I-Pace

Why I’m glad that the Jaguar I-Pace is European Car of the Year

BIT disappointed that yesterday didn’t begin with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight thundering through the skies overhead.

Church bells across the country would’ve rung out in unison, followed by politicians of all parties breaking off from the Brexit negotiations to offer congratulatory speeches, and schoolchildren would’ve been invited to send in their drawings and paintings marking the big moment.

Perhaps I’m over-egging it a bit, but a panel of motoring experts have finally freed themselves from the shackles of sensibleness and voted in a Jaguar as European Car of the Year.

It’s an historic moment – although probably not one that requires the entire nation to break out the Union Flag bunting and hold street parties in a patriotic frenzy – because never before has a Jag won. You might find it hard to believe, but the original XJ6 didn’t even come close. Nor did the XK8. In fact, the only Jaguars that got within sniffing distance were the X-type (beaten by the erm, Peugeot 307), and the XE two years ago, which finished third.

So I’m glad that the I-Pace has finally walked off with the silverware, and not just because it gives a manufacturer staring in the face of 4,500 painful job cuts a much-needed shot of adrenaline. It shows that, for a change, the collective opinion went with the car that genuinely moved the game on the most, as the I-Pace has done with zero-emissions electric cars what the Mk2 did with stuffy small saloons. Made them genuinely, want-one desirable.

The other big surprise was that – had it not been for a pre-agreed clause in the rules – it would have been joint winner with a sports car, in the form of Alpine’s A110. In other words, a panel of judges that has a habit of picking family hatchbacks as worthy-but-boring winners gave a £46,000, two-seater Cayman rival what would be a contest-winning amount of points. The last time they did anything that brave was more than 40 years ago, when the Porsche 928 won.

What all that means is that European Car of the Year just got interesting again – finally it feels like there’s a realistic chance that a Porsche or Lotus might walk off with the coveted rear window sticker, rather than being relegated to third place by a brace of hybrid hatchbacks. Imagine if the new TVR Griffith won it next year? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

In the meantime, it means that the I-Pace is not only a proper Jag that just happens to be zero-emissions too, but it means that a bunch of motoring writers far better than this one agree that it’s award-winningly good too. Makes up for the Peugeot 307 winning, and all that…

I would love the Alpine A110 to be European Car of the Year – but history is against it

ONLY in an age of boss of Nissan-Renault being under arrest, Volkswagen suggesting cable ties as a fix for broken seatbelts and a former Top Gear star vowing to quit TV for good if he wins I’m A Celebrity can European Car of the Year be considered a bit ho-hum.

The seven-strong shortlist was announced on Monday and – from what I could see, at least – seemed to barely register a faint blip on the nation’s motoring radar. Part of me likes to think it’s because fewer of us care what motoring experts in Sweden or Spain make of the continental car choices when we’re busy trying to order a Full English Brexit, but I suspect it’s got rather a lot more to do with history not being in their favour. The Renault 9, the 1982 victor which is all but forgotten now, being a prime example.

There are many, many examples of the 60-strong panel of motoring writers – proper, learned scholars of the profession who fuss over mid-range torque and intuitive infotainment systems in the same way I worry about MGs with dead batteries – getting it right. They called it right on the first Focus, a genuine game-changer among family hatchbacks, for instance, and the Rover P6 that won the contest’s very first outing is fondly remembered as a brilliant bit of British design. But every time I look back at the Peugeot 307 picking up the plaudits in 2002 or the me-too VW Polo beating the radical Toyota IQ to the top spot in 2010, I cringe a bit, because it just smacks of going for the best all-rounder rather than the one that genuinely moves the cause of the car forward.

This year’s contenders are – deep breath – the Alpine A110, Citroen’s C5 Aircross, Ford’s latest Focus, the Jaguar i-Pace, the Kia Cee’d, the Mercedes A-Class and Peugeot’s 508. I would love to see the 60-strong jury devour a crate of wine between them, throw all caution to the wind and go for the sports car, which is what they did 40 years ago when the Porsche 928 won. But I’m happy to bet that won’t happen (and I’ll happily write a column in The Champion eating my words if it does and the Alpine does a Leicester City).

If it were up to me it’d be the I-Pace strutting home with the silverware, because it’s an eco-friendly, on-message electric car that just happens to look and handle like a Jaguar should, and to hell with the fact you need the thick end of £60,000 to afford one. But it isn’t, so I reckon the smart money’s on either the Aircross or the 508, both of which are perfectly worthy but a bit forgettable.

Whatever happens, we’ll have to wait ‘til next March to find out the winner. In a TV special presented by Noel Edmonds, I’d imagine…

Jaguar has upped the electric car ante – by driving to Brussels!

Jaguar has shown that all-electric cars can now manage big journeys
A DRIVE of just 229 miles – that’s The Champion’s offices to Birmingham, and back again – could prove to be a bit of motoring history in the making.

That’s how far Jaguar’s just sent its new I-Pace, a plushly-trimmed crossover that could be yours for a shade under £59,000, on a fact-finding test drive. Only it didn’t go anywhere as boring as Birmingham, and set off instead from London’s South Bank, not stopping again until it’d reached the centre of Brussels. I really do mean it didn’t stop at all, because there was no switching it off and letting a ferry or Eurotunnel carry it to Calais. The Channel Tunnel’s operators gave Jaguar special permission to drive through their service tunnel, so it really did do the entire journey in one hit.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that the I-Pace is an electric car. Which didn’t have to stop to top up its batteries once on its emissions-free adventure over three countries.

Jaguar’s neatly executed foray across French soil is, of course, a carefully choreographed bit of carmaker PR to plug (sorry) the I-Pace, and I’ve no doubt that it could just as happily cruise 229 miles somewhere a little less exotic. Birmingham, perhaps. But the nice ring to the achievement – and what it means for zero emissions motoring in general – reminded me of the oldest car event of the lot.

The London to Brighton Run can trace its roots back to 1896, when the requirement to drive behind a bloke waving a red flag was lifted and Britain’s petrolhead pioneers could power towards a brighter future. It’s marked every year by pre-1904 cars heading from the capital to the south coast and it’s still a hugely significant event, because it celebrates the beginning of British motoring as we know it.

London to Brussels, with a bit of careful nurturing, could become just as symbolic. I can genuinely imagine an event in another 100 years’ time, when pre-2019 electric cars set off from the South Bank and retrace Jaguar’s route, disappearing into that service tunnel, and popping out the other side to cheering crowds on their way to Belgium. It sounds fanciful now, but the feat of driving an electric car all that way and underneath the Channel through a very lonely-looking tunnel could well become this century’s London to Brighton moment.

Why? Because it neatly sums up what electric cars are finally capable of – if one can get from London to Brussels, it’ll also certainly survive your morning commute. I remember barely a decade ago driving an electric car for the first time and emerging thinking that it was awful. I wouldn’t have trusted it to take me to Liverpool and back without leaving me stranded with a dead battery, let alone making it to Brussels.

That electric cars have gone from this to the I-Pace in under ten years is nothing short of extraordinary.