It feels as though the Jaguar I-Pace has been with us longer than it has, almost like one of the pioneers of the modern era of electric vehicles (EVs). Surprisingly, it only launched in 2018, clinching the World Car of the Year award the following year. At the time it had very few rivals, but since then we’ve seen competition arrive from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and, internationally, Ford, Hyundai, Kia and, of course, more models from Tesla.
The recent announcement of a huge cash boost to turn Jaguar into an electric brand undoubtedly means new Jag EVs are in development, starting with a four-door GT model next year. Presumably the I-Pace will continue, but for now it has received a minor update. We travelled to Berlin, Germany to experience the latest version and go all-electric by joining the brand’s Formula E team for the Berlin E-Prix.
Arriving at the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport, we jumped into the new I-Pace to head into the city. The changes are indeed minimal, with exterior design tweaks that include a new shield grille, similar to that on the Ford Mustang Mach-E in looks. It’s the most obvious change and one that allows the engineers to better hide technology such as sensors for forward-collision avoidance and lane-keeping assistance. There are some new wheel designs and satin paint finishes, but that really is about it.
Inside, the I-Pace gets the latest Jaguar/Land Rover Pivi Pro infotainment system, while beneath the skin, it still retains the same 90kWh battery pack with no change in performance or range.
Our drive into Berlin was a good reminder that former head of design Ian Callum and his team did a great job with the I-Pace. It still looks better than some of its rivals and delivers a comfortable ride with decent range of up to 446km. That instant electric acceleration is enjoyable too, with a 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds, enough to give a few Berliners a surprise at the traffic lights.
That’s nothing compared to the latest Formula E Gen3 car, of course, and this was a chance for me to get up close and personal with a form of motorsport that I haven’t really been able to get excited about. Chatting with the Jaguar TCS drivers, Sam Bird and Mitch Evans, it’s clear they are as competitive as ever and that was even more apparent when all the drivers took the track. It’s easy to see it all as a marketing exercise, but many of the team managers I spoke to explained that it is very much a proper championship, a chance to take on brands such as Maserati, McLaren, Porsche and others.
That’s not to say that the Jag is all Jag or that the other cars have been engineered by their respective brands either. Each car is built by Italian race car manufacturer Dallara to strict specifications and the manufacturers only get to provide the electric motor and rear suspension. Even then, some are customer teams, such as the McLaren, which uses a Nissan power unit, though we were assured McLaren is working on something.
As anyone who saw Formula E’s earlier race in Cape Town will attest, the red mist descends for the drivers as soon as the lights go out and as Murray Walker used to say, it’s all “go, go, go”. Racers will always race and while the commentators will roll out statistics like how Formula E has more overtakes than Formula 1, it can be difficult to really see how hard the drivers are pushing when you watch it on the TV. Trackside it is much more exciting, but there is also the question of the sound.
Electric race cars whizz around like buzzing hornets and that’s not a comparison to the days of the Jordan F1 team. There’s no aural drama, no sense of hearing cars slowing, changing gear or getting the power down out of a corner. The racing is the same, the sensations are different. I’ve been told by some that it lacks soul, a description that is apt if you are used to the world of F1.
Formula E is very much here to stay though, with 15 years left of a 25-year contract that means F1 can’t go fully electric. Could it become the pinnacle of motorsport in ten years time then? Perhaps, but it’s still in its infancy relative to the mighty Formula 1 and has a long way to go.
What it is doing though, is providing a test bed for technology. Again not as much as in F1 perhaps, but as Jaguar TCS’s team manager, James Barclay explained to us, their experience in Formula E helped engineers to make changes to the battery management in the I-Pace so they could give it an extra 20km of range.
There might be more EVs on the market, but like Formula E, it’s all still early days and whether it’s on the road or on the track, it’s clear there are lots of lessons to learn when it comes to going electric. Now if only someone could teach Eskom what it’s all about.