I am not a car reviewer. I'm a tech reviewer.
So why the hell would anyone let me loose in a $150,000.00 car for forty-eight hours?...
It's not every day you get to drive the car of the year. Of course, the remarkable thing about this year's car of the year is it's an EV.
The Jaguar I-PACE is no mere gimmick - and it doesn't actually look like one either. I've driven other EVs that appear to be more like science-fiction fantasies than practical people movers and to be honest, I'm not sure why they're often designed that way. I suppose because the technology is "futuristic," it's hard for the manufacturers to resist the temptation to produce something that looks like its been sent back through time from the year 2350.
They don't do themselves any favours, taking this approach, because it just makes these spaceship-cars seem even more inaccessible to the average punter. I believe if EVs are ever going to make significant gains in the New Zealand market, rather than coming with subsidies and free charging, they just need to look half normal.
The Jaguar I-PACE is not normal, of course. But then, (and I'm speaking as an average punter here) no Jag is particularly normal, is it?
Now remember; I know next to nothing about cars and even less about luxury cars. So I won't be discussing torque, or handling or power-to-weight ratios - you'll have to look up a proper petrol head for that kind of review.
What I will be raving about is gadgets and techie magic tricks because that's more my wheelhouse.
I apologise in advance if some of the "cool stuff" that turned my head is just a standard feature on any other flash car out there. I'd argue that doesn't make it any less cool, it just makes me less cool for not owning a car nice enough to have that stuff.
Case in point; you can open the boot with a kicking gesture under the rear bumper - assuming you have the key fob in your pocket. Pretty damn convenient if you've got a shopping bag in each hand. However, I have a colleague who seems to change out high-end vehicles more regularly than I change my bed sheets and he insists the boot-kick feature is pretty much standard. Way to make me feel stink.
What I can tell you is unique is that the Jaguar design team built this thing from the ground up, without directly borrowing any features from other car-makers, instead preferring to make its first EV look and feel like a genuine Jag.
In theory, the I-PACE is classed as an SUV, although when you meet it face-to-face, it's definitely on the smaller scale of the SUV market. Let's be honest, just like the vast majority of SUV's, this thing's hardly likely to venture off-road and I certainly wasn't brave enough to try it either. In saying that, although it doesn't seem like a large car from the outside, the cabin is actually very spacious, with head-room and leg-space to spare.
Keyless entry is a minimum expectation of course, but the I-PACE maintains its streamlined look by keeping its door handles recessed completely flush into the side panels until you touch them, then they all pop out, James Bond/Batman style.
From the moment the I-PACE senses you near it, it starts getting ready for you, lighting the cabin, in fact, even lighting the ground you step on when you get in or out.
Setting up the luxurious leather seats is a surprisingly intuitive process, via a couple of electric controls positioned in the usual place, down the side of the seat. I found these controls did exactly what I thought they would, adjusting the seat in almost any direction I wanted. This setup will then be saved to match each driver's key fob, or you can also program your preferences into one of three buttons set into the door itself - a bit like saving a station on your radio.
Once everything has been adjusted to your comfort, the START button will get you underway. Of course, the car doesn't really start, that's old-fashioned, internal combustion engine thinking. Instead, the I-PACE boots up, all three digital screens coming to life.
Yes, there are three screens but no, they're not at all over-the-top or intrusive. In fact, your digital interface to the big brain of the I-PACE doesn't really look so different to any other car... and I love that.
The smallest of these screens lets you adjust the climate, air flow and turn the seat warmers on. This is all controlled with a combination of touch screen gestures and push/pull dials.
Things get much less tactile when we move our attention to the centrally located, main screen.
From here you can customise and control virtually everything that can be adjusted - from the sound system to programming the charging schedule - very useful if you're using a high-capacity wall charger to top things up. You simply let the car know when you're planning to drive it next and it'll start charging in time to have you ready to go, making the most of lower power rates in the wee small hours.
Which brings us to the big question that hangs over any electric vehicle, how far will it go? Technically, if you turn everything off (except the car itself) you might just squeeze 400kms out of a full charge, but the way I was using it (which is actually pretty grandma-like) it was more like 325kms - not terrible, especially when you can top up via a high capacity charger to about 80 percent in just thirty minutes. There are more and more charging stations like this going in all over the country and their locations are easily looked up via mobile app.
Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available when you connect your phone via one of the charging ports concealed in the central armrest compartment - this will let you access your apps via the I-PACE touch screen. To be honest, I found I could control all I needed to over the bluetooth connection - getting a good display of any media I chose to play through the sound system. The sound system itself is easily operated via the touch screen too and I found the ability to adjust forward/back/left/right balance by dragging a simple ball around the screen super easy.
The I-PACE comes with plenty of cameras, of course. Not just reversing and parking, you can even conjure up an overhead view of the vehicle which superimposes an image of the car from above onto the real camera footage of your surroundings. The effect is uncanny - as though you're observing yourself via drone - extremely useful for accurate parking in small garages and other tight spaces.
The built-in navigation system works very well, although I found I had to type in my destination choices via the touch screen, rather than using the built in voice control. When you push the voice command button on the steering wheel, you're presented with a limited list of things you can ask the car to do, but I can't remember any of them so I obviously didn't use them. The thing I really liked about the navigation screen, is you can opt to display an abbreviated version of it on the main instrument panel.
In fact, this screen is also quite customisable - one dial or two, media display - most functions can be controlled via the selector wheel and accompanying buttons on the left side of the steering wheel.
The buttons on the right side are for adjusting the cruise control, speed limiter, collision avoidance and lane-keeping settings. A combination of these creates an experience that's about as close to self-driving as you can get on New Zealand roads, although if you keep your hands off the steering wheel for too long, the I-PACE sounds an alarm to tell you not to be so silly.
These settings and your speed can also be shown via a simple heads-up display on the windscreen. I found this could be tweaked to be plenty bright enough for daytime use and you can even adjust its position on the window.
That's probably the real beauty of this technological wonder - just about everything can be easily altered to your preference. Even the suspension settings are only a button push away and can be accessed while driving. Obviously, the I-PACE is smart enough to automatically drop the suspension to its lowest when you're getting in or out of it. Don't you just love a car that considerate?
One of my favourite features isn't particularly techie, but it's very cool. You can see through the roof. Although this isn't unique to the I-PACE, Jaguar has done an amazing job of letting the sky in while keeping the heat of the sun out. It's just so fun to casually say to your passengers, "Hey, look up..." and watch their reaction.
The I-PACE is the only car I've ever driven that comes with its own activity band. This really is a clever idea - if you're off to the beach for a swim, or perhaps driving up a mountain to bike down it, you can leave the keys hidden in the car and just take the waterproof activity band with you instead. If you've ever accidentally gone swimming with your car keys in your pocket, you'll understand how brilliant this is.
Okay, so a lot of these things can be found in other vehicles, especially other luxury vehicles, but I feel like the I-PACE brings it all together in one elegant package. That's my overriding and lasting impression of this great car - it feels like a car, not a spaceship like the other EV's I've tried. It still has all the tricks, but it's not show-offy about them and it definitely goes like a bomb.
Who knows if it could possibly be worth its 150k-plus price tag? Surely no car ever really is, but if you're in the market for a four-wheeled slice of luxury, especially one that plugs in, you should at least take this one for a trial spin.