Grace, Space, and I-pace
Without the soulful, sonorous, six-cylinder growl of an XK petrol engine (or a new V8, for that matter), will the first all-electric model from Jaguar still convey the spirit, the heart, the character, the essence of the Coventry brand? That is the question I pondered while winging my way towards Portugal for the world launch of the new I-pace, the silent Suv-like newcomer from Jaguar.
Normally, our first emotional touch-point with cars, besides looks, is sound. The more powerful and raucous, the better, since it is an indication of its potential, its energy. So, sitting in a car that uttered no sound – no roar, no howl, nothing – from a brand famous for its powerful growl, was somewhat ironic and ever so slightly disappointing. It did nothing to establish that vital connection between car and driver, as its muteness gave no tangible clue to its ability.
At least it was attractive – larger than anticipated, but with simple, elegantly flowing lines. Its cab-forward design, long wheelbase, and huge wheels contribute to the illusion of it being smaller, while in reality it is slightly larger, but incrementally lower, than the E-pace.
It is also slightly longer than the Tesla Model S and X with a 30 mm longer wheelbase – giving it an advantage in terms of interior space and packaging. This is also why the Jaguar design team went for an Suv-type design, taking full advantage of the electric powertrain architecture and maximising the potential of the packaging benefits it brings.
Its coupé-like silhouette, with a short, low bonnet, aero-enhanced roof design, and curved rear screen was influenced by the Jaguar C-X75 supercar. This contrasts with a squared-off rear, which helps reduce drag to just 0.29 Cd. To optimise the balance between cooling and aerodynamics, Active Vanes in the token “grille” open when cooling is required, but closed when not needed, redirecting air through the integral bonnet scoop to further smooth the airflow.
While Jaguar classifies it as a midsized SUV, the I-pace has interior space comparable to that of a large SUV, with a full 890 mm of leg-room at the rear, stowage places for a tablet or laptop beneath the seats, and 656 litres of luggage space (up to 1,453 litres with the rear seats folded down).
The I-pace may be silent, but it has ability – at least on paper. With a 90 kwh Lithiumion battery comprising 432 pouch cells that drives two synchronous permanent
magnet electric motors – one on the front axle and one on the rear axle – it produces combined power of 294 kw and 696 Nm of torque. That is a lot, and with its instant torque delivery, it delivers sports-car-type performance, sprinting from 0-100 km/h in just 4.8 seconds – as quick as a BMW X3 M40i or an Audi Q3 RS. However, the real beauty lies in how it is achieved.
There is no drama. No noise. No whining gears or turbo whistle. It is smooth and linear as each motor – fitting concentrically around a compact, single-speed epicyclic transmission and differential – enables instant and precise torque distribution to the wheels. You feel that surge, and it is strangely exciting. There is some noise, electronically induced, fake noise, and barely audible as the speed increases. It can be amplified, but it is not overpowering.
When reversing, it also produces a warning sound, much like that of a truck, and according to Jaguar it can also be programmed to emit sound while moving forward at slow speeds.
Top speed is limited to 200 km/h, as driving at full tilt seriously limits the range of the battery pack. At sensible cruising speed using Eco mode, the I-pace can deliver a range of up to 480 km (WLTP cycle) before recharging. The automaker also claims it is possible to achieve a battery charge from empty to 80% in just 40 minutes using DC rapid charging (100 kwh), or top up an additional 100 km in as little as 15 minutes. Alternatively, home charging with an AC wall box (7 kwh) will take the I-pace from empty to 80% in just over 10 hours.
With a low centre of gravity and 50:50 weight distribution, allied to a stiff
aluminium chassis with torsional rigidity of 36 knm/degree – the highest of any Jaguar – the I-pace felt lithe, composed, and planted on the sweeping, undulating Algarve roads. Aided by a compact and lightweight – and optional – air suspension with Adaptive Dynamics, variable damping and self-levelling gave the EV surprisingly high levels of balance and agility. Even on low-profile 22” rubber its ride comfort was a revelation (mostly owing to its long wheelbase). But it took a while to get used to the higher level of deceleration inherent to its brake system, with an electric booster that gives it flexibility when blending (high or low) regenerative and mechanical braking.
Even more endearing was the on-road and off-road versatility of the I-pace. On a carefully laid-out gravel route, after selecting the settings for off-road driving (lifting the body), the I-pace negotiated a water obstacle with ease, thanks to a wading depth of 500 mm. With its short overhangs and relatively good turning circle, it also confidently negotiated the tighter sections of the snaking dirt track. But perhaps the most impressive was the ease with which it climbed up a steep incline, its huge torque and fully independent all-wheel drive system making it simple.
It also brims with new technology, being the first Jaguar to incorporate the Touch Pro Duo infotainment system which features a combination of touchscreens, capacitive sensors, and tactile-physical controls to operate key functions. This system, while quite intricate with its multiple menu layers, is accurate and works well, and a full-colour head-up display (HUD) is supported by a 12” Interactive Driver Display behind the steering wheel.
The EV Navigation factors in the topography of planned routes to calculate available range, and can also sync with a smartphone travel app, making journey planning easy. Its Smart Settings also allows it to learn your driving habits and anticipate your needs.
After two days’ driving on an extensive selection of Algarve roads – technical corners on the flat asphalt of the international racetrack, twisting and winding roads between the towns of Faro and Lagos, and a challenging off-road course I found a real connection with the I-pace.
Built in Austria as part of a manufacturing partnership with Magna Steyr, this quiet Coventry cat could soon be growling loudest of all to be the one creating huge noise for Jaguar in future.
The I-pace is now available in Europe in S, SE, and HSE trim. It is priced from R1,074,757 (at current exchange rates) that includes an eight-year battery warranty. It is scheduled for launch in South Africa in mid-2019.