A quick go in Jaguarâ€™s new electric SUV gives good cause for optimism
As a marque, Jaguar has traditionally nailed its colours to the flagpole of affordable performance. At over Â£80k, the First Edition of Jaguarâ€™s first electric SUV (and indeed first-ever electric car), the I-Pace, challenges the definition of â€˜affordableâ€™. Then again, this is being touted as a revolutionary battery-powered SUV, so the big question must be, can the performance counterbalance the cost?
We had a brief opportunity to test that on a fenced-off corner of Genevaâ€™s airport immediately before the opening of this yearâ€™s Geneva motor show. Jaguar had put down a course of ‘smart conesâ€™ that waited until the very last moment to tell you the right route. The simple plan was to test the ability of both driver and the all-independently suspended, low centre of gravity I-Pace to respond quickly.
The absence of 350kg of rubber-mounted metal up front means there has been no engineering requirement for Jaguar to go for its traditional long-bonnet look. Instead, two silent 80kg motors are positioned front and rear, freeing up more space for people and luggage while providing the â€˜performanceâ€™ part of the Jaguar promise: they generate 395bhp and 513lb ft of torque, giving the I-Pace a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds.
Jaguar I-Pace First Edition
Motors: Two synchronous permanent magnet, 90kWh lithium ion battery
Power: 395bhp (combined)
Torque: 513lb ft (combined)
Gearbox: single speed
Kerb weight: 2200kg
Top speed: n/a
Range: 298 miles (WLTP cycle)
CO2, tax band: 0g/km, 13%
Even watching from the sidelines as other journalists drive the car, itâ€™s clear that Jaguarâ€™s chassis engineers have done an impressive job of taming roll and delivering grip in this long-wheelbase car. Its direction-changing ability seems to be more than up to the task being set by the smart cones, assisted no doubt by a torque-vectoring system that can direct over 90 per cent of maximum torque to the back axle for the rear-wheel-drive feel thatâ€™s routinely touted as a handling ideal.
When we eventually get inside, itâ€™s equally clear that thereâ€™s been a toning-down of the 2016 conceptâ€™s radical style. Double-stitched leather co-ordinates nicely with the trim colours there, however, and the metal bits â€“Â brightwork, switches and central rotary knobs â€“Â are a pleasure to use.Â Thereâ€™s a handy oddments space behind the main console housing two big screens (sat-nav and audio above, ventilation below). Iâ€™m sitting in what are called â€˜performance seatsâ€™ which, of three seat designs, are most reminiscent of those in the original concept car.
The three normal trim levels â€“ S, SE and HSE â€“Â run from Â£63,495 to Â£74,445 (before the Government grant). This First Edition model, to be produced in the first year only, has special paint, equipment and trim, and the optional 22-inch wheels which Dave Shaw â€“Â the I-Paceâ€™s engineering manager â€“Â believes show the carâ€™s handling off to best effect.
Weâ€™ll see about that in a minute. Starting off, thereâ€™s no noise or automatic â€˜creepâ€™, although you can choose to have some from the huge range driving options on offer. Gliding away from a standstill, the Jag sweeps strongly forward to the first cone on the tight course. Regen-brake, jink, accelerate. The responses are immediate. Thereâ€™s 0.2g of slowing just by taking your foot off the throttle.
The steering wheel is a tad large for this sort of exercise but thereâ€™s no complaint about the driving position or about the natural-feeling steering which seems just as good for hard driving as it is for parking. The welcome surprise of low body roll is largely down to the low mounting position of the battery and the way in which the main weights of the car have been centralised.
Most I-Paces will have regular steel (rather than â€˜virtualâ€™ electronic) anti-roll bars. Air-suspended models will give you a choice of three ride heights as well as additional help in reducing roll.
Airport runways are topped with grippy materials so weâ€™re not overly surprised to find accuracy and precision in the I-Paceâ€™s behaviour, but the amount of it is especially noteworthy and welcome. Taking your foot off the accelerator pedal in the middle of a turn tightens the line in a sternly reassuring fashion, particularly when youâ€™ve selected max regeneration mode.
So, after an admittedly very short drive, can we call the I-Pace a real Jaguar?Â We reckon you can. Obviously, itâ€™s not like any Jaguar thatâ€™s gone before, but the overall feel is authentic, with superb refinement and responsiveness, and appealing decor, comfort and room. This is a proper Jaguar.
The best news of all is that the cars we are driving are prototypes, so the finish on customer cars built by Magna Steyr in Austria will only get better. Theyâ€™ll be in Jaguar showrooms by summer.