► Jag i-Pace driven at Geneva
► Our editor-in-chief has a spin
► 300+-mile range, 4.0sec 0-60mph
It steers like a Jag! That’s my abiding impression from driving Jaguar’s first electric car, the new i-Pace, during almost certainly the shortest test drive in my 20-year career.
We’re at a driving centre under the flightpath of Geneva airport, queueing to drive Jag’s EV crossover on a piece of tarmac the size of a football pitch. It’s a gymkhana, but instead of Ken Block flaying his Hoonicorn Mustang through a relentless dance of drifts, doughnuts and tyre smoke to the sound of an aggrieved V8, this soundtrack features only the occasional chirrup of tyres: the all-wheel drive i-Pace is a near-silent EV, naturally.
Admittedly, Jaguar has designed a suite of electric car sounds for the i-Pace, giving feedback to both driver and unwitting pedestrians. But these are switched off, and the car is in normal Comfort mode for this three-minute test drive. Dotted around the ‘circuit’ are pairs of smart cones assembled in gates, whose lights change colour to direct you. The task is simple: aim for a green-lit gate, keep an eye out for the blue-lit cones which designate your next target – and hope that the landing lights for the neighbouring airport aren’t a mix of blue and green...
The smart cones go green and we’re off. The i-Pace has a near 200hp motor on both the front and rear axle, enabling four-wheel drive. Given electric motors produce nigh-on max torque from zero revs, the i-Pace sails off the line eagerly. The aluminium Jaguar claims a 0-62mph sprint of 4.8sec, and it’s already outdragged the Tesla Model X P100D in a 0-60mph-0 test, assisted by its 376kg weight advantage.
The Jag’s 2133 kilo kerbweight enters my mind as we pirouette through the cones, but the i-Pace simply doesn’t feel that heavy. It’s not beset by bodyroll, and as the gymkhana unfolds, it’s clear the i-Pace summons plenty of grip allowing you to push hard in a turn, confident that it won’t let go and deposit you in the banks of snow doubling for a tyre wall. Jaguar refers to the i-Pace’s platform as a skateboard, with the 432 pouch cells of batteries mounted low in the chassis’ base. Weight distribution is 50:50, and the i-Pace feels inherently stable and well-planted.
Read more from the Geneva motor show
Like other electrified cars, the i-Pace features regenerative braking, where the electric motor acts as a generator before the friction brakes kick in. This i-Pace is in high-regenerative mode: step off the accelerator, and the Jag slows noticeably but smoothly. You can switch it off if you prefer a more conventional braking effect, but engineers reckon this single pedal driving functionality works for 98% of braking eventualities.
It’s an addictive way of driving, a little like controlling a video game, and quite different to the internal combustion engined, Jaguar norm. But there’s one critical interface where the i-Pace feels like a typical Jag: steering calibration. The rack’s weighting feels spot-on, not too light so it feels vague, not too heavy to feel leaden. Jink the wrists and the front end turns crisply, add lock and the i-Pace carves turns progressively. First impressions are of quite splendid steering.
Of course, the drive is over too quickly, and we’ve barely touched 40mph. Detailed impressions will have to wait until May 2018, when the i-Pace will finally be put to test on Europe’s roads. But one thing’s for sure: Jaguar’s EV crossover has stolen a march on the traditional premium car makers – and it’s shaping up very nicely indeed.
We've had various brief drives in prototypes already. Read on to see how the Jaguar i-Pace drives in an Arctic winter
Ice can be a problem for all cars, but for electric cars like the all-new i-Pace it poses an even greater threat. EVs rely on power from batteries, which are essentially chemical reactions – and a simple grasp of GCSE Chemistry will tell you they’re vastly influenced by temperature.
It’s an issue that electric cars already face. Don’t believe us? Head over to the Tesla website, and you’ll see that temperature is a major factor when calculating range. The lower the temperature, the fewer the miles you’ll get from your EV.
This variable range effect isn’t too bad for EV owners in countries with milder climates, but in those with colder ones it can have a serious effect.
The Jaguar i-Pace has now been unveiled: get the full story here
So how do you ensure customers around the world get the same projected 300-mile range from their electric SUV? If you’re Jaguar, you design a system that keeps the batteries at their optimum temperature at all times, and then you test it in one of the coldest places on Earth.
To find out just how Jaguar manages to do it, we drove the i-Pace at Jaguar Land Rover’s cold-weather test facility in Arjeplog, Sweden, where temperatures plummet as low as -40°C.
CAR's guide to the best electric cars and EVs
Jaguar i-Pace review: the tech
But first the tech. Lithium-ion batteries need to be kept at the temperature of a warm bath, and the i-Pace uses a mixture of heating and clever thermal diversions to keep them at their sweet spot. The car's air-conditioning unit and heater do most of the heavy lifting, cooling or warming the batteries to the correct temperature, when needed.
The i-Pace is also able to divert waste heat to the batteries, saving energy on heating in the process. What's more, the Jag can heat or pre-condition its batteries when it's being charged too, saving power for when you’re on your way.
As you’d expect from an EV, these systems are entirely controlled by the car’s ECU and software, though unlike Tesla, Jaguar says it’s not looking at updating the firmware anytime soon.
We live with a Tesla Model S: read our long-term test diary
What’s the Jaguar i-Pace like to drive?
Take a look at pictures of Jaguar’s all-electric i-Pace, and it looks like a tall, wide, SUV. But in reality it’s a far more low-slung, sporty affair than the odd jpg suggests. The i-Pace looks aggressive in the flesh, with minimal overhangs and a scuplted, sloping roof adding to its athletic stance. In person, the idea of Jaguar i-pace eTrophy series racing makes much more sense...
Driving an electric car on a frozen lake isn’t our usual review method, but it was still possible to take away some key details about the i-Pace. Once you jump into the car’s camouflaged cabin and get going, the Jaguar feels far more agile and responsive than its size suggests.
Steering is sharp, and around 400bhp from the Jaguar’s electric motor is more than enough to break traction on the ice and hold a drift. With traction control on, the i-Pace is able to keep you relatively straight, but turn everything off, and the linear power delivery makes sliding the i-Pace rather predictable. At this point the Jaguar's direct steering comes into its own, and after a little practice, it's possible to quickly and precisely put in just the right amount of lock to sustain some entertaining angles of drift.
In the short time we had with the car, body roll seemed well controlled for what is a heavy car – a huge benefit for a car of this size and height. Like most modern EVs, the i-Pace arranges its batteries along the bottom of the chassis – a bit like a skateboard – and that keeps the car’s centre of gravity low. The result? Less weight transfer, and far less rolling around.
It feels like a Jaguar, in other words.
Jaguar i-Pace review: what else do we need to know?
It’s clear the i-Pace has all the urgency of an EV, with very few of the drawbacks you'd usually get in this type of vehicle. With traction control on in precarious conditions, the i-Pace is tame, but turn off all the gizmos, and you’ll find the Jaguar is still able to provide enough feedback and response to make breaking traction and spinning up the rears enjoyable.
Yes, driving on ice remains a frustratingly narrow glimpse into the i-Pace's real talents. Although we'll have to drive the new Jaguar i-Pace on road later in 2018 for a definitive verdict, the omens are good at this stage.
We’ll update this review when we drive the i-Pace more. Read on for editor Ben Miller's assessment from his first ride
Five things we learned riding in the 2018 Jaguar i-Pace
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 opened in March 2018, with prices starting at £63,495 (excluding the government's £4500 plug-in vehicle grant for which the Jag is eligible); all models have twin motors for all-wheel drive. 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.
Check out our Jaguar reviews