First encounter with the Jaguar Monochrom
Now for something completely different, not photo-centric for once. But I hope you will bear with me and don’t get too bored, as I embark on my electric highway. There is an increasing interest in electric traction and all the world’s major manufacturers are being dragged, somewhat reluctantly, to the party table. The more electric cars they sell, the lower their penalties for producing polluting vehicles. So the investment in electric traction isn’t altogether altruistic.
I like electric cars. My first encounter was five years ago when I took part in an 18-month Government-sponsored survey on behalf of the automotive and electricity industries. The task was to get up to ten cars — the Nissan Leaf in this case — charging regularly in one area, or, to be more precise, though one electricity substation.
As it happened, the local substation soon creaked. It had to be rebuilt before we could charge. I did say it was an experiment.
But once the juice came through to power my 7.2KWh home charger pod, I settled down to an enjoyable time with the Leaf. Its big problem was range, rated then at a rather optimistic 85 miles. I really took to that little car and would certainly have kept it had it not been for the abysmal range.
This was ok for pootling around town, but a longer trip required serious planning. The range was wholly inadequate. As any EV owner will tell you, range angst sets in at least 30 miles from zero; so the Nissan’s effective range was nearer fifty miles than eighty. There’s none of this running the tank down to empty and knowing that you still have about 20 miles in reserve to find a filling station. And finding that filling station is much easier than wheedling out a vacant charging point. Needles and haystacks spring to mind.
Since 2015, things have improved dramatically, with Tesla in the forefront both in the range of its cars and the admirable network of “filling stations”. Is it time to rethink? Perhaps a Tesla?
For the past two years, I’ve been behind the wheel of a diesel SUV, now four years old. A lovely car, but tainted by the war on diesel and subject to more rapid depreciation than you would expect from the marque. With a new low-emission zone coming to my area in 2021, I could soon be subject to a daily charge (albeit resident discounted) for using my own car. Time for a change.
For the past couple of months, I have been boring John Shingleton in Australia with my quest for a replacement car. John, like me, is interested in cars. His thing, as you know, is old Porsches but, after a lifetime in the motor industry, he knows a thing or two about the automotive industry.
Should I get a petrol version of the same Macan, I asked, or go radical with a fully electric vehicle? I was time for a decision and I’m glad to say I’ve now made it. The Macan went to a local dealer, my friends at Porsche Brooklands (reliable buyers of used Porsches), and I set about the quest for an EV. I’d already been questing for several months, so I had a pretty good idea what I wanted.
I test drove both the Tesla Model 3 and Model S. Both were nice, without wishing to damn with faint praise. But the fit and finish, even of the new Model 3, were inferior to those on my old car. Significantly so, I should add. Somehow, I felt I would be disappointed once he charm had worn off. Tesla has mastered the technology and created a magnificent recharge network; but, somehow along the way, it doesn’t quite match the quality achieved by traditional premium manufacturers.
The Model 3 was the one I considered most, but I really doubted whether I could ever become accustomed to the paucity of controls, the complete absence of a central instrument cluster and total reliance on a dash-mounted iPad.
The speedometer display in the top right-hand corner of the central screen (and well off-centre to the driving position), was something I felt I could not get to like. I could be wrong about this. Perhaps if I’d bought one I would soon become accustomed and I would be singing its praises.
Thoughts turned to alternatives and the only serious contender in the same market segment in my book is Jaguar’s I-Pace. I thought it might be nice to have a British car (although I know, it’s actually made in Austria, but it is a traditional Coventry brand) for a change, and it does look the business. After a road test or two (the acceleration is, as with every electric car I’ve tried), I decided that if I went to an EV it should be the Jaguar.
Fast forward several weeks and thousands of key clicks between London and New South Wales (where John had spied his first I-Pace in the wild for the first time and loved the visual impact), I made the decision. I bought a nine-month-old I-Pace from Inchcape Jaguar in Norwich and it will be sitting in front of my house shortly. It is my ideal specification but hardly my choice of colour. I would have preferred something lighter, although I do like the off-white interior. Maybe I will call it my Jaguar Monochrom.
225 miles: Is it enough?
I already know I will enjoy driving it and I will get used to the limitations of the range. Officially, it is rated at 298 miles (485km) but that is generated in Cloud Cuckoo Lane (or, as the Germans charmingly put it, das Wolkenkuckucksheim). From what I’ve seen and read, this boils down to a real-world range of around 225 miles (around 370km) and those miles have to be driven in pretty ideal conditions — for an electric vehicle, that is. However, my friend Ralf Meier, the train enthusiast in Washington, DC, has had an identical car outside his home for the past nine months. He’s delighted with what he calls “the cat” and hasn’t suffered a smidgeon of range angst so far. His enthusiasm, and John’s liking for the design, have been largely responsible for my decision.
Unlike petrol or diesel cars, electrics love stop-start city driving and hate fast roads with constant speeds and no chance of a bit of regenerative braking. And, paradoxically, it is on faster journeys where you need more range, not when driving locally because you are always within easy range of your home charging pod.
I’ve played with Jaguar’s range calculator and, to get anywhere near the advertised 298 miles you have to drive around town at glacial speeds, doing lots of regenerative braking, in an I-Pace with no heating or airconditioning and shod with 18in wheels. I like my creature comforts, I don’t spend much time in city traffic and my new car has 20-in wheels. That’s a bad point and knocks about 8% from the range.
None the less, for 95% of my driving, within a 100-mile radius of London, the Jaguar’s range should be more than adequate. And an added bonus is that I can actually drive into the city without paying the £11.50 “congestion charge”. I can even visit Red Dot Cameras in Goswell Road with no charge. I might even be able to park for free if I find a vacant charger.
But I will undoubtedly encounter range angst, as I would with any electric car. Longer journeys definitely need planning. Fortunately, I live in a densely populated country where it isn’t too difficult to find charging points, assuming they are not already occupied for a tedious hour by one of the other converts to electric traction. In John’s case, I suspect, the I-Pace would be impractical for other than local journeys.
Owning an electric car definitely won’t all be smooth cruising, however. Apart from Tesla’s excellent (and exclusive) network, the rest of the electric cars on the road share a haphazard ragbag of proprietary chargers and their owners need to subscribe to endless providers. I already have four or five cards and apps to help ease the pain. It is less than ideal, as I found five years ago with the Leaf. And things can only have become worse as additional charging points are overtaken by the ever-increasing numbers of electric cars on the road.
Electric cars are in the news and will occupy more and more column inches. So I am looking forward to the experiment as much as anything else. I have taken this step as much for the experiment as for my liking for electric traction. Can I really live with an electric car? Or will I find longer journeys a pain in the 18-way memory seats?
There’s only one way to find out and I am intending to share my experiences with you because, after all, we are all sooner or later going to have to change over to electric. Whether or not you can cope depends very much on your journey pattern and, indeed, where you live. I have little doubt that had I been undertaking long journeys regularly, I would have been forced into Tesla’s arms rather than Jaguar’s. But let’s find out.
I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts, both on the I-Pace itself and on the challenges of the electric infrastructure, over the next year or two. At least it will give me some opportunities to take photographs along the way.