What a difference a week makes. I may be bleary-eyed and dozy after a night at work, but as 9.30am ticks by and I watch the Caesium Blue Jaguar I-Pace inch back up the ramp into the enclosed transporter trailer, away from prying eyes and away from my driveway forever, I feel a pang of loss on a scale I’d never have imagined this time seven days ago.
Among all the closely-guarded secrets in all the world, my general dislike for battery-electric cars is not exactly up there with the recipe for Irn Bru. When the other Matt told me the Jaguar I-Pace was coming my way for a week, my brain wandered straight to the awkward conversations I’d have to have if I didn’t like it.
Naturally we motoring hacks have to give a car a sound beating now and again, when one deserves it. We don’t especially like doing it but if a car has major flaws then we have to tell you guys how it is. Fortunately it’s rare to get something truly appalling these days, but such is my distaste for the battery-fed boredom boxes on the market that I was already fearing the worst.
Let’s go back to this time last week. Cometh the hour, cometh the car. It arrives in a slightly odd spec; the base S trim has been upgraded with copious optional extras like 22-inch two-tone alloy wheels that look stunning beneath the arches, air suspension, awesome Matrix LED headlights and a panoramic sunroof. The slightly bizarre £16,485 of options bumps the S’s £60,995 (after government grant) price to £77,480; almost £6000 pricier than the top-spec HSE car, which has a lot of those options as standard anyway.
Still, it’s a rather lovely place to sit, if you can ignore the extremely hard backs of the optional Performance front seats finished in smooth Sienna Tan leather. It’s all pretty simple to get to grips with; there are two pedals, buttons for Park, Drive and Reverse, an automatic electronic handbrake and a round thing in front of you that’s handy for steering around bends. So far, so conventional – for an EV.
The displays are as expected, too. There’s no rev counter, obviously, and in its place sits a readout of the remaining battery charge, current power demand/regeneration and expected range. The digital display can be set up in several different layouts, though, with options to show the navigation map or detailed trip info. Sitting on 99 per cent, the range is 201 miles. That’s quite a lot less than the WLTP claimed 298, and not enough to get me where I’m going today. And that’s where things go quickly – and dramatically – downhill.
The Internet doesn’t have enough space on it for me to rant as long as I want to about the woeful state of the non-Tesla EV charging infrastructure in the UK. On a night more frustrating than any I’ve spent since teenage dating, I try nine different chargers across two different subscription-free charging apps, right across the southern Midlands area from the M40 to west of the M5, and as my range creeps down I succeed in nothing except throwing too much money at Starbucks for a terrible hot chocolate. I end up being sent by a telephone customer services team to a luxury hotel where they bump-start a Polar charger for me. It’s after midnight when I can finally set off home, miserable and half-full of complimentary pity-pretzels from the hotel bar.
At this point my relationship with the I-Pace is on the rocks, through no fault of its own. With a full charge inside it, though, its fortunes – and mine – change. Empty early-hours back-roads underline the smoothness and quietness of the big Jag’s progress in a way that the daytime M4 and M40 hadn’t. At night the I-Pace is an intimate whisper, reassuring and relaxing. It strikes me just how comfortable and controlled the ride is, despite wheels the size of the Death Star. Thank the air bounce – it may be a £1100 option, but you really must tick it.
As the minor roads turn into bigger Bs and then even wider As, my overarching feelings migrate from ones of admiration of the sheer refinement, to gripes about the two-metre width, then to astonishment as I finally start to press harder on the right-hand pedal.
Blimey, this thing shifts. Stab the pedal and it responds with a punch to your kidneys. It’s a fierce sparring partner, ready to slug you right back whenever you clobber the throttle. This is electric propulsion the way it should be; the motors tuned to deliver an almighty whack just as science intended. There’s none of the sanitised progress-building you get in ordinary BEVs: the I-Pace has 512lb ft of torque and it’s not afraid to use it. Immediately. No sooner have you decided to make an overtake than you’re already half way past. It is wonderful. Driving the I-Pace on empty or empty-ish roads is one of the most freeing experiences I’ve had in a car over the last few years. It’s addictive.
If you expect things to take a sharp turn for the worse when you get to a bend, join the queue. So did I, but I was wrong. Forget about the clumsy Dynamic driving mode with its over-heavy steering self-centring and jiggly ride – just leave it in Comfort and enjoy natural-feeling, fast and ultra-precise steering in tandem with vast reserves of grip, traction and body control. It hustles along a fast road in a way I can still barely believe. There’s just the faintest lateral wobble in rapid changes of direction, but for a 2.2-tonne semi-SUV this is a ridiculously well-set-up machine.
So follows a whole week of me taking the scenic routes. I’m doing way more miles than is typical; ending up on 750 or so, but it does give me a chance to sign up with Polar (good when the app works) and the three-pin plug at home (passable, but glacial). I also have regular access to a 7kW charger at an office I’m spending a lot of time at lately, which works well. The Charge Your Car app, on the other hand, doesn’t. It’s a mystery to me how such a forward-looking industry could have developed exclusively awful software.
Charging the I-Pace almost every day is a hassle that most owners won’t endure if they’re doing more modest mileage. It’s not going to be relevant as it has been for me, but it’s good to be aware of the shortfalls as they stand. Back to the point, though. The I-Pace as a car has won me over so completely that I now can’t see past it. At a public charging price of between 10p and 30p per kWh it’s way cheaper to run than a soporific diesel hatchback, and yet it smacks you with 396bhp and a mountain of creamy, instant torque that in the real world will leave all but the fastest sports cars wondering which way you went. I want one.
It’s not perfect. The brake pedal delivers a curious and annoying graunching sound/feel in the transition from regenerative to hydraulic brakes. It’s quite loud and definitely off-putting, and there’s no engineering reason it needs to be there. The infotainment isn’t the most intuitive, either, and the touchscreens can make it feel clunky to navigate around menus. A random drivetrain error message also appeared at one point, but didn’t seem to affect anything and disappeared quickly.
But whatever. The I-Pace has jumped right to the top of the list of cars I’d love to win. I sure as hell can’t afford to spend £77,000 on one but I really could afford to run it. How many other cars do you know that will give you such epic, laugh-out-loud performance, such chassis dynamism and such refinement, with no greater running costs than a pet hamster? I went into this week as a sceptic but the I-Pace has worked a minor miracle. Eyes well and truly opened.