DESPITE the best efforts of ultra-disruptor and leading Silicon Valley iconoclast Elon Musk, the fully electric vehicle has always suffered from two major problems. The first, and worst, was “range anxiety”. Even the Tesla Model S that once borrowed – and loved, by the way despite a lifelong addiction to internal combustion -left me crawling along the inside lane of the M25 in a desperate bid to eke out its batteries’ remaining charge. We made it, with just a solitary mile of range left. Gulp. But the efficiency both of batteries and the electric motors that convert their energy into motive force is on a constantly upward trajectory and now you can get 300 miles out of a single charge. That, according to the experts, is the amount that signals the tipping point for mass acceptance, which leaves problem number two: the infrastructure.
Home-charging is one thing, finding somewhere on the M6 at 1am on a winter’s morning is another issue. That’s why the announcement late last year that BMW, Daimler, Ford and the VW Group were joining forces to build a trans-European network of new charging points for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) was that rare thing, a genuine game-changer. “A reliable, ultra-fast charging infrastructure is important for mass consumer adoption and has the potential to transform the possibilities for electric driving,” Ford president and CEO Mark Helds observed. No kidding.
But there’s a third issue: has there ever been an EV that resoundingly rang the bell of desire? Tesla got the jump and proved that the whole “start-up concept” could translate to an old-world business like car manufacturing (even so, £100k is a lot of money, and we’re not talking apps here). Audi, Mercedes and Porsche are all working on new pure EVs, but first out of the traps, perhaps unexpectedly, is Jaguar, its I-Pace sets Britain’s most famous maker of highly desirable, internally combusting sports cars on an entirely different path. “The next 15 years are going to see more transformation in the car industry than there was in the previous 100,” Jaguar design director Ian Callum says. “These are very interesting times.”
Although the I-Pace reimagines Jaguar’s dogged commitment to beauty, Callum and the team aren’t daft. “People tell me they think the car is going to change,” he continues. “Well, as long as we’ve got eyes in our heads and sit the way we do in them, they’re not. What changes with a battery electric vehicle is the absence of mechanical machinery sitting in particular places. That’s the opportunity.” It’s an opportunity these guys have really run with. The I-Pace is a substantial proposition. It’s physically impressive, ostensibly an SUV but occupies no existing market segment.
It sits high, successfully fuses visual elements from the F-Type sports car and the F-Pace 4×4, but its “cab forward” stance signals something new. The concept version also rides on whopping great 23 in alloy wheels, but we’re assured that this is the real thing very lightly disguised. The hardware underneath is all new and a major departure for a company that has made some of the most charismatic petrol engines in automotive history. There isn’t even a token range-extending little engine here: the I-Pace uses two electric motors, each generating approximately 200bhp, integrated in the front and rear axles and fed by a 90kWh, liquid-cooled lithium ion battery pack.
A total of 36 separate modules are housed in an aluminium structure and Jaguar claims that the pouch cells it’s using have a higher energy density, which translates into a longer range and improved performance overall. The I-Pace will travel a claimed 310 miles on a full charge and 250 miles of that can be replenished in just 90 minutes using a 50kW DC charging system. It’ll do 60mph in four-seconds and, like all electric vehicles, it delivers its impressive 516 torques from a standstill in one giddy, seamless surge.
Vehicle line director Ian Hoban claims that, “It’s what it does at 50 or 60mph on our handling track that’s amazing. It will be quick, and it will feel quick. And it turns in beautifully.” It should handle like a proper Jaguar, in other words. Inside, it feels much closer to the real thing than concept cars usually do. The driving position is lower than normal for an SUV, as is the car’s overall centre of gravity, emphasising Jaguar’s sporting character. There are two central touchscreens and a configurable TFT main instrument display: this is all current tech, but it’s rendered here with appealing artisanal skill.
Jaguar sees itself as the automotive equivalent of Paul Smith, so the chilly digitalisation is offset by a warmth and wit: the interior fabrics feature a heritage-inspired monogram, there are print labels tucked away and the GPS co-ordinates of the design studio are laser-etched into the pale wood veneer. The I-Pace arrives early next year, priced from about £50,000. This, we suspect, is going to be a lot of people’s first all-electric car.