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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Is the Jaguar I-Pace a game-changer for electric cars?

We test drive Jaguar's very encouraging debut in the world of EVs

The electric-vehicle race is gaining pace – literally in the case of Jaguar. The I-Pace is the British marque's first all-electric car and, interestingly, it has chosen the SUV market as its entry point. What's more, it is a truly capable potential game-changer.

For now, we shall skip over Jag's non-intuitive nomenclature in bestowing this battery-pack big cat with the title I-Pace, when the name of its new, petrol-powered little brother, the E-Pace, seems a more logical fit for such environmental ambitions. Because Tesla has a battle on its hands in a sector it had previously led almost by default with the Model X.

Jaguar is confident in its charged charge, judging by the punishment it allows on the international launch in Portugal's Algarve region – such as piloting an electric vehicle through deep standing water. Given the I-Pace's batteries are beneath the floor pan, it is a seems-like-a-terrible-idea-to-me experience on a level with the unshakable wrongness of, say, pouring fabric softener into a washing machine. Your brain tells you liquids and electricity shouldn't mix, but in reality, the I-Pace can wade through water up to 50 centimetres deep without so much as a spark or a singed hair.

The second section of a surprise off-road diversion involves a rugged dirt track that seems, from a distance, to ascend a hillside at about 45 degrees. It ably showcases the all-surface progress control – set the maximum speed, handle the steering and let the car do the rest. That is followed by a gravelly descent and elevated section that further tests the all-wheel drive (the battery powers two independent motors, one on each axle). The instantly available 696Nm of torque is in supercharged V8 territory and really comes into its own off the tarmac.

Range is always a deal breaker when it comes to EVs, and we aren't, sadly, quite at a point where the petrol engine can quite be matched in that area, although the battle is becoming ever closer. Jaguar's official figure of 480 kilometres puts it 85km behind the Model X on a full charge, although the I-Pace is backed by neat innovations to aid the inevitable suck on power resources from functions other than forward momentum.

Via a Jaguar app, you can preheat or cool the SUV's cabin while it is charging before a journey – the latter temperature switch obviously a more everyday concern than the former in the UAE. Such climate-control presets could potentially save 100km of range versus cooling your car after unplugging it. The app also allows you to remotely check your range, if the doors are locked and locate the car, linked to Amazon's Alexa system.

Some noise has been made about the need for a grille on a car with no engine, but cooling and aerodynamics remain important factors, while clever tech actually scavenges thermal energy – 1kw of heat can be converted into 2.5kwh in battery power, which can save an additional 50km of range.

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Using rapid chargers, the I-Pace can hit 80 per cent charged in less than 40 minutes; overall, about 100km of range is added per 15 minutes. Reaching full charge via a home wall box takes 10 hours, making it suitable for overnight juice replenishment. The battery comes with an eight-year warranty.

For the scientists among us, the 90kwh battery pack is made up of 432 lithium-ion pouch cells in 36 modules. For the rest of us, that means 0 to 100kph in 4.8 seconds and a top speed in excess of 200kph – that second figure is actually proven a mite conservative thanks to a session on the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, a track where The National recently tested the new Aston Martin Vantage. It has fittingly green credentials – four solar farms provide power and heating for circuit.

Laps in the I-Pace are preceded by a clutch in a Jaguar F-Type – one of my favourite cars on the market and quite the benchmark to offer. The I-Pace isn't as quick off the mark, but it is far from embarrassed in this environment.

There are several structural reasons for its impressive handling – its body is predominantly aluminium, reducing total weight to 2,133 kilograms. While that still makes it significantly heavier than its slightly smaller cousin the F-Pace, a notably lower centre of gravity and 50:50 weight distribution level the playing field.

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Naturally, much of this would be thrown by the wayside if the I-Pace looked like a box on wheels. Thankfully, that is very much not the case. It might not be quite as beautiful as Jaguar would have you believe, claiming a coupe silhouette and inspiration from the C-X75 concept hybrid supercar. Yet the five-seater has flown into the future compared to the F-Pace, with a meaner, sleeker silhouette. Turbine-blade-esque alloys seal the deal.

In terms of in-car tech, there is a picnic basket of features already familiar to many luxury-car drivers, including 360-degree surround camera, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian/obstacle detection, adaptive cruise control, six USB ports, three 12-volt sockets, a 4G Wi-Fi hot spot and head-up display. But the I-Pace also gets seriously smart, with “queue assist” that autonomously drives in traffic; intelligent navigation that takes into account weather, landscape, traffic and your driving style to predict range; and climate control that recognises the location of passengers in the car so that it can restrict use to occupied areas only.

The car will even remind you if you forget your smartphone, while the key fob has Bluetooth – as you approach, your climate control, infotainment and seat-position preferences are automatically set. When equipped, the panoramic roof option has infrared absorption. Active noise cancelling drowns out road noise, as well.

Tesla fans will be familiar with the concept of regenerative braking – here in two levels: high or low. High automatically decelerates when you take your foot off the accelerator, to a standstill if you let it, and Jag says that 98 per cent of all braking needs can be met as such. The replenishment kicks in when the battery is about 90 per cent full or less. Also, as per Tesla, software updates are delivered wirelessly.

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There are three height settings – normal (the default height), “access” (40 millimetres lower, to help clambering in and out) and off-road (50mm higher). The Jag also self-lowers by 10mm at speed to aid aerodynamics, as do pop-out door handles that sit flush with the flanks when the car is in motion.

Storage space is plentiful. On top of the 656-litre capacity in the boot, the small front boot provides 27 litres – although the wisdom of christening it a “froot” is another debate. Legroom is decent, with more than a metre in the front and 890 millimetres in the back.

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Versus the Model X, you do get two fewer seats, as well as inferior acceleration. Many people have griped about the Tesla's interior quality, however, and that shouldn't be a moan in the Jag, with a prestige air that you have come to expect from the marque.

And get this – currently, the lowest-priced new Model X on Tesla's official UAE website commands a price tag of Dh472,480. While the I-Pace's cost in the Emirates is yet to be announced, it could be as much as a third less than its US rival – the British list price of £63,495 converts to about Dh311,000.

Where Tesla holds the cards for now, however, is that the I-Pace isn't going to be available in the UAE for at least 18 months – possibly even two years. So, for now – imports aside, once it goes on sale elsewhere in the world this year – this is a tantalising glimpse of an electrifying future that can't arrive soon enough.