Quiet and capable, does the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace change the game enough to justify its (heavily taxed) pricing?
The average lifecycle of a vehicle generation is six to eight years and, prior to launch, a manufacturer might spend up to 48 months developing and planning for final production. In the face of mounting legislation, it’s conceivable many global brands have already penned a date for when a final combustion-powered product will leave its production line ahead of an all-electric future.
South Africa’s preparedness for this inevitability aside, the launch of the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace represents an exciting salvo into the genuine prospect of EV ownership in our market. Tesla and Nissan are playing a waiting game in terms of a local offering, the latter with the newest version of its Leaf.
Unveiled as a concept at the 2016 Los Angeles Motor Show, it was the presence of mind by a budget-conscious Jaguar Land Rover brand and the quality of execution the I-Pace delivers which caught the motoring world by surprise. While 2020 local launch dates for any genuine (Germanic) rivals have yet to be confirmed, this 2019 World and European Car of the Year represents the first modern electrically powered vehicle to be made available in our market that is more than a mere city runabout.
Built in Graz, Austria, the I-Pace’s all-aluminium form is constructed around Jaguar’s D7e platform. It houses 423 lithium-ion cells within a “skateboard” battery pack mounted on a wheelbase 115 mm longer than that of the brand’s F-Pace SUV. With its corresponding short overhangs front and rear, and cab-forward stance, there’s a welcome level of intricacy to the Ian Callum-designed I-Pace that’s easily overlooked at first glance (and not helped by the white paint finish on our test unit).
Boasting a suitably slippery 0,29 drag coefficient, the all-electric Jaguar’s solid grille directs air up and over the front of the car via a deep bonnet cavity. A tailgate-mounted wing provides rear downforce. All three local grades of specification (S, SE as tested here and HSE) include 20-inch alloy wheels, while the top two versions are distinguish-able via intricate LED daytime-running lights.
Touted as an SUV by its maker, the I-Pace’s raised ride height is offset by its sloping roofline, culminating in a cosier cabin layout than anticipated. The optional panoramic sunroof does encroach on headroom but legroom is adequate.
Along with the advent of stealth-like electric propulsion comes increased pressure on levels of NVH and build quality; any unwanted reverberations are amplified within a muted cabin. Some wind noise and rumble from fairly plump 245/50 R20 tyres do permeate the I-Pace’s cabin; however, the impressive levels of perceived build quality and finish throughout are immediately obvious. We have our reservations about the long-term viability of piano black trim bits currently favoured throughout the industry and here, again, its inclusion can appear budget. All that sunlight streaming in through the sunroof highlights any finger marks on that black panels and affects the legibility of the Touch Pro Duo infotainment system and the climate control display.
The 320 litres of luggage space matches that of the new, smaller Audi Q3 but the optional R2 200 space-saver spare wheel and bespoke carry bag hog most of it. A puncture repair kit is provided for those who opt out of carrying a spare wheel.
Jaguar’s first all-electric vehicle features a pair of lightweight permanent-magnet electric motors, one on each axle. Using a planetary gear train resulting in just one ratio (including an open differential), these front and rear electric motors combine to offer a permanent all-wheel-drive solution that delivers 294 kW and 696 N.m from 0-4 000 r/min. With four driving modes including eco, comfort and dynamic, in its raciest setting, the I-Pace was able to record a best 0-100 km/h time of just 4,79 seconds. Top speed is governed to 200 km/h.
Registering 2 225 kg on our scales (the battery pack alone weighs a claimed 600 kg), the Jaguar’s 350 mm front/325 mm rear ventilated braking system worked hard to bring the I-Pace to a stop from 100 km/h in an acceptable rather than exceptional average time of 3,01 seconds over 10 stops.
Bypassing comfort mode for the most efficient eco setting able to direct climate control to occupied seats only – and despite a claimed fully charged range of up to 470 km in the I-Pace – it’s inevitably always the distance-to-empty figure that EV owners will watch. JLR’s partnered “Powerway” infrastructure links major centres across South Africa via a series of 82 (60 kW) charging stations capable of delivering an 80% charge to the I-Pace’s 90 kWh battery in 72 minutes. The brand also gives prospective owners the option of a three-phase, 7,4 kW home charging station that can charge the car to 100% overnight. This costs around R25 000 depending on the layout of your home.
Another form of charging is available via regenerative braking; lifting your foot off the throttle while driving results in relatively sharp (brake-light activating) deceleration. It takes a little getting used to and can be dialled out. A trait in the I-Pace that can catch the driver off guard is the immediate power delivery response via the throttle pedal.
Beyond impressive sprint times and despite the car’s substantial overall mass, the I-Pace combines a relatively well-organised – steel coil-sprung as standard – suspension arrangement with dynamics that mimic more established members of the Jaguar family. That said, the I-Pace’s stability control system is set to intervene fairly early.
The elephant in the room when it comes to the future of mobility in the South African market is the feasibility and development of the appropriate infrastructure required to support the forecasted inflow of electric vehicles and government’s attitude towards the taxation of such products.
JLRSA should be applauded for its pioneering attitude as well as the steps it’s already taken in terms of meeting a real-world ownership experience with the I-Pace. However, it remains to be seen at what price point the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz will be able to introduce their respective E-tron and EQC offerings, once the additional taxation is calculated.
Much like the evolution of the smartphone, perpetual advances in areas such as battery life and charging technologies – as well as the concentration of minds in some of the largest automobile brands in the world towards an inevitable EV-focused future – can only mean faster, lighter and better-handling products. Until then, it’s difficult to ignore the appeal and added peace of mind presented by the selection of hybrids currently on sale in SA.
Together with the quirky, city-bound BMW i3 and previous Leaf, we’ll remember the I-Pace as the first big local step towards electric mobility.
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Jaguar I-Pace price and specs here