No turning back now: Is the Jaguar I-Pace ready for the real world?
We put it through a five-point workout

'The environmental benefits are obvious—you can see them not spewing out of the tailpipe... but owning, charging and planning your life around one is a chore we could all do without.'

1. Will I want to take the long way home?

Car chat. It’s right up there with football banter for immediate alienation of anyone who doesn’t know a double-clutch from a 4-3-3. But something is occurring. I’ve spent two days with the I-Pace and everyone—and I do mean everyone—has a question or five, strident opinions on the charging infrastructure, and judging by the battered Micra they’re driving, no previous interest in combustion-engined cars. Frankly, it’s exhausting, but also a fascinating social shift—the electric car hasn’t yet become personal transport for the masses, but it is mobilizing their minds.

In a world obsessed with food delivered to your doorstep, cheap taxis at your fingertips and the world’s music library in your earbuds—convenience above all else—the electric car is a chewy one. The environmental benefits are obvious—you can see them not spewing out of the tailpipe... but owning, charging and planning your life around one is a chore we could all do without. One step forward, two steps back. Hence the hullabaloo.

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

Which is why it’s easy to forget that the I-Pace is still just a new car: four tires, a steering wheel, some seats surrounded by glass and aluminum. Later, we’ll help you decide whether your life lends itself to EV ownership, and if the I-Pace can handle the sorts of things diesel SUVs take in their stride, but if anyone’s going to be persuaded to cough up at least £58,500 (P4,000,000) or £80,860 (P5,700,000) for the top-spec-with-options car here, it still needs to go, stop, steer and turn heads with panache.

It looks good, doesn’t it? Those are 20-inch wheels—standard on our HSE model and blacked out to merge with the rubber—they are probably the Instagram/ride quality sweet spot. But it’s the proportions that steal the show: the snub nose that brings the front wheels forward with it and the high, squared-o rear end set the template, while the rear spoiler, vented hood and flush handles provide the detail. Its beauty doesn’t slap you like a botoxed Alfa, but eventually its bravery hooks you in.

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PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

Different story inside, because the interior isn’t nearly as future-obsessed as a Tesla’s. You still have several acres of screen, split over three displays, but also physical buttons. Fancy that. A floating center console jazzes things up, as does an inexplicable slab of old-school wood veneer in an otherwise cool oasis of red leather and brushed metal. Particular mention for the Recaro seats: The driving position is spot-on and the comfort levels higher than their skeletal backrest suggests.

Switch it on, and the screens do a dance but no noise. A baffled delivery driver asks me how to turn the engine on. Sigh. Some hours later, I’m following our long-term Audi RS4 on the A360 towards Salisbury. As I stare at its Nardo Grey rump, it strikes me that both are fast family wagons, both cost around £70,000 (P5 million), both have near-identical trunk space and both do 0–97kph in something starting with a four.

Rowan reads my mind and gives it the full Schumacher away from the next roundabout. The rear squats an inch as he rips through the gears, parping on upshifts. I extend my right foot and leap forward, instantly attaching myself to the Audi’s bumper, which is where I stay, silently and without fuss, until license preservation kicks in. Blimey, 0–97kph in 4.5 suggested the I-Pace would be quick, but RS4 quick?

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

This is the standard car: no SVR fettling, no race-bred claims and, really, there’s no need for a family car to go any faster. When it comes to EVs, acceleration is cheap—how quickly you choose to deplete your battery is down to your ankle. Take Tesla: The slowest car it makes is a £35k (P2.4 million) sedan capable of 0–97kph in 5.6sec—enough to keep a Civic Type R honest.

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Speed isn’t an issue, then, but individuality is, because, degrees of brain-curdling acceleration aside, all EVs feel worryingly similar to drive. Strip away vibrations from the engine, a ’box to interact with, intake and exhaust noise, turbo rush or a rampant top end, and you’re left with something more homogenous than in the past. So, there’s a new challenge afoot. How do you differentiate your electric car when they all blend into one? Jaguar has done it by pitching it as the first credible Tesla rival, beating the Germans to market and challenging convention with a radical design...others will find new ways.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a fan of the I-Pace way. The slick, at power delivery is totally addictive: You’re never caught in the wrong gear, never off-boost, always in the meat of it whether waiting at the lights or hovering at 70. In many ways, it feels too easy. Too easy to zap past a dawdling tractor without pre-selecting the right gear, too easy to pick the precise point in a corner you need the beans without allowing time for the turbo to spool, too easy to drive like a loon. If you thought modern performance cars with their sticky tires and smooth gearboxes flattered the inept, you haven’t seen anything yet—this is the age of plug and play.

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

Given the I-Pace weighs 1,905kg, corners carry significant potential for understeer and general sloppiness, but not so. A center of gravity 130mm lower than the F-Pace and the highest torsional stiffness of any Jaguar is a good place to start, plus our test car had the optional self-leveling air suspension (P78,000) with adaptive damping (P57,000). We can’t vouch for the standard set-up yet, but the sensation here is enough body roll to let you feel the weight transfer, but no more, allowing you to carve through corners with grip and confidence. The brakes are a blend of regeneration and mechanical friction, so you can forgive a mushy feeling at the top of the pedal travel, before they really start to bite.

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There are two ways to drive the I-Pace, then: like your pants are on fire in Dynamic mode with more weight to the steering and snap to the throttle, which is fine so long as you know a charger is nearby and you have several hours to spare; or like a saint in Comfort or Eco mode, when you’ve got kilometers to cover and don’t mind the remaining range burning itself into your retinas until your eyes begin to sweat. More on that in a bit.

So whether mingling with the good people of Salisbury or flashing silently past diesel-gargling tanks on the plain, the I-Pace succeeds. Test one complete—it’s rapid, desirable, handles its mass and works as a car. But there are stiffer tests to come...

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

2. Can it lifestyle?

I once lost a BMW X5 in Bucklebury Ford. Okay, it’s not that deep. But it was deep enough for the X5 to ingest water through the intake, and that didn’t end well. When we arrive in the I-Pace there’s a huge flatbed recovery truck 100m up the lane, on its back a 7.5-ton truck with water dripping from it. Some horses wade through. One of the riders reckons she’s helped tow a dozen cars out of here in the last 10 years. We try to work out if one of them was me.

Electricity and water are not happy bedfellows, but if electric cars were vulnerable to ionized water they wouldn’t be catching on so fast, would they? Even a Californian Tesla driver must have encountered a puddle before. This is just Top Gear taking it to the next level. Still, it’s with a certain sense of trepidation that I nose the I-Pace down the ramp into 18-inch-deep water—I remember how the shark was offered at the end of Jaws 2. I watch the screen as water bubbles up over the front camera and with a gulp I tentatively head for the far shore...

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Eight passes later, it’s a rather different matter: The I-Pace bellyflops in, water fountains up. The car splashes about like a toddler in a paddling pool and then goes on for a run around the garden. Figuratively speaking. The I-Pace certainly isn’t scared of water. Sure, I raised the suspension up to off-road height, but the 4WD system hasn’t lost traction, and aside from an undertray coming loose—revealing a thick orange cable that would have been totally immersed in water—the I-Pace has shrugged off bathtime with ease.

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

I’ve really done this the wrong way round. Usually you get dirty first and then head off to clean up. My next stop is the Wayfarer’s Way, an ancient byway. Let’s do a few kilometers along it. It’s mostly rutted track where cars are permitted, but in places it deteriorates. The I-Pace isn’t an off-roader, but it has a low grip mode and AdSR. I’m not sure Adaptive Surface Response, which adjusts motor and brake settings depending on surface and conditions, was ever expected to handle actual off-road.

We get to a section where the grass is door-deep and the chalk beneath slippery. The traction control skitters and clicks in the background, the motors whine a little, but momentum is maintained. Clearance and approach/departure angles are good, as there’s no chunky internal combustion engine lengthening the nose and no vulnerable exhaust underneath. We already know electric car packaging (heavy batteries low down and in the middle, lighter motors on each axle) is good for on-road dynamics, but now it looks like it works off-road, too. There’s even some axle articulation. Some. A cross-axle section is too much to tackle, and we back out.

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PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

Still, the I-Pace has done well. Silent progress means ramblers have less to complain about, and the ride is supple, rounding the edges off pot-holes. Slight niggle: When crawling over obstacles—or even just reversing up a driveway—you sometimes have to give the throttle an extra prod, so progress can be a bit jerky (switching Creep mode on might have helped). But fair play, I-Pace, you have off-roaded and survived.

It’s hard to know, I suspect on purpose, where the I-Pace fits into a conventional model hierarchy. It looks slightly like a hatchback, but, inside, the 656-liter trunk is twice the size of a Golf’s and, outside, it’s well over 400mm longer. The driving position is surprisingly commanding and when you step out, your foot goes down further than you expect (unless you’ve set the suspension to lower automatically). It’ll also handle four adults with ease. It’s a well-packaged, spacious car, and that means it lends itself to an Active Lifestyle.

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

I have one of those. Mainly because I never grew out of loving toys. So on goes the inflatable Handirack, and skis and paddleboard are strapped on. The Saris bike rack fits a treat on the tailgate, the straps feeding up under the rear spoiler. I drive to the top of a hill where pretty much the only hobby I don’t currently have, paragliding, is taking place. Mostly the people poke fun that I’m in a place with no snow or water, but no one says the Jaguar looks odd. Because it doesn’t. It looks right.

Adventure sports tend to be quite environmentally aware. Often they’re done by people wanting to make a point about the landscape, environment, how we’re treating the planet and so on. Which is odd when much of what they’re up to seems to be about removing themselves from the environment in the most graphic way possible. Anyway, they’ll doubtlessly have arrived in an ancient fume-churning VW Transporter van. How much better to roll up in something that treads more lightly on the surroundings? A peace that the I-Pace is doing little to interrupt.

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PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

3. Do the kids dig it?

It’s not so quiet now. I’m not sure how many boys are orbiting the I-Pace because they won’t stand still long enough to be counted. One is plugging a charge lead into another’s ear, while another lounges in the minuscule front load bay. “Hey,” comes a cry from inside, “you can play noughts and crosses on the ceiling.”

Within five minutes the locusts have swarmed, discovered every nook and cranny, been to the very depths of the infotainment menu system, and even discovered how to manually adjust the fan speed, which I’d singularly failed to do. You want a car destruction tested? This beats the Nurburgring, hands down.

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

This is the generation for whom electric cars will soon be the norm. These boys know cars, yet not one of them mentions the fact that Jaguars used to have loud V8s or that one was called the E-type. A Jag crossover, I ask them, is that okay? Bemusement. It’s the most natural thing in the world when there are no preconceptions. At this age, they just accept the future. It’s tech that gets them buzzing, just like it did when we were young.

They love the touchscreen panels, the height-adjustable suspension: “It can change between an off-roader and a normal car,” one comments. Able to seat three across the boot aperture, they think it’s big enough to cope with sports kit and musical instruments, but worry that the dog won’t be able to see out. I ask them how much they think it might cost. “About £75,000” is the reply. One of them knows too much.

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PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

4. Can it win over the petrolheads?

Even if an EV makes sense financially and practically, can it win hearts as well as minds? That’s why the I-Pace finds itself glued to Santa Pod’s Pro Peak Performance start line. How do folks with metaphorical petrol in their veins and literal ethanol up their nostrils take to a battery-powered imposter?

Cagily. I join the queue alongside a Mustang with headers sprouting through the hood like a mechanical tribute to that scene from Alien. Picking my way down the line is mainly a hazard perception test, because no one who works on a machine that’ll give your kidneys tinnitus expects a car they can’t hear approaching.

A Mexican wave of amused frowns follows until I arrive next to Simon Gough’s Racepak Camaro. Its driver looms over, pokes his baseball cap through the open window, and delivers his verdict. “These are f**king brilliant for drag racing, I f**king love innovation.” “But do you reckon electric cars are the future—in drag racing?” A gurgling, burly laugh. “Hah! I f**king hope not, mate.”

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

Early days. Ice broken, more interested parties surround the Jag. They’re taken with its stubby looks, and impressed at its long-wheelbase packaging, but to a man, everyone’s disappointed when I reel off the spec – ‘only’ 400hp and 0–97kph in 4.5sec. They’d hoped for under 2.0secs “like the Teslas they have here sometimes.” Small wonder popping ‘Tesla drag race’ into Youtube’s search bar yields over 617,000 results—twice ‘Dodge Hellcat drag race’.

We file towards the start line. Lots of attention now. The consensus is that EVs have a big future in drag racing, “but only for juniors”. They’re quick, quiet, cheaper to maintain and way safer if your offspring has an off. But for seniors? They’re married to their fire-breathing engines—for sport. Plenty are interested in an easy-going EV for everyday mooching—and towing their prized racecars. In the ultimate cauldron of no-replacement-for-displacement, battery cars are finding friends. Time to do the tech justice.

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But Santa Pod ain’t going quietly into that good night, and my volunteer opponent is fan-favorite ‘Fast’ Freddy Fagerstrom, in his 1966 Chevy C10. His supercharger alone swallows 600hp, but that’s okay when the 8.5-liter V8 develops 2,000hp overall. Freddy, now 58, has been racing this truck since he was 15. It runs six-second quarters and 1/5th-kilometer burnouts. Mind games engage. “I’ve got 4WD,” I remind the Swede. “I think V8 is still the future,” he shrugs.

Dynamic mode, t/c disabled, aircon off... the Jag runs a respectable 12.8 at 171kph, impressing the locals. Freddy screamed under the gantry at 354kph in a wall of noise ‘n’ vapor five seconds earlier, to whoops from the crowd, after pebbledashing the Jag’s face with rubber marbles. We’re beaten, but not unwelcome here. Best of three?

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

5. How far can it actually go?

The silence is ominous. I’ve just told a senior I-Pace engineer what I’m about to do with his car. I was hoping for encouraging noises and handy hints. Instead, dead air. Then, at length, “The Worldwide harmonized Light vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) is just a lab test, you know...” and a series of mumbled qualifications and excuses-in-advance about how real driving can use far more energy. His heavy implication is that to set out on a real trip the same length as the quoted range is a fool’s errand that’ll inevitably leave me stranded.

Which pops my balloon good and proper. London to Land’s End on a charge—how great would that have been? The WLTP* range of the I-Pace is 480km. That journey is 468km. We’ve known for years your actual results would never be anywhere near the old and discredited NEDC test. The new WLTP is supposed to be more realistic and attainable. Er, but not, says my Jaguar man, that attainable.

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Well sod the lot of ’em. Top Gear is going anyway.

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

The Jaguar has slept overnight with an electrical umbilical to the wall. I’ve never been more steely in my determination. I adjust the electric seats and mirrors before unplugging. Then hand Rowan, the poor photographer who’s always assigned my endurance trips, a USB power pack so he won’t feed his phone from the car’s sockets. Those things would be a fraction of a fraction of a percent, but everything counts today.

Out through west London, the accelerator is a glass knife, the brake the pedal of last resort. I play loose with ambers and freewheel too brazenly into roundabouts. Sorry, people. Onto the M3, I don’t so much gain speed as accrete it. I learned from Jag’s man that the most efficient speed is 72kph. I donate myself some speedo error and settle on 76 max.

It’s now getting busy, but not busy enough for commuters to slow. Where the M25 joins the M3, all M3 traffic is funneled by new hatchings into the outside lane. I have a stream of impatient German premium up my chuff. Meanwhile, two lanes of nose-to-tail trucks are undertaking me. They are not inclined to give quarter. But neither, today, am I. Sorry again.

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

Soon the day’s temperature soars. Without aircon—and with windows shut for aero—the cabin roasts. Heat is moist. Heat is prickly. Heat is fetid. But heat makes batteries yield more, so heat is good. I’m gazing at the power meter, trying to keep it hanging steady—it’s not just speed but speed fluctuations that suck energy. The I-Pace has such urgency in its motors that it’s near-impossible to keep things super-smooth. I find a solution in jamming my left foot under the accelerator, counterpressed by my right foot on top of it.

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The adaptive cruise control is off. Radar uses power. Normally you can’t turn the actual transceiver off; it’s on standby for auto emergency braking. But it’s on the fritz today, and I am glad. And then the passive speed limiter switch comes to life, so I set that to 76 and begin to let the road distract my eyes from the instruments.

And on. And on. If you want to travel fast, you’ll find busy roads. There’s always a car or truck in front. Travel slowly and the roads are empty. The frustration is all behind you. See! Look at the faces in the rearview!

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

Now, the I-Pace’s spec shows a 90kWh battery, but the car never allows itself all that, for the sake of the cells’ health. So for 468km, my average consumption has to be less than that total available 84.7kWh divided by that target distance, equals 0.181kWh per kilometer or (18.1kWh per 161km in trip-computer units). So far our consumption has been too damn high, and the available range readout has lagged behind the satnav’s destination distance. And yet, passing Honiton, Exeter, Okehampton... Tantalizingly, those numerical gaps slowly close.

Crossing the Cornish border, we look set for victory. Consumption is on target, and distance-to-go equals range at 122km. A layby. I ease to a stop and we fling open the doors of this rancid pressure-cooker. For five joyous minutes we swim in the Cornish air like a crystal lake.

But on restarting, the dash lights up news. Range has crashed to 40km. All other numbers, including battery percentage, are unchanged. Sweat turns to full-on hot flush. Which number do we believe? We proceed with renewed caution as Rowan scours phone-apps for chargers.

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We climb to the heart of Bodmin Moor at Temple Tor. My family has been back and forth here for generations. In the War, my grandfather was sent out by the Ministry to tell farmers across Cornwall what to grow where, to best extract food from every precious acre. My parents too endlessly crossed the county, and every road improvement saved time. As Dad neared his end last summer, my sister was visiting one day. He fancied a trip out. Where? Could he see the brand-new dual carriageway at Temple Tor, please? That was the last time he left the house. See, roads and cars bring people closer. If future cars are connected and electric and near-autonomous, as this Jag is, well, I’m still all for them.

PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

But not like this: Eyeing the feeble range, we struggle to a charger on an industrial estate. EV drivers get righteously indignant at normal cars thoughtlessly blocking these lifelines. Yet here’s a Leaf, straddling two charger bays, so although I can drive into the remaining space, I can’t get out of the car. Rowan plugs in, then tracks down the owner to release me. We trudge off to find food. The nearest pub’s Thai veggie burger’s taste, texture and color resembles a puck of compressed-wood renewable fuel. Appropriate to our green mission but no reward for five hours in a slow-moving greenhouse and the dank scent of failure.

Phoning Jaguar again reveals the range-calculation software is beta. Trust the charge percentage, they say. So, onward. More new bypasses. By Penzance an hour later, we’ve recalibrated the goal: to do it using one total battery’s worth. We’d added 10% at that charge, so if we retain 10 at the finish, it’s a win. We smell the sea, bathed in flaring Atlantic sunlight. To ridiculous in-car jubilation, we hit the end of Britain with 11%. That means 99% actually used.

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PHOTO: Rowan Horncastle

We have attained the rated range. But only by crawling along, denied heating, A/C, stereo, HUD, lane-assist, wipers, headlights. Real-driving range is below 322km, I reckon. This gap is not the fault of the I-Pace. It’s the fault of a new test that may be more realistic than the old, but still isn’t realistic enough. Which perversely makes today even more of a TG triumph. Malodorous as we are, you may hug us.

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