16 Aug 18

Road Trip: We take Jaguar's I-Pace on an epic drive through Portugal

When Walter Bersey's all-electric horseless taxi rolled out onto the streets of London in 1897, it caused quite a stir. Powered by grid-plate batteries, Bersey's contraption had a top speed of 19km/h (11mph) and, crucially, a 48km (29mile) range. Snazzy stuff for the late nineteenth century but fortunately, things have moved on - quite a bit. Good news indeed, particularly as we're about to embark on a 300km (186mile) all-electric road trip around the Algarve in Portugal. Enter our steed for the journey - no, not Bersey's horseless carriage - but the Jaguar I-Pace, the British marques first fully-electric SUV.

What started as a daringly and disruptive concept car, first revealed at the Los Angeles motor show in 2016, is now sitting proudly before us outside Portugal's Faro airport in a fetching shade of Photon Red. That's, err, ketchup red, for those not familiar with the lexicon of car colours. Our ride for the road trip is the flagship I-Pace First Edition (yours for £81,495), which comes equipped with bigger wheels, a Meridian surround sound system, driver assists and a sumptuous leather interior to name but a few extras that go beyond the standard I-Pace (which starts from £58,995). All the essentials for a road trip, right?

But that's enough of the tech spec - you can read all about that in our full road test - we've got 299km left to cover and we've not even made it out of the airport car park yet.

Once out on the open road, we hit the motorway and head for the hills above Portimao, in the heart of the Algarve region. Pulling down the slip road, it's an ideal time to test out the I-Pace's acceleration. Foot firmly to the floor and the I-Pace sparks into action, laying down 294kW (395bhp/400ps) through its two motors (one at the front and one at the back), which enable the two tonne SUV to reach 100km/h in just 4.8-seconds. That's near enough the same as its petrol-powered V6 sibling, the Jaguar F-Type, only it does it in near silence, save for the reassuring - if not slightly ominous - artificial spaceship whir in the cabin, inspired by Jag's Formula E racer.

Pulling off the motorway, we're met with a problem. And a big, rocky one at that. We're peering over the dashboard at what can only be the Serra de Monchiqu mountain range, with nothing but a dusty, rock-riddled track leading off into the distance. No problem for an SUV like the I-Pace, surely? Especially one created with all-road know-how borrowed from Jaguar's sister brand Land Rover. With that in mind, we start off - albeit slowly - up the track in near silence, listening to the rocks crunch and pop as the I-Pace's monster 22-inch wheels and instant torque make short work of the loose surface. Easy.

...or so we thought. Not more than five minutes into our accent and we're met with a sizable puddle - one large enough to swallow an I-Pace, heck maybe even two. Roll back to the bottom and admit defeat with faces the same colour as the paintwork or carry on like the accidental explorers we are? We'll take the latter, thanks. Onwards and, err, upwards. Edging into the water, the I-Pace's short nose brakes the surface, plunging into the unknown. With relatively few hot, oily bits and a sealed 90kWh battery instead, the I-Pace is able to wade through up to 500-millimetres (19-inches) of water. Good news considering we're already halfway in. Once up and out the other side, the I-Pace continues up the mountainside with ease, ready for the descent.

Clutching hard at the wheel, the slope gets steeper and steeper as we head for the valley floor - only the Adaptive Surface Response stops us skidding off into the abyss. With a few crunches and clicks of the traction control, the I-Pace rejoins the road in one piece, albeit covered in dust, with the ketchup red paintwork now more a shade of chalky pink. Once back on the road and Dynamic mode engaged, it's a short blast to Portimao's Algarve International Circuit for the next chapter of the adventure.

"BRAKE, BRAKE, BRAKE!" shouts our instructor as we fly over another blind crest on Portimao's 4.7km (2.9mile) snaking circuit. While we've already munched miles on the motorway, scaled our way up a mountainside and back down, the I-Pace also happens to be a worthy adversary on track. Taking all the learnings from over a year's worth of development led by Jaguar's race team in Formula E, the I-Pace is the closest relation to the marque's I-Type II single seater, all-electric street racer. But despite the top speed of 200km/h (124mph), the I-Pace's party piece is the combination of its acceleration, all-wheel drive and instant delivery of power, which makes short work of Portimao circuit's twists and turns.

With one lap already down, the second is a vast improvement, thanks to a few words of advice from a man who knows his way around an electric racing car - former Formula E champion and Panasonic Jaguar Racing driver Nelson Piquet Jr. Having joined the British team in Season 4 of the championship, Piquet Jr is one of the most experienced drivers in the Formula E paddock. With a second lap completed and the car still remarkably intact, there's time for a late lunch before getting back out on the road for our final drive to the town of Lagos.

With the sun setting over the horizon to the west, the I-Pace's near-silent drive makes for a relaxing waft through the country roads as we get closer to our resting place at Casa Mae in Lagos. From the heady days of engineering exercises like Bersey's taxi to early electric car efforts in the twenty-first century, the I-Pace is a handsome demonstration of just how far electric cars have come on. "I saw [I-Pace] as an opportunity to be disruptive, so I was all for it to be electric," says Jaguar Design chief Ian Callum. "We’ve done this to create an electric Jaguar because that’s what we believe is the right thing to do. Our design team don’t go looking to see what other people are doing to emulate them, we do what we want to do," he adds with a smile.

But the I-Pace is just the beginning. With more all-electric cars planned, Jaguar is leading the charge in the premium electric car sector if its latest model is anything to go by. With its striking appearance, all-rounder driving dynamics and, crucially, the ability to comfortably cover off over 400km (248miles) across country, it's makes electric car ownership both realistic and desirable. Reaching the coastal town of Lagos, once the capital of the Algarve, the I-Pace stands out against the whitewashed buildings and narrow cobbled streets. In a place bursting with history, the I-Pace is an unusual suspect to be prowling the streets in silence - a bright red representation of the future, winding its way through centuries of history.

Taking any car from concept to reality in the space of a few years is a worthy achievement for a carmaker but to do so with a visionary electric vehicle like the I-Pace is outstanding. With a full pack of I-Pace racers destined to grace the grid of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship in Season 5 in the new I-Pace eTrophy support series, it seems Jaguar's quest to electricrify is only just beginning.

Welcome to Formula E, I-Pace. We've been expecting you.