 60km/h. Perhaps 60km/h doesn’t sound fast, but here’s the rub – it’s a short course with mere metres to get up to speed before attacking the first of several tightly-spaced beacons.

Truth be told, not once during the many times weaving through that course did losing control even come to mind. I was that confident in the car’s grip and handling. The I-Pace’s surefootedness is in large part due to its 50:50 front- to-rear weight balance, all-wheel-drive and active air suspension. And hefty 20-inch wheels.

So, it is hugely impressive in a dynamic driving setting, but how does it perform in mundane everyday situations on the road? The I-Pace behaves with aplomb.This technologically- proficient SUV is surefooted, steering is true and nicely weighted, and the air suspension soaks up road blemishes to deliver a wonderfully comfortable drive. Brute power makes overtaking effortless and stress-free. It’s the change in expected momentum when you ease your foot off the throttle that one needs to get used to.

Electric vehicle driving is mostly about regenerative braking – what is termed one-pedal driving. It’s all about the car braking when you take your foot off the accelerator. That not only slows the car, making conventional braking often unnecessary; it also serves to regenerate energy, charging the battery and increasing range. Lighter or heavier levels of regenerative braking can be set in the I-Pace to suit driving conditions.

Range has always been the electric vehicle’s nemesis. Jaguar claims the I-Pace can deliver 470km on a full charge (that’s speak for full tank) courtesy of the 90kWh battery that replaces the fuel tank. That, however, comes with optimum EV driving conditions. Unlike a fuel-powered vehicle that delivers better economy on the open road, EV economy is superior in an urban environment when the regenerative braking that comes with that type of driving helps charge the battery and boost range. In all reality, open road driving is more likely to provide a range of around 300km to 350km.

Still, it’s a huge improvement on the typical EV’s range. But it comes at a cost, that 90kWh battery system comprising 40% of the car’s price.

You treat this EV much as you would your cellphone. Plug it into a 7.4kW home charging unit in the evening and come morning you have a full battery. A 60kW DC public network charging is even faster, just 20 minutes for a range of 100km. 

The distinctive Jaguar I-Pace is the recipient of many accolades, including the 2020 AutoTrader South African Car of the Year award. Little wonder, given its good looks and performance. It’s refined, luxurious, boasts plenty of tech and looks and feels much like a conventional car despite its green credentials. All of this is bound to enhance its appeal, but it does require a rather hefty chunk of change.

Jaguar’s I-Pace is insanely fast, its sports-car-like acceleration launching it from rest to 100km/h in a mere 4.8 seconds.

 While I miss the pulse and soul that a combustion engine-powered car delivers, I guess I’ll just have to get over myself because the shift to electric cars is inevitable. We are still some way off having EVs that are affordable for the masses, but when I’m dead, EVs will probably be as conventional as today’s combustion-powered cars.

Read more
This article originally appeared in the 24 September edition of finweek. You can buy and download the magazine here.

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