Saturday 23 June 2018

First Drive: Stunning looks, 480km range make electric Jaguar I-PACE a head turner. But will price dim appeal?

First Drive in Portugal:

Extraordinary exterior: Jaguar I-Pace
Extraordinary exterior: Jaguar I-Pace
Jaguar I-Pace
Eddie Cunningham in the I-Pace
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

JAGUAR I-PACE - The FACTS: Electric all-wheel drive 5dr SUV due here early autumn. Price from €84,085 (S), €93,380 (ES), €100,405 (HSE), First Edition €112,310. Claimed range: 480km (WLTP tests). Road tax €120/year.

Two electric motors, 200PS. Motor, convertor on each axle - hence AWD. Total system: 400PS. Battery: 90kWh lithium-ion.

Charging 0-100pc on AC 7kW in 12.9 hours; 0-80pc on AC 7kW 10 hours; 0-80pc on DC 100kW 40 mins. Battery under floor. 94pc of body structure aluminium.

Front suspension double wishbone; rear integral link; air or coil springs.

Jaguar I-Pace
Jaguar I-Pace

4,682mm long (+10mm on XE), 2,139mm wide, 1.565mm tall with 2,990mm wheelbase (30mm longer than XF). Weighs 2,208kg. Boot: 656litres (+ 27litres at front).

0-100kmh in 4.8 secs. Top speed 200kmh.

In-car technologies/apps include stage-of-charge, cabin climate app, voice assist, smart settings (will set elements such as seats to your preference). New dashboard's interface, TouchPro Duo; upgrade in nav system.

Safety elements include AEB, Adaptive Cruise Control, 360deg surround camera, junction view.

In the car

ON THE ROAD

LET'S acknowledge the car first. The I-PACE is stunning. By any stretch of the imagination it is a concept gone real.

Eddie Cunningham in the I-Pace
Eddie Cunningham in the I-Pace

It's a so-called SUV but if they described it as a tall hatch/fastback, few would quibble. It's the most visually daring thing they have made.

The 22in wheels on one of our first test cars were awesome. Anything smaller than 20in will look wimpish and not fill the arches.

And then let's acknowledge that, looks apart, it has a few flaws - price being one, I think. On that basis, I think we can proceed.

The inside is more subdued than the exterior and less 'electric era' looking than a Tesla S or X - its main rivals. It didn't feel as roomy as the S and certainly not nearly as much as the X. There's reasonable space in the back but maybe not what you'd expect for €84,085.

I liked the driving position; the centre infotainment touchscreen is intuitive, simple, though not as handy as the big central pad in the Tesla.

The main touchscreen deals with the navigation, audio, phone and a lot of options. The lower interface is part touchscreen/part dials for other functions.

Even though the cars were pre-production they felt more solid and better built than the Teslas. Our vehicles had high-range materials and fittings and there was a strong comfort in the seats.

However, that extraordinary exterior penalises one area: the rear window aperture is small - enough to warrant some criticism. Out front and to the sides there was good visibility. The steering wheel is big, thick and chunky - maybe too much so for my liking.

And so, after getting our bearings we set off for what was to be hugely varied set of drives. How many luxury cars are put through their paces on motorways, twisty narrow gravel roads, up a river(!), up a steep off-road hillside and then a tearaway adrenalin-pumping gallop around a wonderful race track? Not many. This did. And took it all in its stride.

It was something to be in an electric car driving upstream like a Defender, climbing and descending rough terrain (it picked its way down at its own pace thanks to the equivalent of 'off-road cruise control').

And then three mind-clearing racetrack circuits to show not just its acceleration, pace and power but its low-body-roll (lower centre of gravity).

On the open road the steering felt a bit heavy; the rear wheels seemed to scramble a bit when I took corners sharply and quickly accelerated - one reason being those 22in wheels. The following day - on 20in wheels - we fared better. It's a far better handler than the Tesla but a bit less than what I expected from a Jaguar at this price. The weight no doubt is a factor too.

Significantly, that didn't impinge on battery-power consumption which we monitored scrupulously and on all but one (gruelling) drive was close to, or bang-on, what they claimed. Not many EVs do that. Full praise for that. Well done.

In normal driving, the rear motor does the pushing but the system can dole out half of all available power to one wheel if needs be.

And still we admired those looks. Whatever about the finer points of handling, this is outrageously good looking.

Memorable too was the acceleration. Even at medium speeds, the immediacy of torque made it fun. The real joy was flying from a standing start at the race-track. And down that back strait, I hit its top speed of 200kmh before lifting off to feel the regenerative braking slow me back before I piled on the brakes.

Indeed, within minutes of starting off for the entire trip I had clued-in big time to the whole regenerative braking gig. Thanks to a good stint in the Nissan LEAF some time back, I was able to adapt my driving over long periods to avoid having to brake the I-PACE: one 65km stretch of twists and turns involved only four brakings. It is amazing how quickly you gauge when to lift off. It gives you great positioning for accelerating out of the bend too.

On more practical levels, the car, with its short bonnet due to the 'forward' design, falls away too sharply for me. I couldn't see the extremities out front and I like to have 'visual' on such things.

Distributors here say they will sell 11 to 13 this year and 66 next, with entry level and HSE trim likely main sellers. Four dealers of their seven will sell the car initially and there will be 25kWh charges but 95pc of charging is expected to overnight at home or at place of work.

OVERALL VERDICT For a car built from a blank sheet of paper a mere four years ago, it is a triumph of design and engineering.

Dynamically it's not absolutely top drawer Jaguar but it is hugely accomplished nonetheless. Its range is truly impressive.

And those looks . . .

Indo Motoring

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