Time to go electric? Tesla’s been saying so for years, and now Audi and Jaguar concur. Do we – and our Range Rover Sport-owning reader – agree? Words Chris Chilton. Photography Alex Tapley.
Cometh the (amp) hour …
Shortlist: time to go electric? Would you go for Jaguar’s i-Pace, Audi’s e-Tron or Tesla’s Model X as your first EV?
WE FIND YOUR NEXT CAR
Silence is the new luxury. Ask any new parent. Or ask any traditional luxury car maker forced to watch with frustration as Palo Alto upstart Tesla has made inroads into their market share (big ones, in the case of the Model S and European luxury saloon sales), and huge inroads into their cultural space.
Since the Model S was introduced seven years ago, Tesla has been the go to luxury EV brand. But seven years ago Range Rover-driving Drive-My user/reader Pritpal ‘Prit’ Matharu wasn’t ready to make the switch to electric power.
Now he is, and the market has opened up. Manufacturers including Jaguar and Audi finally have Tesla rivals in their showrooms, and others, including Porsche and BMW aren’t far behind.
We’ve three e-SUVs along for Prit to consider: Audi’s new e-Tron Quattro, Jaguar’s excellent i-Pace, and naturally there’s a Tesla in the mix too, in this case, the enormous, crazy-doored Model X. Will any have sufficient spark to get Prit reaching for his wallet?
Close your eyes and roll the word round your mouth: ‘e-Tron’. If you immediately picture the sleek red electric R8 from 2009 or the silver Spider from the year after, then the crushingly conventional crossover in front of you when you open your eyes will seem something of an anti-climax. It’s diametrically opposed to BMW’s innovative i cars: an electric car for those who’d rather plead the fifth when it comes to design and artistic innovation, not make a statement.
Unlike the Audi, the Tesla hurls itself forward with the lightest brush of throttle.
Pritpal’s early impressions aren’t hugely positive. ‘It looks like a car for pensioners!’ he laughs. ‘It’s the analogue version of a digital world.’ The e-Tron name will be used on a family of cars, and sexier models will come, including the e-Tron GT, a sleek four-door that shares heavily with the Porsche Taycan. But the first to arrive could easily pass for a facelifted Q5, both inside and outside: the e-Tron Quattro.
Though both the Q5 and e-Tron are derived from VW’s MLB platform, the e-Tron is a radically different beast beneath its skin. It rides on a 109mm longer wheelbase than the Q5 and weighs a colossal 795kg more (2565kg versus 1770kg) thanks to the 95kWh battery pack under the floor.
Even the driver’s lighter wallet can’t offset that kind of paunch: the cheapest of the three e-Tron trim levels (mechanically, they’re identical) costs £71,520; the most expensive Q5, £58,835.
Reader Prit [left] opens Tesla falcon doors for a peek inside. Audi e-Tron is easily mistaken for a Q5. Too easily, we’d say Model X still feels like driving a time machine on fast forward. Despite that roofline, Tesla is only rival to offer three-row seating. Matharu and Chilton are both slowly coming to terms with the reality of EVs. e-Tron slick, but just like other toppy Audis. Controls feel familiar to a Range Rover Sport owner.
Pritpal might not have fallen for the looks of the e-Tron but he understands where Audi is coming from: not everyone wants to drive around in a motorised billboard for the EV life. On the other hand, did it have to look so plain? Next year’s fastback should deliver more wow. After reaching for the decidedly ordinary handle and opening the door to climb aboard, Pritpal declares he likes the seat comfort and driving position, but is less taken by the hotchpotch of materials covering the dashboard and console, each with a different look and feel. He brushes his hand from the rubber above the glovebox, past the wood and across the piano black trim, highlighting the dust and fingermarks. There are more OAP jibes when he clocks the huge fonts in the lower of the touchscreens. On Norfolk’s roads the driving experience incites less ire. The e-Tron is so relaxing to drive it’s a surprise to turn on the radio and hear anything other than spa music seeping from the speakers. It’s a quiet cruiser and the mass of the battery pack gives it a solid, planted feel, although the wishywashy steering never encourages you to up the pace.
I can’t think of another car, even the Chiron, that’ll throw you back like a Jaguar i-Pace.
Do it anyway and you discover there’s a more organic feel to the way power is delivered than in the other cars. Toe the right pedal and instead of the Jag’s kung-fu kick to the chest, you get a firm but measured dose of volts, and no Giorgio Moroder sound effects.
It’s a refined experience, but nowhere near as fast as its rivals here. In boost mode you’ve got 181bhp on hand from the front motor and 221bhp from the rear for a 402bhp total and 5.7sec 0-62mph time. But in normal mode that’s pegged back to 350bhp and 6.6sec to preserve battery life. Trouble is, the best you can expect from the Audi is 241 miles between charges, far less than the Jag offers. If you’ve got access to a 150kW fast charger you can fill the lithium tank to 80 per cent in 30 minutes. A full fill at home with an 11kW charger takes 8.5 hours.
Roomy, refined and backed up by the security of a massive dealer network, the e-Tron is an EV built to fit almost invisibly into your life and any crowd. For buyers switching to electric power it requires the least adjustment, but the biggest talking point of the 21º day was that the climate control had packed up. It’s that exciting.
The big talking point, or should we say yelling and screaming point, for existing Model X owners this spring came when Tesla ‘realigned’ its prices, lopping as much as £50k from the SUV’s price. Bad news for the furious buyers who bought just before the chop, but great news for people like Prit. The cheapest new X costs £73,900, making it a direct rival for the rangetopping Jag i-Pace HSE. When we first started putting this feature together earlier in the year we had the Tesla down as a used choice, but the price drop means it’s now a viable new one.
A gigantic fastback SUV in the mould of a BMW X6 but fitted with gullwing ‘falcon’ rear doors guaranteed to make you feel like Richie Rich’s chauffeur every time you drop the kids off at school, the Model X looks like Goodyear made a blimp out of the Model 3. It’s the biggest car here, and with good reason. New buyers can specify two or three rows of seats, and five-, six- or seven-seat configurations, making it the only one of our trio to seat more than five, though it’s worth bearing in mind that the second row on six-seat versions doesn’t fold.
‘I’ve only got two kids but I like the idea of having the option to fit more people in,’ notes Prit, as we amble down a leafy B-road, the canopy of trees overhead revealed through the incredible panoramic windscreen stretching back beyond our heads.
Then he stands on the accelerator and we shoot forward. ‘But that,’ he says exchanging a smile with me as we both feel ourselves sink into the seat backs like they’re made of bath foam, ‘is definitely the best bit.’
Like the e-Tron, the Model X is powered by two electric motors, one working on each axle. Entry-level cars get 328bhp and can do 62mph in 5.2sec, while the £92k Performance range topper (with £8k Ludicrous option) scoots there in 2.2sec courtesy of 603bhp. Our Long Range test car sits between the two with 4.7sec and 443bhp.
Unlike the Audi, the Tesla hurls itself forward with the lightest brush of throttle. But it doesn’t – or at least this non-Ludicrous model doesn’t – kick like the i-Pace and the steering feels over-light, even in the sportiest of the three settings. It means you’re initially hesitant to push through corners. Twenty minutes in, Prit has other concerns besides the range we’re rapidly decimating with our pedal-to-the-carpet antics. ‘I’m not sure how great these seats will be over a long journey,’ he says. ‘I can feel a twinge in my back already.’
And inevitably the giant touchscreen dominates conversation, much as it dominates the interior. ‘I wasn’t sure about having all the car’s functions bundled into the screen but it’s actually quite intuitive,’ Prit remarks, impressed. ‘My biggest gripe is that it’s just beyond reach from my normal driving position.’
The falcon doors are a gimmick. Sliding doors would be more useful, Prit agrees. And strangely, for all its trick bits the interior lacks a sense of luxury. The exterior panel fit was definitely sub-Audi, too. That’s concerning for Prit, as are Tesla’s precarious finances and small dealer network. But over-the-air software updates may fix many problems and the huge Supercharging network is a massive bonus. There’s no messing with charging cards like other EVs. Simply arrive at the Supercharger, slot the plug home and 40 minutes later you’ve got 80 per cent charge. The Tesla is definitely the brave choice. But is Prit brave enough to take it?
Or has he already got his heart set on something else? ‘I’ve never really fancied a Jag before,’ admits Prit, ‘but this…’ he adds, perfectly summing up both Jaguar’s problem, and its solution. A bright new light in what for Jaguar is a very dark tunnel, the i-Pace is Jag finding its feet, finding its identity after slavishly following the Germans for far too long.
Jag calls the i-Pace an SUV, but it’s barely a crossover. More like a high-riding hatch. Whatever, it’s stylish, distinctive and modern, the EV architecture allowing tiny overhangs that exaggerate an already wide track. It’s equally refreshing inside. The tall centre console is a surprise, robbing interior space but creating a cosier, sportier environment. Up front, this feels a smaller car than the e-Tron, but there’s actually plenty of space in the back. Space for two, that is. The middle seat is best left for emergencies, and the way the rear wheel arch cuts into passenger space means its too easy to catch your leg on the rubber seal getting out.
‘I like that the controls and displays feel familiar from my Range Rover Sport,’ Prit says as we ease out of the car park, leaving the Tesla to charge. But we can’t help noticing that the graphics of the lower screen in particular seem to be sunken further behind their glass panel than in the rivals, like an ancient CRT TV masquerading as an LED panel.
That’s all forgotten once the wheels are rolling. Tends to be the way with Jags. Even electric ones, it turns out. The other two can’t touch the i-Pace when it comes to entertainment for the driver.
‘The steering is definitely the most positive here,’ says Prit. ‘It feels the sportiest here, the most connected to the road.’
But it’s not just the steering Jag has nailed. The body control is excellent, too. The damping feels tight, keeping a tight grip on vertical movement, yet there seems to be no trade-off in ride quality. This car’s optional air springs can probably claim some credit here.
If that win-win ride and handling sounds like sorcery, wait until you dig deep into the throttle at 40mph. Had Jag released this car in the Middle Ages they’d be strapping dealers into ducking stools and dunking them in the local pond. Zero to 62mph takes 4.8sec, but punch the throttle from 40mph and you’d guess half that. I can’t think of another car, even the Chiron, that’ll throw you back into the seat with this kind of force when you ask it to go from cruise to missile. It’s almost ridiculously aggressive. The i-Pace comes in three trims but unlike the Model X they all get the same motor, battery and range combinations. Specifically a motor at each axle drawing on a 94kWh battery pack and delivering a combined 395bhp and 513lb ft. The Jag can charge to 80 per cent in 40 minutes, much like the others. But because the i-Pace’s 292-mile WLTP range is a good 40 miles better than the Audi or the Standard Range Tesla it matches on price, it effectively charges quicker than either – though currently only Tesla has ready access to 150kW chargers.
Those 40 miles matter. Maybe not day to day, and maybe not even on a motorway run, when you can put a couple of hours of driving under the wheels and stop for a coffee refill while the car gets a top-up of its own. But because they remove that lingering doubt many of us still have about electric cars: that they might not be ready to go when we are.
That alone wouldn’t gift the Jag the win. But tot up the positives – best chassis, most performance, best range, lowest price – and it’s easy to overlook the Jag’s smaller boot, or touchscreens not quite as slick as rivals’. Often tests like these follow the car world’s version of the Gary Lineker rule: four men kick a bunch of cars around for 24 hours and then the Germans win. Not this time. The i-Pace is a breath of fresh, clean, air.
1st Jaguar I-Pace
Best to drive, best handling and with the lowest price and greatest range, Jag’s e-SUV takes the win
2nd Tesla Model X
Strong performance and charge network appeal, but lacks Jag’s dynamic polish and quality
3rd Audi E-Tron
An EV to ease in those still hooked on fossil fuels. Perhaps too conventional for its own good