What is it like to drive?
We begin with a case study. I’m following an Audi RS4 as it goes full Schumacher away from a roundabout. 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 licence preservation kicks in. Blimey, 0–60mph in 4.5secs suggested the I-Pace would be quick, but RS4 quick?
This is the standard car, don’t forget, the EV400, no SVR fettling, no race-bred claims and, really, there’s no need for a family SUV to go any faster. It’s our new reality that when it comes to EVs, acceleration is cheap – how quickly you choose to deploy your battery is down to your right ankle. Take Tesla, the slowest car it makes is a $35,000 saloon capable of 0–60mph in 5.6secs – enough to keep a Civic Type R honest.
Speed isn’t a problem, refinement at motorway speed is impeccable, but individuality is an issue because, degrees of brain-curdling acceleration aside, all EVs feel worryingly similar to drive. Strip away vibrations from the engine, a gearbox 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’re all in danger of blending into one?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the I-Pace. The slick, flat 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 tyres and smooth gearboxes flattered the inept, you haven’t seen anything yet – this is the age of plug and play.
Given the I-Pace weighs 2.1-tonnes, corners carry significant potential for understeer and general sloppiness, but not so. A centre 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-levelling air suspension (£1,120) with adaptive damping (£815). We can’t vouch for the standard set-up, 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.
There is more than one way to drive the I-Pace. In Dynamic, like your pants are on fire, 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 miles to cover. Or, you can turn off the road altogether. 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 ICE 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, now it looks like it works off-road, too. There’s even some axle articulation. Some.
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-holed sections. The only slight niggle is that, when crawling over bumps and 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 off-roaded and survived.