What is it?
That’s exactly the question Ian Callum, Jaguar’s design director, leads into with the I-Pace. “Is it an SUV? Is it a sedan? Is it a coupé? Is it a sports car? It doesn’t matter.”
He’s probably right. Usually is. The lines between different types of car are blurring even to expert eyes, let alone those who actually go out and spend money on cars, and who couldn’t care less about arbitrary segments.
The only thing they’ll have to know about the I-Pace is that it’s a battery electric vehicle (BEV), and the first premium, long-range, practical, pure-electric vehicle from an old-school car maker, if that doesn’t sound overly specific. What I mean is that it joins the Tesla Model series and a host of plug-in hybrids as the long-range, poshbadge electric choice and has felt like a long time coming.
It’s curious how the established industry chose to launch EVs with semi-affordable prices and short ranges first, as if aimed at those with the least money and the least ability to charge at home.
Anyway, now, here we are: a £60k-plus EV with a 300-mile range or thereabouts and 394bhp, from a company with more experience than Tesla at making cars in large volumes.
It had no particular experience of making EVs, though, hence it recruited Wolfgang Ziebart, a proper boffin type of bloke, formerly of BMW, then Continental (electronics, not tyres), Infineon (a semiconductor/ control systems company) and Artega (remember the electric Artega GT sports car? No, thought not). Really enthusiastic; quite intense; clearly incredibly clever; Doc Emmett Brown demeanour. You’d really like him.
Anyway, Ziebart knows his way around this sort of thing. “The goal was simple,” he says now of the I-Pace. “To design the best electric car on the planet.” And, Marty, take it to 1955. Okay, not that.
The basics of a BEV aren’t that hard to get your head around, either. The simplest and cheapest powered wheeled vehicles on the planet are BEVs and most internally combusted engine cars have plenty of electric motors in them, too. There must be dozens in a Range Rover. It’s in the details where it gets complicated.
For the I-Pace, then, Ziebart tells me, the basics are the kind of ‘skateboard’ architecture that you’ll find underpinning almost every EV. The batteries lie between the two axles and Jaguar has specified two electric motors, the same each end, of its own design.
There are more than 10 patents on the motor, and it’s a permanent magnet type, with the DC-AC inverter attached to it, because you want the AC cabling to be as short as possible, because that’s more efficient; although the difference between an inefficient and a really efficient electric motor is only something like 90-95%, but it all counts. Next time around, Jaguar wants to put the inverters into the motor itself.
Anyway, one of the reasons there are two motors rather than one is so Jaguar could put the wheels where it wanted. Apparently, with only one set of driven wheels, the rear wheels would have had to be further forward in the body if the car was going to drive halfway normally.
This way, there’s four-wheel drive and a 50/50 weight distribution, and a wheel out at each corner, to Callum’s pleasure. “The I-Pace was driven, outside the realms of the chassis, by design,” he says. “And because it’s an SUV, we can have big wheels,” he says, smiling, “which delighted me greatly.”