► Jag I-Pace passenger ride
► First full EV SUV, on sale March 2018
► 300+-mile range, 4.0sec 0-60mph
One year ago, Jaguar’s I-Pace concept blindsided the automotive world, appearing without warning to banish the notion that the storied British marque – around which history can hang heavy like Dickensian fog – might be a little tardy to embrace the electric revolution. Instead it lifted the veil of secrecy on a progressively styled, pseudo-SUV EV with 4.0sec 0-60mph performance.
Now, as Jaguar races to be the first established mainstream premium player to deliver an EV to market, its engineers are in the final phases of calibration work, fine-tuning prototypes built on the production tooling.
Orders for the I-Pace open in March 2018 at an estimated price of between £60k (for entry-level, single-motor versions) to £85k for the flagship twin-motor version we rode in. Some 25,000 buyers have already registered their interest, with first deliveries expected Q3 2018.
Perhaps the least onerous of the I-Pace’s testing assignments was conducted in Los Angeles in late November, where engineers used the city’s chronic congestion to fine-tune the car’s powertrain on the urban cycle. We tagged along.
1. The I-Pace still looks fantastic
When a car makes the transition from concept to production reality there’s always the worry that its design will be corrupted, and compromised to the point of disappointment. I-Pace is not like that.
Even in ‘Look at me!’ urban camo, its proportions remain striking: the rakish cab-forward proportions (there’s next to no visible bonnet when you’re sat behind the wheel); the appropriately cat-like face; those stunning Ian Callum-spec 22-inch wheels.
Climb inside and while the prototype wears fabric over most of its interior, to hide disguise the final dashboard, you’re struck by the sense of space. Headroom front and rear is epic, and rear seat legroom generous for a car on a footprint of this size.
The driver’s display is related to that used in the new Range Rover PHEV, namely a large circular graphic that displays speed within it and a pointer around its circumference that moves to show power drain/regen charging level in real time.
Also present is a control to drop into a high-regen B mode. ‘Standard mode drives like a normal car, with a level of regen comparable to backing off in third gear,’ explains Simon Patel, the man heading up Jaguar’s EV powertrain team. ‘This was deliberate, so customers new to EVs don’t need to acclimatise. Then we have B mode to give you that one-pedal EV driving style. Personally, I use B mode the majority of the time. It feels natural pretty quickly and it’s more efficient.’
2. It really shifts
At the top of Rodeo Drive, we’re at the front of the queue with an Aventador Roadster noisily idling beside us, when the lights go green. Patel jumps on the throttle and we’re gone, the Jaguar shuffling drive front/rear for a clean launch and deploying its compelling instant shove to heave my breakfast to the back of my stomach. There’s no let-up as the speed piles on, the only noise a little rising turbulence around the wing mirrors and the whine of gears and power inverters.
‘Because the car’s so quiet inside we’ve had to do a lot of work on noise reduction elsewhere,’ explains Patel. ‘We’ve done a lot of tuning work on the epicyclical gear sets: the detail design of their teeth and the way the units are manufactured and assembled, to give us the lowest noise possible. But I like a bit of whine, for a sense of speed.’
Patel insists that key to the I-Pace’s turn of speed are the design of permanent magnet motors and the fact that everything’s been done in-house; motors, inverters, power control units, software.
‘All the code’s been written internally, giving us absolute freedom on tuning and meaning we can make changes quickly and easily,’ he says.
3. It’s solid as a rock
If you’ve driven a Tesla you’ll be aware of a couple of less than ideal traits, notably a fair bit of wind and road noise together with a little creaking from the structure when you put loads through the car, particularly the Model X SUV.
By contrast the I-Pace feels hewn from sturdier stuff. While we didn’t exceed 65mph, the Jaguar shrugged off some pretty rough LA tarmac without complaint – no mean feat on its vast rims. Road noise too is nicely suppressed, despite the car’s broad rubber footprint in full-house twin motor specification.
‘The underfloor battery forms part of the structure, so we have a level of stiffness far greater than you’d find in an ICE car,’ says Patel. ‘It’s a great platform for the ride/handling engineers to work from. With cabin noise typically 6-8db lower than in a conventional car, NVH has been a challenge. We’ve double-isolated the front and rear drive units. They’re rubber-mounted twice, in a cradle within a cradle.’
The ride feels comparable to the S-spec F-Pace models on similar-sized wheels; firm but not unacceptably so. If anything, the I-Pace feels a little more pliant.
4. There’s potential in the chassis
Hollywood is not a place that lends itself to exploring the outer reaches of a car’s dynamic make-up, but where we do change direction the I-Pace feels taut, with no unchecked body movement and swift responses to Patel’s inputs.
With a smile, he explains that the really good stuff is yet to come.
‘The base car splits drive 50:50 front/rear in normal driving but we have intelligent driveline dynamics on this one, so in low-grip conditions or during spirited driving we can override the base software and shift the power around, between the axles and – using torque vectoring by brake – from side to side, too.’
Given the I-Pace’s strong fundamentals (a centre of gravity 100mm lower than that of the F-Pace, if an as yet unconfirmed kerb weight quite a bit porkier) and Jaguar’s track record for making SUVs that don’t wilt when you pile on the pressure, chances are the I-Pace should have driver appeal well beyond that of the vast, largely uninterested Model X.
5. Jaguar’s taking no chances
New technology this may be but Jaguar can’t rely on the forgiveness of brave early adopters. I-Pace has to be bulletproof from the get-go if Jaguar’s long-term electrification is to be a success.
Patel: ‘Thermal management’s been a challenge. We’ve two cooling system: a low-temperature circuit to keep the battery in its ideal 25° C range; and a higher temp circuit – around 70° C – that cools the motors [there’s a water jacket around the external stators] and the power electronics. We’ve covered over 1.5 million engineering miles across 200 prototypes and rig-tested powertrain components over 11,000 miles. The car’s been through all our standard testing regimes plus a few new ones we’ve developed to cover electrification.’
Look out for CAR's first I-Pace drive in the spring.
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