114 Coast to coast in the electric Jag
New i-Pace knocks our socks o
WHEN TESLA LAUNCHED the Model S in 2009, not a single car manufacturer took the world’s first modern battery-electric vehicle seriously. Comfortably settled in its fossil fuel-fed, multicylinder paradise, the establishment downplayed and dismissed the newcomer from Southern California. ‘Clearly, that was a mistake,’ admits Wolfgang Ziebart, the driving force behind Jaguar’s remarkable i-Pace, the rulebreaker we’ve been looking at for 18 months and, finally, that we’re driving today – across England, from Blackpool to Scarborough.
‘We underestimated the significance of plug-in mobility,’ continues Ziebart. ‘Most of us were too slow to respond, and nobody had a strategy like Tesla’s Supercharger network, not to mention the radical distribution concept, which bypasses dealers and pockets their profits.’ Like Toyota with the Prius, Elon Musk and his team quickly carved out a lead, and ever since the Model S has been embraced by trend-setters and forward-thinkers, the rest of the world playing catch-up.
‘There is only one way to win this battle,’ states Ziebart, who served in top management positions at BMW, Continental and Infineon before joining Jaguar Land Rover in 2013. ‘Beating Tesla is not enough. At JLR, we must create a business model with a twist to position ourselves against the
European premium brands.’
Our conversation pauses briefly as we survey early-morning Blackpool, the seaside resort best known for its neoEiffel tower and grand illuminations, which must about double the town’s electricity bill. Speaking of which, mild panic circulated Team i-Pace last night when finding a sufficiently powerful charging point proved more difficult than expected. In the end, we plugged it into a wallbox at the hotel, charging the i-Pace’s batteries to 93 per cent by 6.30am. The range meter promises 273 miles, which should provide an angst-free 147-mile run to the other side of the country.
We leave Blackpool and head north to the outskirts of Lancaster, edging the Forest of Bowland before turning inland for the Yorkshire Dales. Operating the i-Pace is simple. Hitting the starter button summons the instruments, lights and infotainment. The next target for your index finger are four self-explanatory keys: D, N, R and P. The transmission is single-speed, so don’t even think about flooring the throttle in reverse. There are no shift paddles since there are no gears to shift, but I’d like them to dial in and out the brake regeneration settings (more on these later). The dished steering wheel is laden with various fumblements, some active, some blank, some dependent on specification.
The deep protruding dashboard reflects nastily in the raked windscreen and is far too bulky for my liking. Pushing the seats and the instrument panel further forward would have helped. Inspired by the Velar, the almost completely flush centre stack could do with some lateral padding, too. The main display can be configured to your personal preference, with a graphical emphasis on speed, range, navigation, energy flow or infotainment – whatever you want. The most prominent MMI feature is the large centre touchscreen.
The driving position is upright, and the 18-way adjustable seats are comfortable and supportive, but legroom for taller drivers is compromised by elbowing the centre console. Visibility is to an extent hindered by the raked greenhouse and the prominent C-posts. Although it’s about 100mm shorter and lower than the F-Pace, the rear cargo deck of the i-Pace (there’s also a small load bay under the bonnet) holds more, with 656 litres of capacity to the F-Pace’s 463 litres – that’s what happens when most of your mechanicals are stowed away beneath the floor.
We’ve now reached the A687 in the Yorkshire Dales, a notorious black spot haunted in summer by caravans pulled by members of the anti-destination league, tourist buses and 40mph fighter-cyclists riding three abreast. In mid-May, however, the 40-mile section between Ingleton and Bedale could be mistaken for a particularly picturesque rally stage. On the far side of the Ribblehead Viaduct, the road ahead is clear for miles. ‘Forget range and state of charge,’ commands Herr Ziebart, reading my mind. ‘Just go for it. Drive it like an F-Type.’
Order taken. Except that this particular stretch of carriageway must have been built by the same guys who erected4
Hadrian’s Wall, and obviously hasn’t been touched since. But weighing a shade under 600kg, the battery adds more than enough weight to flatten the ride and lower the centre of gravity. So forget the harsh dampers and tyre kickback of the E-Pace and F-Pace – our plug-in test car, with its 20-inch rubber, rides with the same cushiness and compliance as a Range Rover. Even the low-speed suspension comfort is acceptable, neither potholes nor crumbling soft shoulders upsetting the car’s balance and poise. Long undulations and transverse irritations are rarely an issue either, and tyre roar is about level with wind noise. Unlike the Model X, which reads raised paintwork on the road and conveys its translation to occupants through the medium of irritating vibration, the Jaguar keeps such chatter to itself. The i-Pace does a fine job of quickly building confidence through its composure and calm at speed.
I explore the four Adaptive Dynamics driving modes. Each has its own steering effort setting, throttle response and damper control calibration. In Eco, the car heads for the next pharmacy to stock up on Valium. In Snow/Gravel and on wet tarmac, there may be just about enough wheel slip to briefly alter the cornering attitude from mild understeer to momentary oversteer. In Comfort, hurry and haste are eliminated for good. In Dynamic the i-Pace is at its paciest: throttle action is downright aggressive, the steering almost too heavy, and the suspension stamps on every apex it can clip. Fine-tuning fetishists are invited to dig even deeper into the car’s brain by personalising the Dynamic algorithm or by specifying the grip and stability-enhancing Adaptive Surface Response developed by Range Rover.
The ‘ESP off’ button is a bit of an oddity in a battery-electric car, though… ‘Deactivating stability control is a nice demo feature for ice driving,’ says Ziebart. ‘In general though, power oversteer is not part of this car’s character.’
He’s being modest here, actually, because the i-Pace can behave like a sports car. We have it airborne over brows, it occasionally lifts the inner front wheel when cornering and it takes no prisoners circling three-lane roundabouts on the racing line. My passenger
FED BY A LITHIUM ION BATTERY, THE TWO
E MOTORS PRODUCE 395BHP OF POWER
AND A COMBINED 513LB FT OF TWIST
grins but says nothing. Ziebart looks happy knowing that I now know what he knew all along.
Performance? Accelerating 0-62mph in 4.8sec, the £78k Jaguar (£63,495 without options) eclipses the £111k Tesla Model X 100D by 0.4sec. Fed by a 90kWh lithium-ion battery, the two e-motors produce 395bhp of power and a combined 513lb ft of twist. While the Tesla’s top speed is an energy-devouring 156mph, the Jaguar calls it quits at 124mph. While these numbers may be of largely academic interest, sweet handling is a key decider, and in this department the American eats the dust of the British newcomer.
We don’t find any Teslas to test the Jaguar against en route, but a six-mile duel with a black Mercedes-AMG C63 S is eye-opening. True, above 90mph, where power takes over from torque, the Merc and its 503bhp V8 hauls away. But the tide turns under braking, when the Jaguar pulls an ace from its sleeve – a high level of regeneration. As soon as you lift off the accelerator, the effect is like a sudden super-strong headwind. The Jaguar more than matches the Mercedes for stopping power.4
It takes time to learn and adjust to the regenerative system – you almost never touch the brake, instead decelerating by lifting off and allowing the car to charge the batteries. BEV addicts like Ziebart love the one-pedal feel, which probably explains why the switch for alternating between low and high energy regeneration is hidden in the deep undergrowth of the MMI system. Although the high level works well in many situations, it forces you keep the accelerator depressed at a certain minimum angle, or the vehicle will swiftly purr to a stop. For me, I felt low was marginally more efficient because you don’t keep slowing down.
But where the i-Pace truly excels is through quick S-bends and wide roundabouts. Especially roundabouts. The long 2990mm wheelbase and 2208kg kerbweight introduce a new dimension of grip and roadholding no other mid-size SUV bar the Porsche Macan can match. This is what does for our C63 S-based amigo – frustrated by the white apparition looming large in his mirrors, he eventually gives up and waves us past.
‘This is living proof that modern BEVs are no longer about dynamic concessions,’ declares the beaming senior engineer beside me. ‘Instead, the awesome punch liberated by instant torque redefines overtaking manoeuvres, electric all-wheel drive introduces a new quality of axle-by-axle torque vectoring, and the air suspension neutralises the weight penalty, to an extent.
‘The i-Pace combines the best of both worlds,’ continues Ziebart. ‘It protects our planet, and puts a big smile on the driver’s face.’ It does other things, too. Like stun the dude in his blue Ford Focus RS at the traffic light grand prix in downtown Blackpool. Or frighten the wits out of a meandering stray dog who didn’t hear us coming and Fosbury flopped into a ditch.
You can also park for free while recharging for a nominal fee. Hook up at the right roadside powerpoint and a 100kW infusion takes only 40 minutes to boost the energy level from zero to 80 per cent. And, best of all, drive past filling station after filling station – the petrol used on this 200-mile trip with detours would have cost approximately £45, whereas the overnight top-up at the hotel set us back a scant £8.
Although it started off as an F-Pace spin-off, the i-Pace ended up as a near-total redesign. Since it shares axles and the steering rack with its conventional stablemate, the electric Jag doesn’t have a tight turning circle – a typical asset of bespoke BEVs. Engineered with and built by Magna Steyr, its gestation process from drawing board to assembly line was just four years. Ziebart claims that the project is profitable, but it is hard to see how Jaguar can make money in view of the assembly and material costs, the generous standard specification and the relatively small production volume of around 25,000 units per year.
Isn’t that an overly cautious forecast? After all, the company will supply 20,000 vehicles to its new cash-rich tech partner Waymo (formerly Google’s self-driving-car project) by the end of 2020, and global dealer response is enthusiastic. ‘Since i-Pace and E-Pace are built in the same plant, there is indeed a bit of flexibility,’ concedes Ziebart. ‘But if demand goes through the roof, we would have to rethink our capacity planning.’
Thanks to the short front and rear overhangs, the i-Pace measures only 4682mm in length. At the same time, it is roomier inside than future opponents like the Mercedes EQC (another electric SUV, on sale in 2019). How come? Because it was clear from day one that the i-Pace did not have to waste a single thought on packaging engine and transmission.
But since the i-Pace underpinnings turned out to be costlier and much more complex than anticipated, the second-generation model expected in 2025 will likely be derived from a brand-new modular matrix. Although the Jaguar grapevine is mum about a possible extension of the range, boosting the power output to 600bhp via a second rear motor wouldn’t be rocket science.
About 50 miles from Scarborough, the highly complex drive monitor suddenly suggests we should recharge ASAP, ideally at a shopping centre 15 miles down the road. Two minutes later, however, the computer catches up with the nav again, and we’re good to make the remainder of the trip. ‘Everyone is at the beginning of a learning curve which may be steeper than we think,’ says Ziebart.
‘At this point, the charging infrastructure is still in its infancy, users are suspicious of untried technologies, growth is tied4
to acceptance, and acceptance depends on the attraction of the product. That’s why generous comfort and safety margins are so important. When the range indicator shows zero, the system is for instance still good for 20 more clicks. The i-Pace can use any charger between 50 to 800 volts, and it can charge with up to 100kW, so you are covered at all times, even though some plug-in locations are slower than others.’
Approaching Scarborough, traffic builds and the Jaguar glides along at snarl-up pace. Active cruise control is a help in stop-and-go traffic, as is the active lane assist, which does its best to follow the car in front. Having said that, this provisional configuration is only a first step towards proper autonomous driving. Not yet equipped with the soon mandatory low-speed warning buzz that fades away above 20mph, the i-Pace needs to be driven with extra care in built-up areas, where no one expects vehicles to be almost silent. This presents a dilemma because warning people by honking seems rather hooligan, while patiently following an elderly couple at walking pace can end in strops when they eventually realise there’s a huge silent vehicle tailgating them and their shopping trolleys.
It’s interesting how few passers-by notice the i-Pace. Designed by Ian Callum, it sports a large trademark grille, a stubby front end and substantial 20-inch wheels (22-inchers are available). But nobody pulls a smartphone, nobody asks questions and nobody takes notice of this exercise in zero-emission mobility. It was the same coming over the Dales, where the i-Pace didn’t stand out any more than the sheep in the fields beyond the dry stone walls.
We arrive in Scarborough just in time for tea and scones with 62 miles of range left. Although we should have saved a bit more energy, even the latest electric usage standard makes zero allowance for enthusiasm. In under 40 minutes the batteries would be fully charged again for the trip back to Coventry, but my time with the Jaguar is done for the day.
I’m sorry to see the i-Pace go because it is a harbinger of a bright and promising future. This kind of BEV protects the environment, and it is fun to drive: make that a lot of fun to drive. Peak torque on demand is a killer asset, the car’s dynamics are already excellent and increased space in combination with a smaller footprint means the i-Pace scores highly for practicality, and that’s before you factor in the low running costs and operational perks such as virtually unlimited access to restricted parking – for now. True, R&D must find something less rare than cobalt for the battery, the efficiency versus cost equation must improve year on year, and the BEV species needs to evolve in the broader context of other innovations such as autonomous driving and digital services.
Having said that, the short- to mid-term future of mobility is not a case of either/or but a flexible blend. Not too long ago, Jaguar would have been proud to be an early adopter of technologies invented elsewhere. In the summer of 2018, however, thanks to the foresight and support of Ratan Tata, the i-Pace is the surprise leader of the pack.
Our co-driver in the i-Pace, Jaguar Land
Rover’s engineering director was appointed by Ralph Speth in
A bit of Jag in here, a little Land Rover… and thankfully no tram
A nice metaphor for Jaguar’s direct BEV opposition…
‘Hey man, is this one of those electric Jagwars?’
i-Pace does its best to keep you posted on range: