Test drive: Jaguar I-Pace, electric heaven | The Driven

I’ve always wanted a Jaguar. As a young child, I dreamed off the flat-rocket lines of the E-type, the regal curves of the Mark 2, and the majesty of the XJ6.

I never did get one – they formed an integral part of my toy collection, but the real thing was always beyond my budget. And they still are.

But this week – nearly half a century after my childhood Jaguar fantasies – I finally got to drive one. And not just “any old” Jaguar, but its newly released (in Australia at least) fully electric i-Pace.

And, well, wow.

Or, to use the more technical jargon of one of the more experienced auto journalists among those on Wednesday’s test drive south of Sydney: “It’s a bloody amazing car.”

How did it compare with the other Jaguar cars (unlike me, he had actually driven some). “It kicks them in the arse.”

And that’s generally the view you get of any electric car you drive and compare it with its ICE (internal combustion engine) equivalent, be it a Tesla Model S or X versus Audis and BMWs, or a Nissan Leaf or Hyundai Ioniq against other family sedans.

EVs have a common thread – the superior handling, response, control and acceleration deliver a sense of joy and satisfaction that is hard to imagine until you’ve driven one.

At a range of $119,00 to $159,700, before on-road costs, you’d have every right to expect that Jaguar takes these qualities to a very high level. And it does. And this reflected in the slew of international awards that it has received, the latest being Norway’s car of the year.

Jaguar says this prize is important to them because Norway is the world’s most advanced and competitive market for EVs, which now account for more than one half of all car sales.

“The I-PACE sets the standard for premium feel and quality, while ride, handling, range and design are its greatest strengths,” the lead juror said.

“I’ve driven a lot of electric vehicles, and this is the one I’ve enjoyed the most. It’s been a long time since our final decision on Norway Car of the Year was so clear.”

Can’t say I disagree with a word of that.

Is it better than a Tesla Model S? Yes and no.

It is shaded by the sheer scale of Tesla’s break-through performance and acceleration, and while Tesla pushed the boundaries of what should be thought of in a car, in the S, the X and the 3, the Jaguar I-Pace seems the most accomplished attempt yet in bringing back the EV from what the big established brands still consider to be an “experiment” to within what might be expected of a conventional brand.

It is fitted into a SUV style similar to Jaguar’s F-Pace range. Features included a panoramic roof, spacious boot, and just a little luggage room under the bonnet. And retractable door handles.

Personally, I don’t get SUVs, I don’t marvel at their shape. But apparently everyone loves them, which is why even Maserati is making them. Why? I asked. Because everyone wants SUVs and the companies would go broke if they didn’t deliver, came the reply.

Jaguar has managed to introduced some distinctive lines into its version of the SUV. Interestingly, Jaguar sees the I-Pace architecture as something like a skateboard with a hat, which is to say they reckon they have got the chassis and the electric drive train (and twin motors), just about right.

The pouched battery layout delivers a long driven train (which adds to the smoothness), and the wheels are pushed forward and back.

All that’s needed is different shapes on top to reflect personal preference, or even to allow the shift in design that will follow with more automation.

Let me just say that if you drive a car priced around $150,000, you’d expect it to be pretty dam good. But even the Jaguar people seem to think it’s the best model they’ve done for a while.

We got to drive our I-Pace south of Sydney, from the dense traffic near the airport through the winding roads of the Royal National Park, and along some nice long straight stretches in the Illawarra.

The handling is a sheer delight, the response is remarkable, and the acceleration is breath-taking. The national park was most fun. The car is 2.1 tonnes with the batteries, but you don’t feel the weight. You do feel grounded. The low centre of gravity from the battery pack means there is little roll. It hugs the road.

Many of the drivers hosted by Jaguar this week have delighted in repeatedly slowing the car down to a near stop, and hitting the floor and enjoying the acceleration.

The 0-100kmh in 4.8 seconds acceleration may appear slow compared to Tesla’s “ludicrous” mode, which will get you there in half the time, but it is still stunningly quick. And when you combine it with the regeneration it gives a remarkable driving experience that you don’t get with an ICE vehicle.

The “re-gen” acts like a brake, without actually using them. Think of it a little like using the gears to slow the car. But here, inertia is not lost, and instead more kilowatts are put back into the battery.

It delivers a “one pedal” driving experience that enables a sense of control unique to EVs. What’s more, the car accelerates smoothly, no pauses for breath as it moves through gears.

It’s quiet, and as you would expect of a luxury vehicle, the road noise is minimal. So much so, that Jaguar has a facility to actually provide some “artificial noise” for those drivers who like to hear the car perform.

It’s subtle. My co-driver liked it, I preferred it off. It also has an external alarm that can be used to alert pedestrians at low speeds.

So what is it like in the city? Well, in the city you don’t have much use for ‘dynamic” mode, the “comfort mode”is fine. If you are getting some range anxiety, you can go to “eco” mode which allows the car to be as economic as it can to extract the last few kilometers.

The big question, of course, is charging. Those who have EVs don’t really see it as a problem, and because they are early adopters, see any inconvenience as a bit of an adventure.

But those who don’t have EVs struggle to see it. As one of the motoring writers put it to me, Australians love their freedom and want to know they can drive a long way, even if they rarely do.

Jaguar offers a $2,280 home-charging unit via JetCharge that delivers a 7kW home box that will top up 35km of range per hour. That is three times faster than a domestic socket.

It can plug into an ultra-fast charing station, but it is limited to 100kW. Still, it can add 80 per cent of the capacity in 40 minutes. The cost of this is 30c/kWh, or $5.70 for every 100km driven, when charged from a fast-charger. That compares to around $15 for fuel.

It is compatible with Type 2 AC and Type 2 CCS combo DC charge points.

There are some other EV-specific add-ons – like pre-cooling (either with the battery or the grid), pre-timed charging, and, of course, an App that can control those functions. It also has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, confirming it as one of the safest vehicles on the road

Is it value for money? I don’t know, because I don’t have $150,000 to spend on a car, so I can’t claim to understand what you expect from such an investment. I suspect such prices are more about brand and ego as much as they are about appreciation of the finer things in life.

But I took this advice from my Jaguar official. The comparable fossil fuel SUV made by Jaguar, the F-Pace, ranges in price from $70,000 to $120,000. But if you want to get top of the range performance that comes anywhere near the EV version, then you have to pay the top dollar.

That tells you about value – and the EV is, quite literally a cleaner experience – no dirt from exhaust fumes, no particulates, less brake dust. No filling up at petrol stations. Helping the clean energy transition. And it costs less to run. Jaguar puts the saving at $1,500 a year. If that matters.

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