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The Charging Point

Your one-stop destination for electric and hybrid cars

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On-track and off-road in Portugal with Jaguar's new I-Pace

There are a couple of ways to get to Portugal's infamous Portimao race circuit: via the CM1054, which is as smooth and as easy going as you'd expect from any European road network, or the 'interesting' way.

The latter involves navigating a complex network of dirt roads, fire tracks, rutted surfaces, ditches and seemingly sheer inclines. Bread and butter for a Land Rover Discovery Sport but an unlikely place to find Jaguar's latest all-electric SUV.

But this is exactly where the British marque has chosen to show off its potential contender for the title of World's Best Electric Vehicle.

Boasting a cutting edge 90kWh battery pack and dual electric motors (one at each axle), the I-Pace is capable of 259-miles on a single charge, as tested using the new Worldwide harmonised Light vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP).

This potent combination also results in some impressive performance figures, with the 0-62mph sprint taking just 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 124mph achievable.

In short, the only other company touting such numbers is Tesla, but Jaguar looks set to be the first traditional automotive player to offer such an enticing package.

But back to the rough stuff, as we are currently perilously perched half way up an incline that we'd struggle to traverse on our hands and knees, let alone in a two-tonne EV.

The I-Pace digs deep and with its trick hill descent control activated, the system catches any rolling movement should we decide to lose our bottle and ease off accelerator.

There's no such issue here, as just the right amount of torque is applied to each wheel independently, meaning it’s possible to set a cruise control figure and let the I-Pace drag itself up the craggy gradient with only steering inputs required.

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Attack the track

"The added benefit of two electric motors and all-wheel-drive is off-road capability," explains Mike Bradley, I-Pace programme manager.

"We worked out early on that we had full control over each wheel without the need for complicated differentials, which meant we could employ software that would allow this SUV to traverse some pretty rough terrain with ease," he adds.

Another upside of working with dual electric motors and battery packs is the ability to create a low centre of gravity and train the on-board stability control and torque vectoring system to play nicely on a race circuit.

The second big surprise from this Portuguese launch is Jaguar's willingness to let us hammer its plug-in baby around one of Europe's most demanding tracks.

"Floor it! Floor it!" screams our pro driver passenger, as the chunky I-Pace attacks apex after apex with little complaint.

Any hint of understeer, where the vehicle's nose starts to wash wide on corners, is immediately brought back into check with more throttle input.

The software on-board makes even the most ham-fisted drivers look like professionals, as each wheel is delivered exactly the right amount of torque to keep the car on the racing line and out of the gravel.

Instantaneous acceleration is also addictive. It's a case of turning in, nailing the throttle and letting the clever technology do the hard work, like a video game but infinitely more enjoyable.

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Road manners

Granted, the majority of customers will never set foot on a race track, nor attempt to traverse a craggy mountain in Jaguar's latest EV, but the fact it can do both of these things is excellent PR for electric vehicles in general.

Yes, the I-Pace will most certainly spend most of its time zipping around town (something it is very good at) and wafting its occupants along motorways in comfort and silence (it's good at that, too) but it's also proof that this technology is more capable than many give it credit for.

Having a Jaguar badged perched on top of the pretty, Ian Callum-designed nose of the I-Pace means there's real engineering nous behind this project, something that Tesla has been accused of lacking in the past.

There's no denying Tesla changed the game with the release of the Model S, Model X and upcoming Model 3, but with Jaguar's launch of the I-Pace, it feels like we have a real competition on our hands.

A vehicle that is capable of over 200-miles on a single charge and the ability to top up the batteries in 40-minutes when 150kW charging points start to pop around the UK looks set to be the tipping point for wider adoption.

Jaguar can most certainly claim its place as the first mainstream manufacturer to launch a full-size premium electric car - and a very good one at that - but this could just be the beginning of an EV revolution.