I reckon you'd like Wolfgang Ziebart, the man Jaguar Land Rover hired when it decided to develop the new I-Pace battery electric car. Diminutive, engaging, brain the size of a basketball, Doc Emmet Brown enthusiasm, Ziebart was once of BMW, then Continental (electronics, not tyres), then Infineon (semiconductor and control systems), then Artega, creator of the electric Artega GT. Remember it? No? Oh.
Well, anyway, it was an electric sports car, so now here Zeibart is, standing by the new I-Pace EV explaining the exposed entrails of a cutaway. "The goal was simple," he says. "To design the best electric car on the planet."
It's a 4.7m long SUV/crossover/whatever, with a predominantly aluminium body structure, beneath which sits a skateboard-esq architecture - a long, wide, flat platform of lithium-ion battery cells. Some 90kWh of them, in fact, from LG, because "only one Japanese and two Korean battery makers can give us what we need". There are 432 cells in total, arranged in 36 boxes of 12, sufficient on the new WLTP European drive cycle for a claimed range of 298 miles, and a recharge time that varies on the juice you can squeeze into it. Put simply, divide the battery's kWh by the wattage of your input and that's about how many hours it takes to recharge, so on a basic domestic 7kW input it'll take nearly 13 hours. With a 100kW charger - if you can find one - it's under an hour.
There's a permanent magnet electric motor, Jaguar's own, with 10 patents on it, front and rear, and each with a DC-AC inverter attached. They're rated at 200hp and 256lb ft apiece, spin to 13,000rpm and drive through a single, 9:1 reduction gear.
That there are two motors, making the I-Pace four-wheel drive, means Jaguar could put the wheels as near to the ends as possible - apparently if it were only rear-drive, you'd want the back wheels further forwards in the body, says Ziebart - and that in turn means that for a car 10mm longer than an XE, it has a wheelbase 30mm longer than an XF, and a requisite hike in interior space.
Because of the batteries, two motors, and all the inversion, charging and control equipment for each, the I-Pace is a 2,208kg car at least. I can't help the feeling that the skateboard architecture is the current equivalent of a body-on-frame structure. It's what we can do at the minute - packs have to be cooled, crashable, able to be dropped out of the car so you can replace duff cells. ("The battery is only as good as the weakest cell," says Ziebart, "although in reality the quality is so good we've hardly ever had to change them.") And the idea is that these ones are rated to last the life of the car (13 years) without the range depleting. But maybe one day we won't have to have separate battery storage structure and body structure.
Meantime, 400hp and 512lb ft should be enough to be getting on with. The raw numbers say so: 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds, with a top speed set at 124mph, big upper numbers not being an EV's forte. And of course a motor's peak torque is at zero rpm.
So the I-Pace is brisk, in this form that's badged 'EV400', neatly opening the door for different numbers to follow 'EV' in future. We've tried a couple of versions: one was the £81k First Edition, another the £63k 'S'. There's an SE and an HSE between those, but it's very easy to add many, many thousands of pounds to the list price, particularly of the S.
Ours came a couple of grand's worth of air suspension. You can have coil springs with passive or adaptive dampers (some engineers like the honesty of coils and passives, and I'd like to try it), or air springs like we've tested.
Mechanically, though, that's about the limit of your choice. Inside, you can make more amendments, but either way it feels like a Jaguar. Not for the I-Pace the kind of new-fangled materials that mark out a BMW i-car - you can even have wood - but it's modern, spacious, with a big boot, and a two-tier infotainment system. It leaves some of the important stuff like temperatures on a dial, and if you like touchscreens, it's not bad, though others, Tesla included, do that better, with quicker responses.
What's it like, then? It's good. The best full battery electric car in the world? Yeah, I'd say so. The bad bits first, because there aren't many: no car with this many batteries in it really rides brilliantly, despite the low centre of gravity, and this isn't an exception. It's just about well-controlled enough, with an occasional grumble and thump over poor surfaces.
And that's about it, apart from the recurring EV bits about range and recharging time. That aside, though, and you'll know if an EV suits you, it's excellent. It's very quiet (obvs), and you can turn up or down the noise it makes inside - turn it down and it uses anti-noise, turn it up and it makes an artificial, through-the-speakers, though quite endearing, whoosh.
It's smooth, too - also obviously, perhaps. Zeibart says that throttle response is halfway between where it could be, which is too sharp for regular driving, and an internally-combusted engine response. As a result it feels instant but it's easy to dole it out. The overtaking ability is fantastic. You can set whether it creeps like a regular auto, and how much retardation you get when you lift off. With full retardation, which feels like light general braking, and no creep, you can drive most of the time using only the throttle pedal; although the handover to the actual brakes under heavier stops is seamless too. It's exceptionally relaxing. No wonder that Rolls-Royce thinks electric propulsion would suit a Phantom, and that the next-generation XJ has electric power in mind.
In normal driving, the rear motor handles the acceleration, for better traction and no steering corruption, while the front motor handles the deceleration because that's where the weight shifts under braking. Ask more of it, though - and we did, on a race circuit, weirdly but actually quite usefully - and the I-Pace shows it can put its power wherever it wants; up to 200hp to any individual wheel.
That means traction is exceptional, and the balance pretty neutral. Carry too much speed and it'll understeer, get your braking right on turn-in, and it'll tuck itself in nicely and rotate with agility. But on air springs there's also an adjustable ride height, a 500mm wade depth, and some really clever off-road settings.
On the Discovery, Land Rover launched a system that is, effectively, off-road cruise control: you ask for a crawl speed, even on rough terrain, and the Discovery finds a way try to reach it, scrabbling and adjusting differentials and torque vectoring via braking as it does so, while you leave the pedals well alone. Well, the I-Pace can do that too: only it can put whatever power where it wants, when it wants, and when it goes to and from rest it doesn't have to worry about the transmission. So on a scrabbly slope the I-Pace was impressive. With decent off-road tyres, not the road tyres on 20-inch+ rims we were riding on, and on a car with really impressive ground clearance and angles, it could be extraordinary.
That's not really the I-Pace's remit, mind. This is an executive car with a very low benefit-in-kind rating and will be bought with those things front of mind. It's not for everyone - given the charging network, no BEV is for everyone just yet - but if you're looking for an electric vehicle, and one fits your life, this is the best anyone has yet made.
|JAGUAR I-PACE EV400 S - SPECIFICATIONS
|Torque (lb ft)
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