First Drive: Jaguar I-Pace © Jaguar Land Rover/Newspress

First Drive: Jaguar I-Pace

Can the British car company shake off its old-fashioned image and take on Tesla, the upstart from Silicon Valley?

The combustion engine’s days are numbered. Those smelly, noisy motors will slowly be forced out of cities as we creep towards 2040, after which you’ll no longer be able to buy a new car in the UK unless it can travel 50 miles on electric power alone. In order to clean up the air we breathe, it seems petrol and diesel will go the way of the steam train, and the horse and carriage before it. It’s a necessary progression, but one we’ll be slightly sad to see.

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That’s the backdrop to the arrival of the Jaguar I-Pace, the first real all-electric rival to Tesla’s premium Model S. It’s a big leap for the British company, but is it good enough to ease the pain of parting with the engines we’ve come to love?

In the driving seat

On first impressions, at least, the answer is yes.I’ve never been a fan of SUVs, but the Jaguar is quite literally head-turning even on the streets of New York, where we tested the car ahead of the final race of the Formula E season.

With the batteries under the chassis and an electric motor at each end, Jaguar’s taken the opportunity to shorten the bonnet and pull the cabin almost over the front wheels. Despite its size, it looks like a sprinter ready to bolt. And Jaguar’s broken with convention inside, too, with a screen-laden central console that rises up between the driver and passenger seat. The interior looks Silicon Valley, but still has plenty of Jaguar personality.

It’s in the front of the cabin that the I-Pace’s 21st-Century credentials are clear to see © Jaguar Land Rover/Newspress
It’s in the front of the cabin that the I-Pace’s 21st-Century credentials are clear to see © Jaguar Land Rover/Newspress

Beneath the surface, the dual motors provide four-wheel drive, producing 349bhp and an eye-widening 513lb/ft of torque. It’s a big car, but that torque hurls the I-Pace forward, delivering it to 60mph in 4.5 seconds – quick enough to leave a lot of sports cars in its dust. It’s the welcome new reality of electric cars: because the power delivery is instant, they’ll all be quick, even SUVs. That said, a heavy foot will shorten the reported 298-mile range – a realistic figure would be closer to the 200-mile mark. If you need to go further, then a 100kW charger (of which there are 2,000 being scattered across the UK this year) will recharge your batteries in 40 minutes. A 7kW home charger will get to 80 per cent in 10 hours.

The batteries lining the bottom of the car help keep the centre of gravity low, which means it’s surprisingly obedient in the corners for such a hefty vehicle. And special mention, unusually, goes to the sound Jaguar’s bestowed upon the I-Pace – a low, growly space-age hum that beats any electric vehicle we’ve sat in.

So far so good, but there are few things we miss. The I-Pace is a brilliant car to drive, particularly for an SUV, but battery-powered cars all share the same characteristics. They’re fairly uniform: instant power with a silent ride that’s occasionally a bit bumpy in town. Those that care about their drive will miss the character an engine can provide, as well as the noise. The infrastructure is also still an issue: although charging stations are near-ubiquitous, there are too many types, each with their own charging time.

The verdict

Ultimately, the I-Pace is a brilliant piece of design, sat atop a great car. It’s comfortable, spacious and rapid, and its range covers most journeys. It also puts a smile on our faces to see a British brand lead innovation in the electric charge, redefining what Jaguar stands for in the process. It’s a worthy competitor to Tesla’s offering, but will appeal to different customers. As the infrastructure starts to catch up with the quality of the electric cars being produced, there are going to be fewer and fewer excuses not to leave fossil fuels behind, and that can only be a good thing.

There’s plenty of room in the back to accommodate passengers in typical Jaguar luxury © Jaguar Land Rover/Newspress
There’s plenty of room in the back to accommodate passengers in typical Jaguar luxury © Jaguar Land Rover/Newspress

Jaguar I-Pace spec

Prince: From £63,495, jaguar.co.uk

Model tested: Jaguar I-Pace First Edition (£81,495)

Range: 480km (298 miles)

0-60mph: 4.5 secs

BHP: 349

Battery: 90KWH, 388V LITHIUM-ION

This is an extract from issue 326 of BBC Focus magazine.

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