In Style + Design

Test Drive: Jaguar’s I-Pace Electric SUV

There are plenty of cars that bang on your ear drums with their bronchial barkings and operatic yowlings, but Jaguar’s new I-Pace electric SUV takes a different approach, by actually making you feel like you’re deaf.

You know that feeling when you’re in the shower and suddenly both your ears fill up with water and all sound around you goes strangely hollow? Driving the new I-Pace – which has no growling engine in front of you, no whining gearbox beneath you and so few moving parts that it makes old car mechanics weep – for the first time is a bit like that.

Your brain is conditioned to hear noises when a car is moving, but there are simply none. Not only is the EV system, which uses a large number of batteries sandwiched into the floor beneath you and an electric motor on each axle, sub-whisper quiet, but the classy and futuristic cabin is also super silent. Jaguar’s engineers knew that, once they took the constant rumble of a traditional engine away, any squeaks or rattles in the car would be more noticeable than ever, so they really worked on sound-proofing.

The effect is genuinely eerie at first and I found myself banging my own ears with the palm of my hand like an old man, to check they were still working.

Jaguar is obviously aware that all this silence will be disconcerting, which is why one of the many myriad options you can access through its sleek touch screen allows you to adjust the level of fake noise that is pumped through the speakers to make you feel more normal.

With the dynamic effects turned up to maximum, you get a kind of sci-fi soundtrack that increases in volume the faster you go. It also sounds a bit like someone is operating an old-school, petrol-burning Jaguar somewhere a couple of suburbs away.

Most people will probably turn the sound effects off, frankly, because the level of peace and quiet you get from the I-Pace is something the makers of premium vehicles like Rolls-Royce have been trying to achieve for years. Without all that background noise, you can really appreciate your car stereo, which is crystal clear, particularly with modern DAB radio on.

It’s not just the quietude that’s radical about the I-Pace, of course, and you can tell it’s something different just by looking at it. With no need for a big engine under the bonnet, Jaguar’s designers were able to push the whole cabin further forward – making it wonderfully spacious and airy inside – and you only really realise this when you look at the car side on.

While it is described as an SUV, a the I-Pace doesn’t look like one, in any conventional sense. There’s something sharp and sedan like about it, with its bluff rear end, yet it exhibits a kind of sporty bulkiness as well.

What truly sets the I-Pace apart from just about everything else on the road, however, is the way it drives. With just a single-speed transmission and a hefty 294kW and 696Nm from its batteries and motors, this futuristic Jaguar offers seamless, surging power from the moment you touch the accelerator.

EVs deliver 100 per cent of their torque from zero revs per minute, which means instantaneous acceleration, pushing you to 100km/h in a hilariously quiet 4.8 seconds (you might make whooping noises, of course).

The I-Pace also rides and handles beautifully and slices through corners with meaty steering feel.

You’ll never have to visit a service station again, of course, and if you’ve got access to green power you’ll feel the cool glow of helping to save the planet from overheating, but you’ll probably need a fast-charger installed at your house (which should cost around $2500), so you can top up your batteries, which provide a claimed 480km of range, once or twice a week.

Prices for Jaguar’s I-Pace start at $119,900, but few buyers will opt for such entry-level budgetary measures, and the models with all the features quickly head north of $160,000.

What price the experience of living in the future, today, though? And you don’t even have to wait until you’re old to feel deaf.

Published 12 December, 2018