It's a long-range electric car from a company that won't suddenly call you a 'pedo'
People keep calling this car a ‘game changer’. It’s almost like some unspoken law, especially on Twitter. If you’re a car journalist and you’ve driven one, you have to tweet about it using the words ‘game changer’. I find this a bit strange. I mean, what game is it changing? Is it darts? Is it snooker? Can you move the balls with your hands now? Or is it, to be more accurate, the ‘game’ of ‘Jaguar selling electric cars’ in which case, yes, this is a game changer. It is also, if you want to stretch this to twanging length, the ball because before this car there was no game on account of there being nothing to play it with. So, erm… yea.
Like many cars, the I-Pace seems to be spec sensitive. There are some really attractive wheel options, up to a hearty 22 inches too, and a particularly nice blue paint, though it also seems to look good in dark grey and white. Unfortunately, this press car is in a different sort of grey, one that looks a bit flat and drab, like that colour you used to get on sporty Clios, and which in some lights appears British Leyland beige. It wouldn’t be my choice, especially not paired with the optional all-black alloys. I don’t like all-black alloys on a car. They’re like the all-black off-brand trainers worn by that weird kid at school who smelt a bit of TCP and once threw a rucksack at the maths teacher. There’s more spec madness inside this press demo where it teams stridently red leather with dark wood trimmings. Having played with the I-Pace configurator I know you can spec one up in a much nicer way, one that it doesn’t look like a car the factory cobbled together to use up whatever was left over, like the mad food you make the night before you go on holiday. Mmm, cheesy lamb chop with yoghurt.
Aside from the colour/trim choices, there’s something else disturbing about this I-Pace and it’s a sort of strange gravelly noise. Normally electric cars are very quiet but there’s definitely an odd sound in the background. After a few minutes I realise it’s the sound synth which is meant to deputise for the missing internal combustion engine noise. A rummage through the touch screen menus finds the slider that controls it, and which is currently set to ‘dynamic’. There’s an un-named middle setting, and then ‘calm’ which is what I choose, immediately making the gravelly sound go away. I can see why they’ve done this, to bat away those people who say they don’t like electric cars because of the lack of engine sound, but I love electric cars because they’re so smooth and quiet and with the synth disabled the I-Pace is about as smooth and quiet as they come. Unless you’re reversing, then it beeps like a bin lorry.
Off to film a Smith & Sniff episode with this car (coming soon guys, don’t forget to like and subscribe!!11!!! etc). The first thing this involves is getting out of London. At some lights on a dual carriageway I come up behind a bloke in a Huracan Spyder. When the lights turn green he makes an energetic getaway and I take a small slice of delight in hanging on to his arse until the next set of lights. I’m sure if he’d really clogged it he could have got away, but the I-Pace wouldn’t have made it easy for him. It’s a plenty brisk car. The next part of my journey is a short trip up the A1 during which the I-Pace proves itself to be an excellent motorway cruiser. In a way a bit too excellent because it feels like it’s straining at the lead and will happily sit at a speed that is more than the speed limit causing the range-o-meter to drop at more than a mile per mile, wasting precious electricity. In the end, I stick the cruise control on to stop myself constantly going a little faster or becoming unable to resist the temptation to surge commandingly past some dickwit in a 320d. Instant access to a deep well of torque, 513 lb ft of it if you’re interested, is a wonderful thing.
We spend the day cruising around the countryside talking bollocks, sometimes about the car, and from this and the discovery of some really good roads somewhere on the edge of Cambridgeshire, I’m genuinely staggered by how much fun the I-Pace proves to be. First of all, it’s quick. And secondly, it handles really nicely. It helps that the steering is of excellent weight and ratio, and has a tightness and a lack of slack in the system that lets you flow the car through corners. Also, there’s a planted, squat sensation from the chassis itself that gives you the confidence to hustle it, and a lovely balance, helped no doubt by a motor on each axle providing four-wheel-drive. The ride isn’t bad either. I had a brief go in an I-Pace on air springs a few weeks ago and it rode well, but this car is on the standard steel suspension and it covers bumps without crashing and clattering. Personally, I’d take it one notch softer but then perhaps you’d lose some of the uncanny ability to absolutely mob it across the edge of the Fens. Getting all tillermanly in a car like this is interesting because you’ve got to learn some new skills, the main one being how to use the aggressive regen mode to your advantage. Basically, it’s best to treat the accelerator pedal more like a Scalextric controller, squeezing the power on and never fully letting off. It’s worth capitalising on this sensation of enormous engine braking because when you have to use the actual brakes they prove themselves the weakest link in this car’s dynamic talents, sometimes feeling a bit mushy and telling tales on the car’s 2133 kilo kerb weight. Otherwise, this is a fun car to jog in a lively manner down a nice, windy road.
Driving in town today. The regen braking in the I-Pace is so strong you can cover miles without once touching the brakes. But if you’re a lift ‘n’ coast sort of person, you can switch off the max regen using a setting within the touch screen infotainment system. Likewise, if you prefer your I-Pace not to creep at parking speed like an old-fashioned auto, you can turn off that function too. These settings are hidden in not-entirely-obvious places, as indeed is that sound synth thing. There’s another neat, electro-car only feature in the I-Pace which is a ‘smart’ setting for the climate control which uses the occupant sensors in the seats to detect how many people are in the car and direct things accordingly. So if it knows you’re alone, as I am today, it doesn’t bother firing hot or cold air at empty chairs. The more you look around this car the more you spot these little touches that have been designed to make the most of the precious range. It’s why the sides are curvy and haunchy in the Jag tradition, but then everything gets a bit squared off at the back end, to the benefit of making the air slip over the car and then piss off. For similar aero reasons, there’s a neat little slot at the top edge of the grille which sucks air away from the flattest part of the front end and directs it out of the hole in the bonnet and up across the screen. I also like the funny little ‘cat ears’ in the spoiler above the back screen. And, since we’re talking about electric car quirks, note the foam pads in the wheel arches to dampen down noises that would be masked by internal combustion in other cars. It feels like a great deal of thought and effort has been put into this thing.
A day of trundling about. I’d definitely take another notch softer on the ride quality but it’s not bad, and there’s some of that sense you always get in electric cars of the weighty batteries low down in the car doing their bit to smother bumps with their heftiness. From a trip to the supermarket I learn that the I-Pace has a perfectly good sized boot. There’s also a front boot – a froot if you will – but it’s little more than a tiny well. You might be able to squeeze the charging cables in there, if you were going to pile a load of cack in the back boot – the bboot if you will – and didn’t want to take it all out again to get at the cable cubby beneath the floor. The more impressive bit of the I-Pace is how much room there is for people. In particular, there’s masses of legroom in the back. Thanks, long wheelbase. It probably helps that this test car has the sports seats, which are of the slender-backed and racy style you’d find in an F-type. They look terrific and they’re very comfortable. They’re also a four grand option. Yowch.
For tedious logistical reasons I have cause today to go somewhere in my wife’s Mercedes GLC diesel. After a few days humming about under electrical power, the clatter of oil snorting internal combustion feels like a throwback. It seems loud and rough and so last century. The Merc also seems very conservative in its design next to the Jag. But, and this is quite a big but, there’s also a sense that it’s better made. Not that there’s anything especially flaky about the I-Pace but certain details let it down. The tinniness of the back doors. It might be because, like the rest of the Jag, they’re made of aluminium. Whatever the reason, they feel a bit less than thunking and sturdy. Likewise the action of the big rotary controls that do the climate control or the sloppy little roller on the steering wheel that adjusts the stereo volume. These are little things, but they matter and getting them to seem substantial and well-tuned is what reassures car buyers that they’ve chosen wisely. It’s why German makes do well, because generally they remember that every part of a car should feel carved from a bigger, more solid lump of whatever it’s made from. Jaguar and Land Rover cars never quite have that. Not that this car is made by Jaguar Land Rover. It’s built by Magna in Austria. Magna’s business is assembling cars for other people so it’s in their interests to get it right and, in general, they have because as a unit this I-Pace feels solid. If you owned it you wouldn’t worry that things were going to fall off. But every time you adjusted the stereo volume or slammed the back door a tiny part of your brain might wonder what hidden corners had been cut. Even though, on experience so far, the underneath parts of the I-Pace feel like the most thoroughly engineered bits of all.
No driving today. It’s Sunday and my mate Conor is coming over. Except he arrives and won’t come in the house because he’s busy poring over the I-Pace outside and shouting loud, Irish words of excitement, some of which are swearing. Safe to say, he likes it. In fact, he says it’s “stunning”. He’s not alone because all this week I’ve had people coming up and admiring it and, oddly enough, the last car I remember to make unsolicited chats with strangers a daily occurrence was the F-type coupe. So I talk Conor around the I-Pace and then he asks an interesting question; “Is this an SUV or… I mean, what is it?” It’s a good one. When Audi and Mercedes come out with their pure electric cars soon they’re going to look like SUVs. Or at least the big, high-riding estate cars of the type people seem to like these days. But the Jag is harder to interpret. They say it’s an SUV. It’s got the gappy wheel arches and high-ish sills of an SUV. But then the body is too swooping, snub-nosed and slant-backed to look like any other SUV. I find it very attractive, even in BL beige, probably because it’s doing its best not to look like every other SUV. Or indeed any other car on the road. Also, it’s got those pop-out exterior door handles like a Velar which my four-year-old son confirms are “cool”.
One last trip in the I-Pace during which I have cause to drive up a gravelly slope into a car park and then have to reverse out again. This, despite the SUV tag, causes the underside to scrape on the gravel. So it’s not really a proper off-roader and I don’t think this matters to anyone who would buy one. What does matter is the R word that comes up in relation to any electric car. So, fine, let’s get into that one. Officially, according to the WLTP testing regime, this thing has a range of 298 miles. Obviously that’s as ambitiously wide of the mark as any modern mpg figure. Don’t talk to me about this, I once had a Fiat 500 Twinair. After a week of driving the I-Pace I’ve come to the conclusion that, on a full charge, it’ll do about 200 miles. That’s including a load of motorway driving, some press-on helmwrightery, and trundling about town, all of which were done with the air-con on and other electrical items used with abandon. In other words, if you treat it like a totally normal car, it’ll go for 200 miles or so. If you habitually drive 200 miles all day, every day, and you only ever stop for the time it takes to wee this is not the car for you. Also, you need to think about getting a new job because your life sounds terrible. In the real world, especially one where, unlike me, you have a driveway and can charge a car while it’s parked at night, I think you’ll be fine. In the interests of pretending to be a journalist, I twice tried charging the I-Pace at Ecotricity fast chargers in motorway service areas. The actual charging worked fine, but the first charger unit was playing up and gave me the power for free, the second refused to believe I’d disconnected even when I had, and then later sent me a text to announce that I was now unhooked, even though I was in my kitchen and car parked on my street at the time. Like the clangy back doors on the I-Pace, the detail failings of the charging network set up a little brain nugget of worry about its integrity that’ll rarely bother you if you plug in at home.
A man with a lorry comes to take the I-Pace away which is a great shame because I really, really liked it. So much so, I could imagine having one as our next family car, but for one problem; it’s quite expensive. Prices start at £58,995 (including £4500 back from the government) but once you’ve climbed the model range and added a few options you can be staring down the thick end of £80,000 and the monthlies are quite chunky either way. However, if you can run to that sort of cash there’s another problem because the I-Pace is sold out, at least for the next few months. Last year someone at Jag told me that their sales planning people had no idea how this car would do. Could be a big-dicked hit, could be a total flop. With no precedent from a model it was replacing, they had no way of knowing and it seems they’ve gone low-side because by all accounts the contract with Magna isn’t for a massive number of cars every year. Which is a shame, because the I-Pace deserves to do well. Whether it actually will, I don’t know. In a way, they’ve shot themselves in the foot with this car in two very different ways. Firstly, they’ve made it unexpectedly sporty to drive and once you discover how fun it is you want to carry on in an exuberant manner all the time, to the detriment of the one thing everybody obsesses over in electric cars, which is the range. So word will get out that the I-Pace doesn’t get close to its claimed range, drowning out the message that it is, by far, the world’s best-driving electric car. Secondly, it’s not an easy car to read. The world wants SUVs and here’s a car that’s claiming to be an SUV while plainly ignoring many of the boring codes that mark out the breed. Once the initial round of early adopters and electroheads is out of the way, normal punters might struggle to get their brains around this car because it doesn’t look like an SUV but nor does it resemble a normal car. It just looks like itself. Personally, I like it and the amount of attention it’s had this week suggests I’m not alone. So maybe it’ll continue to be a sell-out. I hope so because beyond all the ‘game changer’ hubris it’s a genuinely excellent car. More than that, with its smoothness, its quietness, its effortless speed and its slightly avant-garde design, it’s actually the most Jag-y Jaguar for ages.
The car talked about here is a Jaguar I-Pace EV400 S. It has two permanent magnet synchronous electric motors making a total of 395 horsepower. Jaguar says it can go from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and has a top speed of 124mph. In basic trim, and including the current UK government grant, it costs £58,995.