A couple of electric cars have been on sale in South Africa for a while but nothing has disrupted the market quite like the recently launched fully electric Jaguar I-Pace.
Here at Leisure Wheels, we are real petrolheads who like the tried and tested, things that work and can get a job done.
So when the opportunity to put the I-Pace, through its, er, paces, arrived, we set out to make the best case for petrolfuelled internal combustion engines we could by booking Tarlton Raceway and arranging the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
Tarlton Raceway is the only proper full-length drag strip in South Africa and the Jeep Trackhawk is said to be the fastest SUV on the market.
The I-Pace faced a real challenge. American muscle Under the bonnet of this Jeep is a good old American V8, with a big blower on top. The supercharged engine is designed and manufactured using only the strongest and most durable materials. Its cast iron block features water jackets between the cylinders for optimal cooling. A forged-steel crankshaft with induction-hardened bearing surfaces is so strong it can withstand firing pressures of nearly 100 bar, the equivalent of five family sedans standing on each piston, every two revolutions.
Forged alloy pistons are coupled to powder-forged connecting rods. Premium grade, heat-treated aluminium-alloy cylinder heads are optimised for superior thermal conductivity. A 2 380cc per revolution supercharger includes integral charge-air coolers and an integrated electronic bypass valve to regulate boost pressure to a maximum of 80kPa. In summary, every detail has been looked at in order to build one of the best iterations of a V8 engine possible.
It is capable of producing 522kW and 875Nm of torque. If ever there was a case for the superiority of petrol consuming internal combustion engines, this is it. Transferring that power to the road is a TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission and, as is the case with all proper Jeeps, this Grand Cherokee is equipped with the Quadra-Trac on-demand four-wheel-drive system which includes an electronic limited-slip rear differential and a single-speed active transfer case.
In theory the standard launch control optimises the straight-line performance by co-ordinating the engine, gearbox, driveline and suspension for a textbook launch and consistent straight-line acceleration.
Behind the gear lever is a button adorned with a drag strip Christmas tree. Pressing this starts a configurator that guides you with instructions to ensure the best launch possible.
A well-proven gearbox, four-wheel drive system and plenty of electronic trickery are not enough to keep 522kW from lighting up the wide 20-inch Pirelli tyres on Tarlton’s sticky surface as it departs the line with a thunderous roar.
The roar had the workers at the deserted Tarlton, who have seen and heard the fastest cars in the country, heading over to the guard rails to see what dragster we were playing with. Unfortunately, we struggled to get the launch control to work in a way we thought was optimal. It is a fairly complicated procedure which requires you to apply a certain amount of brake pressure before flooring the accelerator.
The car is then supposed to leave the line the instant you release the brake pedal but during our testing, we felt the car begin to inch forward as all the horses were rearing to go. The Vbox equipment we use for performance testing starts recording as soon as there is forward momentum and that might count against the Trackhawk in this case.
Jeep claims the Trackhawk can sprint to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds on its way to completing the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds. However, coupled to our Vbox, the best run we could record for the 0–100km/h sprint was 4.9 seconds and a quarter mile of 13.1 seconds at 173.1km/h. Not slow by any means but not really living up to the title of the quickest SUV ever.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk rides on short and long-arm independent front suspension with coil springs upfront and a multi-link design with coil spring at the rear. The bumps are smoothed courtesy of the tricky Bilstein adaptive dampers.
Slowing down this 2.5 ton projectile are the largest Brembo high-performance front brakes ever offered on a Jeep as standard fitment. Measuring 400mm up front are two-piece vented rotors that are clamped by six-piston callipers while the rear features 350mm vented rotors and four-piston callipers all finished in a distinctive yellow coating. For added safety, the ABS, electronic stability control and traction systems are uniquely tuned.
The Trackhawk can be identified by a 25mm lower ride height and wider body-coloured wheel arches, side sill cladding and a sculpted bonnet with large dual heat extractors. From behind, it features a unique gloss black rear valance which showcases four-inch black chrome quad exhaust tips that provide the monstrous soundtrack.
The driver-focused interior features premium soft-touch materials, unique light black chrome finishes and carbon fibre spears, a seven-inch driver information display with a rev counter in the centre flanked by a 290km/h speedometer. The 8.4-inch centre touchscreen display offers Trackhawk exclusive performance pages that showcase an array of performance timers and gauge readouts including a new engine dynamometer screen that measures instantaneous power, torque and current transmission gear. C
omfortable Nappa leather seats include an embroidered Trackhawk logo while the three-spoke steering wheel with a flat bottom includes connectivity controls and paddle shifters. If the soundtrack of a supercharged V8 is not sufficient, a 825 Watt Harmon Kardon audio system with 19 speakers and two subwoofers is sure to keep passengers entertained. Smartphone connectivity is available through either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
The future is now
Did the I-Pace stand any chance in a drag race against the best Detroit has to offer, an American supercharged V8?
Two Jaguar-designed electric motors, which feature driveshafts passing through the motors themselves for compactness are placed at each axle, producing exceptional combined performance of 294kW and 696Nm and all-wheel drive, all-surface traction.
Thanks to a motor on each axle and the batteries situated on the floor, the low centre of gravity ensures a planted ride as the I-Pace accelerates or when tackling a twisty piece of road. Advanced double-wishbone front and integral link rear axle with optional air suspension and configurable adaptive dynamics deliver agile handling and outstanding ride comfort. Launching the I-Pace is as easy as flooring the accelerator.
The electric motor ensures all the power is available immediately. This returned some surprising numbers to our Vbox. The I-Pace accelerates from 0–20km/h in 0.8 seconds, to 60km/h in 2.5 seconds and to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds. There are no gears, all the power is available from the start and the speedometer simply keeps rising.
The I-Pace does so without any drama, no wheelspin, no flappy paddle gearboxes or rev limiters and no noise, it simply swooshes along, the only real sound a bit of tyre noise when it gets up to speed. It simply reels in the horizon like nothing we have ever experienced.
Even more astonishing is the in-gear acceleration; from 60–120km/h takes just 3.9 seconds, so on the highway, it dispatches with slower traffic with aplomb. The packaging means the I-Pace is dwarfed by the Grand Cherokee in terms of exterior dimensions yet the interior space is similar in size.
The sleek coupé-like silhouette has a short, low bonnet, aero-enhanced roof design and curved rear screen. The cab forward design contrasts with its squared-off rear, which helps reduce the drag co-efficient to just 0.29Cd. To optimise the balance between cooling and aerodynamics, Active Vanes in the grille open when cooling is required but close when not needed to redirect air through the integral bonnet scoop. Inside, the layout optimises space for passengers while sophisticated materials, including the option of a premium Windsor leather interior and exquisite attention to detail identify this as a true Jaguar.
In the rear, legroom is 890mm, while the absence of a transmission tunnel allows for a useful 10.5 litre central storage compartment, that will easily swallow an average handbag. In the rear, tablet and laptop stowage is found beneath the seats, while the rear luggage compartment offers a 656-litre capacity which can be expanded to 1 453 litres with the seats folded flat.
The interior has almost no buttons apart from those for the drive and gearbox modes. All systems in the car are controlled by the Touch Pro Duo infotainment system that utilises a combination of touchscreens, capacitive sensors and tactile physical controls. Rotary controllers provide an essential physical connection between car and driver. An optional full-colour head-up display projects key information such as vehicle speed and navigation onto the windscreen to enable the driver to keep their eyes on the road.
This technology is supported by a 12-inch interactive driver display behind the steering wheel. To ensure owners have access to the latest infotainment, telematics and battery control software; the I-Pace is the first Jaguar to provide software over the air, ensuring seamless updates. Drivers can choose between high or low levels of regenerative braking to maximise efficiency and optimise vehicle range. When high regenerative mode is selected, it effectively allows the driver to experience intuitive single-pedal driving as the car decelerates when lifting off the accelerator, reducing reliance on the brake pedal when slowing down.
Recharging the 90kWh battery will cost between R270 and R315, which is a fraction of the fuelling costs of conventional vehicles. With a range of up to 470km from a single charge, the I-Pace offers a viable emissions-free solution. Rapid public charging times will depend on respective charger capabilities, but the most prevalent 60kW types will charge an I-Pace from 0–80% in a maximum of 72 minutes and add a range of 100km in 20 minutes.
Quarter mile king
Lining up at the Tarlton Christmas tree and launching down the strip was a close affair. The Jaguar had the edge off the line and up to 100km/h but once the Trackhawk got moving it began reeling in the I-Pace to complete the quarter mile in a near identical time; both vehicles stopped the clocks at 13.1 seconds but with a 169 and 173km/h exit speed respectively.
Was the I-Pace intended to be the acceleration king? Probably not, but all those petrolheads who snigger at electric cars will quickly change their minds when they are left behind at the traffic lights.
Dynamically, the I-Pace is everything an enthusiastic driver could ever want… what’s not to love? The scary thing is that the Trackhawk is the culmination of many years of research and development on the platform yet the I-Pace – which is already an incredible performer – is only the start of things to come.
Money talks The Trackhawk comes with a R2.2 million sticker price which is R800 000 more than the normally aspirated SRT version. That’s a lot of money for a supercharger, a couple of luxuries and some street cred.
On the other hand, the Jaguar I-Pace First Edition, which we tested, is the top of the range in the current line-up and retails for R1 920 700. That gives you arguably the most technologically advanced SUV available in South Africa at the moment and some pretty insane performance, too.
In a classic case of brain meets brawn, the Trackhawk might think it is able to benchpress more at the gym but the I-Pace has developed a better technique for getting the job done without breaking a sweat.