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D / IMPRESSIONS

Driving impression: Jaguar I-Pace





1 March 2019


Buckle up, folks, because this is going to be a long one. One does not simply write 300 words on the Jaguar I-Pace. There’s just too much to write about.

The I-Pace represents more than just a car. It represents a turning point in South Africa. One day people will point at it and say, “that was the first one.”

Now, before we get any letters, we know the Nissan Leaf got here first. As did the BMW i3. But both those cars still suffered from the biggest drawback of them all – range anxiety.

The I-Pace, on the other hand, has a range of 470km, which is more than enough for the daily commute, or a weekend away to a luxury resort close to the city. As if that wasn’t enough, Jaguar recently invested R30 million in a charging network on most of South Africa’s major routes, which means you can actually drive to Durban and Cape Town in one go. You’ll be having semi-long lunches, but the fact that it can do it is mighty impressive.

It’s high range also brings on a psychological shift for the driver. When you know you have that kind of range to work with, you are not constantly worrying about it. We drove a 200km stint in and around Joburg without glancing down once. Only checking once we arrived at our overnight accommodation and it still had 198km of juice remaining.

Charging is no more difficult than filling up at a fuel station. In fact, it’s actually better. For a mere R30 000 you can get a wall box installed in your garage. It’s a universal charger as well, so you can charge a BMW i3 with it too. You also get two cables in the frunk – one for old school wall plug charging and one that allows for faster charging from various charging points smattered across South Africa. At the time of writing, the number stood at 82 and is growing by the day.

The next big question is how much it costs to recharge an electric vehicle. It seems like this question should have an easy answer, but it doesn’t, simply because of the way this car will be used. You drive a normal car until the fuel is nearly depleted and then you fill it up at a gas station. The I-Pace is more like a smartphone. You get home and plug it in. In the morning when you wake up, it’s fully charged. Some days it only needs a 33% charge, on others it might require a 60% charge. It also depends on what method you use to recharge it. A faster charge at a charging station costs more than a slower one, for example.

We do have a ballpark figure, however. According to Jaguar, you’re looking at one third of the price compared to conventional fuels. To get to this figure, they used current fuel prices and fuel consumption figures of cars in the same size category as the I-Pace.

At home, using a wall box, a full charge on an empty battery is around R300. A similarly sized SUV with similar range from a full tank costs roughly R900 to fill. And for the record, the car we used as a benchmark (a fairly fierce German SUV) would be absolutely decimated in terms of performance.

Speaking of, let’s get down to the heart of the Jag’s impressive performance stats. It takes a mere 4.8 seconds to get to 100km/h and it will keep on accelerating right up to an electronically governed top speed of 200km/h.

While these figures are impressive and give you some sort of idea what it feels like, nothing can prepare you for the first time you actually get in and bury the throttle in the carpet. The way it catapults itself towards the horizon is comical. Because it’s almost silent, it’s also slightly disconcerting. Remove one of the senses you use to drive (in this case noise, which we often use to gauge speed) and it becomes a nauseating experience. We had a little chuckle when this was pointed out to us during the press briefing, but after two full bore acceleration runs, we quickly sought out the medic who had motion sickness tablets on hand.

And it’s not just fast in a straight line either. The batteries that power the two electric motors (one in the front, one in the rear) are mounted very low, which means the I-Pace has a low centre of gravity. Hammering it around a short gymkhana revealed very little body roll.

With a combined power output of 294kW and 696Nm of torque, you’d expect that it’s not to be toyed with. After those initial acceleration runs, we found ourselves slightly intimidated by the idea of driving it on a skidpan. After all, dumping that much torque on a slippery surface sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Luckily, the I-Pace is much smarter than any ham-fisted driver. The electronics do a brilliant job of keeping everything it check, while providing you with as much power as possible. If you do make a mess of it, it understeers rather politely.

While our time spent at Jaguar Land Rover’s all-new playground was a hoot, it was on the open road where it all came together perfectly.

On tarmac it feels and acts like a luxury car. The lack of any engine noise and just a tiny amount of road noise makes it feel quite S-Class-like and praise doesn’t get much higher than that. Driving it in town is also easy, thanks to the regenerative braking system. You can set it on high or low. The high setting works perfectly in town. It works so well that you could go for miles without touching the brakes. At higher speeds, we preferred the low setting, purely because it’s less invasive, while still providing enough braking power for most corners.

In short, the I-Pace is a luxury vehicle that cocoons you in a gorgeous interior equipped with every conceivable luxury. It was easy enough to mate a smartphone to and finding the menus to get to the various settings we wanted to use was very intuitive. We did struggle to find the menu that adjusts the speed of the climate control fans, but this is a minor gripe.

Like a smartphone, there’s a short acclimatisation period before you understand it and start loving it. To be fair, Jaguar has been a luxury car builder for a long time, so there really wasn’t any chance of them getting the interior of this car wrong.

What took us by surprise is how capable it is off-road. A few of the vehicles were equipped with air suspension, but we chose the entry-level model with a more traditional setup to see what’s what.

On gravel it felt composed and comfortable. We even did a river crossing. It was an easy one, but it was a great way of showing how far hybrids and electric vehicles have come over the years. The first-generation hybrids weren’t even allowed to go on gravel, but here we were ten years later driving a fully electric car through the Jukskei River.

Obviously, there’s room for some fun with 700Nm available at all times, but it’s not that easy to get the I-Pace to misbehave. Floor it on a gravel road and it simply pulls ahead like a steam train. No drama or theatrics – just a giant shove towards the horizon.

The most intoxicating feature is its overtaking ability. The way this car pulls at any speed is impressive to say the least. Many car enthusiasts have been worried for years how cars could possibly stay interesting once they’re powered by something as boring as electricity. Yes, you don’t get a V8 soundtrack, but the immediate power delivery is intoxicating in its own unique way.

There’s still a lot left to be said about this car, but we’ll hopefully get to test one again soon.

We’ll leave you with two final thoughts.

When we tested electric vehicles before, we always ended the review along the lines of “it would be an epic second car.” Up until now, one still needed to own a traditional fossil fuel car for all of the things an electric car couldn’t do.

The Jaguar I-Pace is the first electric car that could be your one and only. Thanks to its impressive range and Jaguar’s heavy investment in local infrastructure, owning this car is a realistic proposition.

But what about when you want to go to Botswana for a week? Surely, they have no charging stations? A valid point, but if you’re spending R1.6 million on a car, you likely have enough disposable income to fly to Gaborone and rent a Hilux.

Lastly, there’s the price. It starts at R1 687 200 for the standard S model and goes up to R1 920 700 for the First Edition.

That’s a lot of money for a car, but consider how much effort, design and development went into it. Then consider the performance, how handy it is on multiple surfaces and how easy it is to live with. It is expected that service costs will be low and stopping at fuel stations will no longer be part of your life. Suddenly, it doesn’t look all that bad anymore.

The I-Pace comes standard with an eight-year/160 000km battery warranty and two-year/34 000km service intervals.

Jaguar I-PACE pricing:

Jaguar I-PACE S                                   R1 687 200

Jaguar I-PACE SE                                 R1 745 400

Jaguar I-PACE HSE                              R1 820 900

Jaguar I-PACE First Edition                  R1 920 700