Being first is a big deal. Whether you’re first to conquer a new frontier, first to pioneer a new technology, or first to market with a new product; being first gives you the upper hand, being first allows you to define the playing field. The last century has been defined by just such industrial endeavor. We’re talking about the space race, the race to put the first man on the moon, the race to supersonic air travel, the internet, and now, the race to electrification. It’s when you delve deeper into the escapades of Neil Armstrong’s fateful ‘one small step for man…’ that you realise, despite billions of NASA dollars, the moon landing might not have happened if it weren’t for Armstrong’s immense skill, dedication and bravery as a pilot. Being first is by no means a foregone conclusion; it takes all those things and utter self-belief, often in the face of hostility and ridicule, to get across the line first.
From where I’m sitting, which happens to be behind the wheel of the all-new Jaguar I-Pace on a drag strip lined-up next to a Jaguar F-Type SVR, the fastest car Jaguar sells, I’m about to deploy all the talents of Jaguar’s talismanic EV for the first time on South African soil. Three, two, one, the starter’s hands drop and wooomph we’re away in total silence with fierce low-speed pick up. I grab a car length on the howling SVR, who’s thumping V8 soundtrack does sound glorious I have to admit, as it squats on takeoff. But 700 Nm available at 0 rpm in the I-Pace, unleashed like an over-eager avalanche, trounces the supercharged sports car. Here 294 kW plays 423 kW, so over a long enough stretch the fossil-fueled car would pull ahead eventually, also, the I-Pace is limited to just 200 km/h. But both produce near-as-makes-no-difference 700 Nm, and it’s the split second it takes the SVR to attain peak torque at 3500 rpm that separates them in a sprint race.
Better still, the instructors who’ve been running the I-Pace for a few days already say it is remarkably consistent and resilient to high ambient temperature, capable of ten or more full throttle launches with less than a tenth of a second loss in time. Nevertheless, it’s this sort of grand display that makes you take notice. The SVR is R2.4 million, the I-Pace EV400 starts at R1.7 million for the S model, going up to R1.9 million for the First Edition. And you still want to tell me the I-Pace is irrelevant and expensive!? Especially when you consider what it can do that the SVR cannot.
From the drag strip we take an HSE with air suspension to the off-road track. Mud, ruts, cross-axleing and a water crossing are handled with suitable aplomb, although I suspect the latter was more an exercise in the irony of electricity and water, and never should the two meet, rather than something a prospective I-Pace owner will actually undertake of a weekend. The pièce de résistance is a spot of rock crawling, knowing its ‘pouch’ cells of batteries fitted low between the lengthened wheelbase are in close proximity to jagged rocks. This was less confidence inspiring, as was finding smooth throttle modulation when the go pedal unleashes 700 Nm at 0 rpm. Thankfully, it’s fitted with a version of Land Rover’s Terrain Response Control which can be set like a sort of off-road cruise to ascend and descend at a pre-prescribed speed.
All fine and dandy, however, the real test of the I-Pace isn’t this fanciful, it should be how it behaves in real-world driving conditions. For that we head out on road for a 250 km drive. Here its true genius comes to the fore. We’ve already seen it has the grunt to bother F-Types, and some 4×4 potential; now it’s the spaciousness and comfort to rival an XJ limo that comes to the fore. Our journey begins with a full battery claiming 400 km cruising range, and despite our best efforts with the right foot in exacting some immense overtaking maneuvers, the batteries don’t fade and the rang stays consistent as the kilometres roll off, so range anxiety isn’t an issue.
Driver connection from the helm is a standout feature. An e-tron feels more pedestrian and heavier by comparison, which it most certainly is. I-Pace tips the scales at two-and-a-bit tons versus the e-tron’s two-and-half. And don’t underestimate the sleek body work – the electric Jag doesn’t waste an iota of battery power carving through the air with that low-slung stance. In fact, not that we were able to test it, experts say you can keep it nailed at full throttle for 20 minutes (a distance upwards of 65 km) without the top speed dwindling. After a while the power will dial back to protect the battery, much like it does in the recharging process, in which the first 80% of battery is replenished quickly (40 min from a 100 kW DC quick charger) but the final 20% takes longer in comparison.
On the point of recharging, while Audi and Mercedes-Benz are merely talking about their respective offerings, Jaguar is already well on the way to completing its first R30-million rollout of charging infrastructure in South Africa, pioneering the ‘Jaguar Powerway’, comprised of 52 charging stations across the country, along the N1, N2 and N3 making it possible to travel between Johannesburg and Durban or Cape Town without worrying about a flat battery. That said, the home charger is where the majority of recharging will take place, like you do your cellphone overnight while you’re asleep. Home charger installation will set you back R30 000 and Jaguar claims it’ll cost on average R2 per kWh (electricity tariffs fluctuate throughout the day). This works out to roughly a third of the running cost of an equivalent internal-combustion vehicle, while the speed and convenience of public recharging will be more expensive – R40 per 100 km home charging vs R60 per 100 km public charging vs R120 per 100 km for an internal-combustion-engine vehicle.
Fast, silent, effortless, zero-emissions motoring means never having to change gear, hit the rev-limiter or visit a petrol forecourt every again. Yup, decades of internal-combustion-engine knowhow seems to be heading for the scrapheap, and we’re surprisingly okay with it.
In a nutshell –
Jaguar I-Pace EV400 HSE
First premium EV to market in SA. Jaguar staples of space, pace and grace
Mystifyingly, we can’t find any. None that don’t involve Eskom power supply at least
Powertrain: Dual asynchronous electric motors
Power: 294 kW/696 Nm
Performance: 0-100 km/h 4.8 sec, top speed 200 km/h
Battery: 90 kWh
Range: 470 km (claimed) / 400 km (tested)
Recharge: 80% in 40 min (100 kW DC fast charger)
Economy: 0 l/100 km
Transmission: Single-speed epicyclic, all-wheel drive
Tyres: 275/55 R20
Price: R1 820 900