IAIN ROBERTSON 

While not the first off-the-blocks, Jaguar’s latest i-Pace is both style-centric and on-the-money inspirational, reports Iain Robertson, having taken his first drive of the newcomer that sets fresh standards in the premium Electric Vehicle (EV) market.

Prior to launching into my diatribe on the new car, let me state firstly that I have pursued a route to comprehending the EV market that I believe should become the norm for anyone remotely interested in taking their first steps into it. Visit a typical car dealership to ask about its EV range (if it has one, like Renault, Nissan, BMW, or Tesla) and you are sure to be directed by an ill-qualified ‘oik’ towards something more conventional.

Most car salesmen know sweet Fanny Adams about electric vehicles. While I can comprehend ‘fear’, I fail to be impressed by lack of knowledge. Being in contact with Octopus Electric Vehicles has provided the ideal solution. An all-services facilitator, from renewable energy and associated hardware, to finance, vehicle sourcing and maintenance, Octopus is a strongly-funded British start-up that provides valuable, unbiased information and ‘greater good’ support to its customers, whether commercial, or private buyers.

It is my firm belief that inter-manufacturer co-operation needs to be achieved and practised, in order to meet the future demands being placed on the motorist. A sea-change is taking place in mobility and, unless potential rivals are prepared to collaborate, its future growth, EV pricing and development will be stymied. Speaking with a totally neutral organisation, like Octopus, helps immeasurably and is the future for any companies entering the arena, which is thinly populated at present.

Of all the various fuel resources that are available, electricity is the only viable one for the future, provided preferably by renewable means. Octopus Electric Vehicles, as part of Octopus Energy, already supplies renewable energy to half-a-million UK homes. It is owned overall by the ethical Octopus Group, which manages over £8.6bn of funds and invests in people, concepts and industries that help to change the world.

Eco-friendly transport has gained a repute for being allowed to stray from design conventions, as a means to herald a ‘new way’ in mobility. In some respects, it can take an avant-garde direction, as evinced by the tiny Honda Insight hybrid coupe of 2001, or even the current all-electric BMW i3, which contrasts with Tesla’s ‘beauty-first’ stance. However, Jaguar’s design team has adopted a ‘straight-from-drawing-board’ attitude, which is sure to guarantee a ‘double-take’ spin-on-the-heels by any observers.

Cramming a space between front and rear axles with a 90kWh Lithium-ion battery pack ensures that a long wheelbase results on a car that is actually 50mm shorter overall than Jaguar’s F-Pace (its SUV model). In fact, the i-Pace’s wheelbase is 130mm longer (body length: 4.68m; height: 1.58m; width: 2.13m). Sitting on a choice of big alloys that can be up to 22.0-inches in diameter is the stylist’s dream ticket but Jaguar takes fullest advantage of a wheel-at-each-corner construction to ensure that occupant space is maximised.

Cladding the technology in an aerodynamic all-alloy body is an essential move to reduce the weight of a car that tips the scales at a hefty 2.208-tonnes. However, there is measure in the apparent madness of its appearance, with a near-perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a chassis (when fitted with the optional air suspension) that can be hunkered down from SUV height to take advantage of its roll-free, dive-free and pitch-free handling characteristics, more on which momentarily.

At standstill, i-Pace looks swoopy, yet slightly forbidding. There is an apparent tensile strength to its dimensions, which are more compact than pictures propose. Yet, there is purpose in its design, from the inverted bonnet vent, to the Kamm tail, all of which point at judiciously engineered aerodynamics. After all, i-Pace needs all the help it can get, to avoid using excess energy and make best use of what is available. However, it is a driver-friendly package, possessing all of the hide-bound logic expected of Jaguar, complete with graphic ‘Growlers’ just where you expect them, once you crack open the flush-mounted and electrically-emerging door handles, also used by the Range Rover Velar.

The Velar touches continue inside, with the digitised triple-screen displays for instruments, sat-nav/connectivity and heating-and-ventilation, which, apart from mild styling deviations, are advanced but pleasingly logical in use. Sportier seats are optional but the standard offering is accommodating, multi-adjustable and very comfortable, even though the inevitably higher floor (beneath which the big battery pack is located) feels odd initially. There is plenty of passenger space, front and rear, with around 570-litres of boot space, despite the raised floor level.

Driving i-Pace is a revelation. The headline figures are 295bhp, allied to 513lbs ft of instant torque, which result in a 0-60mph benchmark blast in a mere 4.5s, before maxing-out at around 125mph. Okay. Tesla Model-S is faster, especially in ‘Ludicrous’ mode, but you would be hard-pushed to tell, from the way your spine is forced back into the i-Pace’s seat under full-bore acceleration. Twin electric motors drive all four wheels through a single-speed epicyclic transmission operated by P-R-N-D pushbuttons. Progress can be stately and near-silent, or verging-on-hypercar, with practised and planned use of the throttle, which also doubles as an energy regenerator and slowing medium that turns the i-Pace into a ‘single-pedal’ driving operation. It is most ingenious.

Possessing superglue grip levels helps when exploiting the dynamics of i-Pace. Well-weighted, if slightly remote in feel, the steering is responsive and satisfyingly reactive to driver input. Well-balanced damping ensures a smooth but firm ride quality that encourages driver involvement. Initial turn-in (to bends and corners of varying radii) is crisp and accurate. Of course, the chassis weight can be felt in longer bends, especially when accelerating, which results in mild understeer, which can be corrected by a gentle lift off the throttle to result in total neutrality.

The car’s nominal range is just under 300-miles on a full charge (a 40-minutes supercharge will provide 80% of battery power; 12 hours are required for a full, overnight charge from a domestic wall-box). Three trim levels, S, SE and HSE are available and i-Pace is wonderfully easy to appreciate. Business users will love the 13% Benefit-in-Kind tax rate.

Conclusion:     As the first (for the moment) true rival to Tesla, the Jaguar i-Pace is a monumental step in the right direction. It is priced from a moderate £64,495 (£60,995 with government plug-in grant) to £74,995 (not including the £3,500 grant) and, with good lease rates, it is eminently affordable.