TG's big Jaguar I-Pace test part 2: will it off-road? | Top Gear
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TG's big Jaguar I-Pace test part 2: will it off-road?

We throw a whole load of water and 'lifestyle' at Jag's 394bhp 4WD EV

Published: 01 Aug 2018

I once lost a BMW X5 in Bucklebury ford. OK, 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 100 metres up the lane, on its back a 7.5-tonne 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 ionised 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 offed 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 off 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 (see below) – the I-Pace has shrugged off bathtime with ease.

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 miles 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.

It’s a well-packaged, spacious car, and that means it lends itself to an Active Lifestyle

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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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-litre boot 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.

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 doubtless 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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