What is it?
The car you see here is a multi-award winner. Many cars search for that kind of recognition and then boast about it but sometimes it’s at the expense of credibility or obscurity where awards are garnered from the weird and perhaps untrustworthy sources. The Jaguar I-PACE though is not that car – the awards heaped on this car for the most part are the biggest and best in the world. So let’s start there: World Car of the Year winner and within that, it bagged the Design of the Year and Green Car of the Year too. European Car of the Year. Golden Steering Wheel ‘Best SUV’ and locally, the SAGMJ also awarded it the SA Car of the Year in 2019.
The I-PACE is something to be taken quite seriously and at first glance you’ll come to that conclusion too. It appears quite normal as far as the SUV bandwagon is concerned. It’s large and sleek, not imposing but certainly striking enough to be noticed and modern enough to be recognised as a luxury SUV from the British marque. It’s 0,29cd drag co-efficient tells of its design efficiency and you can understand its lower stance, sleek profile and flush door handles. The electric drive places utmost attention to aerodynamic efficiency.
It truly is in a league of its own for the time being. No Mercedes-Benz EQC or Audi e-tron equivalent has joined the South African motoring landscape as yet and this may be the case for some time as manufacturers wait out the ever-changing landscape. The only other premium electric car is the Porsche Taycan, a wholly different proposition keen on absolute performance than the all-round capability and practicality of the I-PACE. It is, after all, a SUV.
It's Jaguar's biggest technological showpiece. It bristles with connected car tech, over-the-air updates, state of the art infotainment systems and, of course, an electric drive management system for maximum efficiency. It's a lot of car for a lot of money.
Layout, finish and space
Step aboard the electric Jag and you’re greeted by a cabin that I’d best describe as high-tech luxury. Packaging is top drawer here and what this refers to is how everything falls within easy reach, including a spacious cabin from the driver and passenger seats all the way to the boot. Due to the nature of batteries, the designers were able to maximise on space in all areas, so the rear seat legroom in particular feels larger than the exterior dimensions would have you believe.
The command centre is a digital tech overload, but in a good way. Let’s put aside all of the electric drive information for a second and make mention of the rest of the infotainment unit. It’s signature I-PACE combined with a UX that is used in all of the JLR products. The Pivi Pro system makes use of dual screens, one main 10-inch display at the top more central on the console and then a smaller 5,5-inch display that sits above the floating console, housing all of the drivetrain and traction control switchgear.
The system is quite complex and takes some learning. This screen coupled with an interactive driver’s display and heads-up display if that is optioned, means you’re in touch with a 4 screen layout during your drive. It may seem all too much but it’s quite seamless and integrated in such a way that you customise what you want to see and make it as comfortable and user-friendly. This is the level of luxury we’re talking about.
The interior architecture places a lot of emphasis on clever use of space. The floating console means added space for your phone with inductive charging pad should you like that, as well as stowage space for lots of stuff including a relatively generous central storage bin.
SUV’s boast practicality as a strong KSP and you’d be forgiven for thinking the I-PACE has been compromised in this area due to its use of batteries, but no, boot space is as generous and as flexible as that of a larger BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz GLE. The I-PACE boasts 40:20:40 split rear seats for a few configurations depending on your need. From the lowest 505-litres to the 1 437-litres available should you drop all the seats, there’s no loss here as far as space goes.
What is it like on the road?
Before we talk about the driving experience, you need to understand the car’s design and make peace with how different it is to a normal ICE vehicle. The I-PACE has a floor made of battery packs. It has two electric motors, one at the front axle and one at the rear, each with its own single transmission. The centre of gravity therefore is lower and due to the 97% efficiency of getting that power to the wheels, it has almost instantaneous torque as you plant your right foot.
At this point it will lurch into the distance, powerfully accelerating like a Jag should I suppose, but this time in a hushed silence save for air friction and tyre noise. Nothing else. It’s a cool trick to pull off where others are watching or where a tricked out Citi Golf is keen on some fun at the lights. 0 – 100km/h is dispatched in 4,8-seconds and with the all-wheel drive system, it’s 2,13-tons of SUV fun. Power is a commanding 294kW and torque is a colossal 696Nm. These are sportscar numbers.
It handles surprisingly well for the same reasons, the only real noise being the tyre squeal noise should you really ring its neck in an emergency lane change or under extreme cornering. It is prone to understeer of course, but if offers loads of grip for its size and weight.
The brakes offer a regenerative braking option, something that is quite common on electric cars but it does take some getting used to with strange pulses through the brake pedal that sometimes result in slightly uncomfortable brake applications.
With the self-levelling air suspension system and virtually no noise, the word refinement seems amiss here. It wafts and whispers both to onlookers and to those within. Electric and luxury seem to go hand in hand so where Rolls Royce is making car cabins as silent as possible, the electric car has that advantage from the onset. It is comfortable and serene, perhaps its only vice being the fact that there is no shutter for the panoramic glass roof so whilst it does do a decent job of keeping temps down from the glaring sunshine, it is something that I found myself wanting to close especially at noon time.
There’s quite a bit going on under the I-PACE. It features, among other things, off-road modes similar to that of other family member products. There’s Adaptive Surface Response, All Surface Progress Control and a Low Traction Launch control setting, all of these managing the throttle, brakes and traction control to maximise grip levels in tricky conditions. Add the safety of torque vectoring and an adaptive suspension, and you quickly understand the poise and capability of the I-PACE. It’s incredibly versatile.
Let’s unpack the electric complexities
The idea of the electric car always brings some trepidation around a number of issues, some of which we can indeed control and some not. From a driver’s point of view, the I-PACE is as good as it gets concerning living with an electric car. Its 90kWh battery has the highest quoted range of any electric car in SA. Jaguar quotes around 470km but we could only manage around 390km, and that's through much effort.
As with internal combustion engine cars, the energy required for a car is entirely based on the conditions of the driving need at the time. I found a marked difference in the I-PACE’s efficiency on very hot days, as I turned the climate control to its lowest setting or as I hightailed onto the freeway for long periods of battery deployment, especially on a hot day once again. The I-PACE range would drop quite quickly and in essence this is something we should be quite used to.
The difference is that the option of charging requires a very different approach than simply pulling in to the local garage. Charging the I-PACE can be done in a few ways. Arrive home in the evening, set the car’s pre-conditioning system to the time you plan to leave in the morning and plug it in for an overnight charge. 3-phase power is best and would yield a full battery over an 8 – 10 hour period. Single phase power is much much slower. After charging overnight for 12 hours, the battery increase was a mere 32%. The same can be said for AC vs DC chargers that can be found at a growing number of locations around the country. These are mostly operated by a company called GridCars who are gradually adding more charging stations at casinos, hospitals, malls, traditional filling stations, airports etc. AC charging once again is a slower process but certainly faster than charging at home. A DC Charger will yield about 80% charge in just over an hour which is something you can work with.
So it can be quite complex and requires some forethought, education and planning.
Running costs and reliability
This is probably why the electric uptake in South Africa remains next to non-existent. This coupled with an insecure electricity supply and the unfavourable prices of electric cars due to a lack of government interventions through tax incentives, and in fact slapping higher taxes on electric car imports.
Directly from Jaguar SA, the I-PACE comes with a battery warranty of 160 000km. With over-the-air updates, the vehicle's technology will probably continue to be updated to gain efficiencies over time. As chargers and rates of charge continue to grow, this will go a long way to improving the overall sentiment of electric cars which is what I’d like to see happen.
The I-PACE unfortunately plays in the premium SUV space, where large and in-charge SUVs have ruled the roost for years, some which have V8s strapped under the hoods and 3-pointed stars or propeller badges on top. It’s a tough space and by that token, the I-PACE is always going to suffer.
The I-PACE is a stunning motor car. It is a shining light on what electric cars should be – enjoyable to drive, highly practical and luxurious whilst ticking the green box in all sorts of ways.
Perhaps, in the future we’ll be complaining about the fact that all electric cars sound the same and feel the same, but for now in sunny South Africa, the I-PACE is a stellar contrast of what we’re used to and its good. It’s very good.
If you can work out the ins and outs of keeping those batteries on the go, then you’ll have yourself an enjoyable family/luxury/sportscar.