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Charging Jaguar's 2019 I-Pace as dusk wanes at a newly opened Electrify America DC fast-charging site on the Ohio Turnpike. (SAE)

Is DC fast-charging ready for prime time?

We judge whether the nation’s non-Tesla fast-charging network is a match for the new breed of long-range EVs like Jaguar’s inspired 2019 I-Pace.

It’s a trip we’ve done scores of times with barely a thought. From our home near SAE International headquarters in western Pennsylvania to the metro Detroit area is approximately 300 miles (483 km) of highway driving. We often do it in four-and-a-half hours without a stop of any kind, much less for fuel. Some diesels and hybrids, and even a few conventional gasoline vehicles, can knock off the entire roundtrip on a single tankful.

That wouldn’t be the case this time. Jaguar had offered Automotive Engineering seat time in its new battery-electric I-Pace sedan and a must-attend conference was occurring the day before we were scheduled to return the brand’s first-ever electric vehicle (EV). We were determined to make our familiar trip in the unfamiliar Jag.

“Have you, uh, looked into it?” the cautious Jaguar rep asked on the phone. She meant, of course, the recharging situation. It wasn’t just that Jaguar was rightfully concerned our experience with the I-Pace be unsullied by being stranded beside some Ohio Turnpike cornfield. They expected the vehicle back the morning after the Detroit conference, at a pickup point 300 miles away in Pennsylvania.

Electrify America, our hero
Yes, I’d looked into it. Electrify America, the subsidiary of Volkswagen of America charged with spending $2 billion on nationwide fast-charging infrastructure as part of VW’s penalty for its diesel-emissions malfeasance, had just opened two gleaming new eight-charger facilities at east-and-westbound service plazas not far from Toledo. The new chargers’ location was perfect for the trip. After charging just before joining the Ohio Turnpike, we’d use the Blue Heron westbound facility to power us to Detroit and hit the Wyandot plaza on the eastbound return trip for the recharge. That would take us all the way back to the Pennsylvania border and our final recharge.

Here’s how it went.

Recharge 1. Girard, Ohio. Odometer: 78.9 miles
Arriving at our first recharge since the I-Pace was delivered, things did not go well. The Electrify America’s combined charging system (CCS) cable wouldn’t “speak” to the Jag’s onboard charger. We phoned the 800 number appearing on the EA charger’s screen and after some explaining about teething troubles the station had been having, the operative decided we needed to try the facility’s charger #1. Trouble was, that position was partially “ICE’d” (the term veteran EVers use for the common situation of conventional vehicles being thoughtlessly parked to block the charging area.

We squeezed next to the offending utility truck close enough to engage the charging cable – hey, EA, these things are a little too short – and the electrons flowed. About 52 minutes later, the charge stop had boosted the I-Pace’s state of charge from 23% to 93%. The charger indicated a maximum charge rate of 102 kW; the company promises max rates up to 350 kW. However, it’s our understanding charge rates are being throttled for the time being to a maximum of about 150 kW. For this session, we got a mile of range for roughly every 20 seconds of charging.

Because of many states’ rules about “retailing” electricity, Electrify America charges according to time connected rather than the amount of electricity. The basic per-minute charge is tiered for three different charging levels, currently: 25 cents/minute at 1-75 kW; 69 cents for 1-125 kW and 99 cents for 1-350 kW. All of our charging happened at the 1-125 kW tier. There also is also a $1 connection fee, although that’s waived if you join the $4 monthly Pass+ subscription, which also brings almost a 30% discount on the per-minute rates.

EV owners who do a lot of fast-charging will want to get into the Pass+ club, because we were shocked at the cost. This first charge, which got us approximately 150 miles of range, cost $31.39. That works out to 60 cents per kWh – more than five times our residential electricity rate of 11 cents per kWh! Another $2.12 in tax (who says EVs aren’t paying their fair share?) brought the total to a smoldering $33.51 – and that wasn’t even going to get us all the way through Ohio.

Recharge 2. Genoa, Ohio. Odometer: 226.5 miles
Barely two hours later, we were at it again, this time at EA’s freshly opened site at the Ohio Turnpike’s Blue Heron service plaza. On the long run up from the Ohio Valley, we admit to stretching the I-Pace’s legs, which hurt our initial charging-stop’s energy-efficiency calculation of about 41 kWh for 100 miles (161 km). With a permanent-magnet AC-synchronous drive motor for the front and rear axle, output is evenly split at 197 hp (147 kW) and 256 lb-ft (347 Nm), making a hefty total of 394 hp (294 kW) and 512 lb-ft (694 Nm). We stomped the accelerator to breezily dispatch more than few who hung too close to gawk at the I-Pace’s exotic shape and bulldog-ish footprint.

The I-Pace is not a large car, but it takes a lot of power and torque, nonetheless, to propel 4784 lb (2170 kg). The battery pack accounts for 1329 lb (603 kg) of the total mass. Considering the ongoing fascination with all things gargantuan, most U.S. drivers would think the I-Pace pretty small. Backseat space is indeed tight and the cargo area’s capacity is modest, largely because of the car’s markedly rear-sloping roofline. There’s a lot of weight here, but 512 lb-ft has no problem blasting the I-Pace away from just about anything. In light of the brand’s reputation, the 124-mph top speed is the only disappointing aspect of the I-Pace’s performance.

But the performance-testing hijinks caused some range heartburn. We arrived at this stop with just 11 miles (18 km) of indicated remaining range – we had driven 148 miles (238 km) since the first recharge, suggesting Jaguar engineers built in some degree of “reserve.” The maximum charge we were able to stuff into the I-Pace’s battery was worth something in the neighborhood of 185 miles (298 km), giving us an indicated 93% charge.

Although the nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) lithium-ion battery pack’s capacity is a claimed 90 kWh, Jaguar lists the pack’s net “usable” energy capacity at 84.7%. This probably helps to explain why we weren’t able to charge the car to anything near its EPA-estimated 234 miles (377 km) of combined-driving maximum range. We were advised not to expect anything more than 200 miles combined – in mostly high-velocity highway driving that offers little opportunity for recovery of braking energy, we found 175 miles (282 km) was the max-range figure with which you’d better get comfortable if you’re an interstate cruiser. And that’s in virtually perfect thermal and driving conditions.

At this stop, we onboarded 70.1 kWh at a max rate of just under 98 kW. Charging time was almost exactly one hour, at an energy cost of $36.05 for a little more than two hours of turnpike driving. With tax, the per-kWh cost was just less than 55 cents.

Recharge 3. Novi, Michigan. Odometer: 308.9 miles
Arriving late in the Detroit area, we tried a fast-charger from the EVgo network, leveraging the chance to charge now to avoid wasting vital return-trip time after the conference the following day. We didn’t find the EVgo user interface as friendly as Electrify America’s. Its range of available information is less complete. It did, however, indicate the I-Pace battery’s state of charge, which we find the most useful information.

Rather than showing energy flow in kW, the EVgo charger showed a max-charge rate of 400 volts DC at 100 amps, meaning the Jag received 23.2 kWh in not quite 35 minutes. Cost? You guessed it – almost exactly what EA was charging: not quite 55 cents per kWh. We slipped in a credit card, as we’d signed up with EVgo prior to the trip.

Recharge 4. Novi, Michigan. Odometer 317.3
The conference’s hotel had a Level 2 charger available in the parking lot and despite the conference crowd, the charger’s parking spot, amazingly, had not been ICE’d. Not only was it a prime parking spot, the charging was free. We hooked up and went to cover the conference, secure with the classic “opportunity charge.”

The I-Pace indicated 65% state of charge when we’d arrived. Returning to the car about seven hours later, the battery indicated 97% capacity and we’d gained 111 miles (179 km) of free driving! This would be more than enough to get us to the westbound side of the Ohio Turnpike for the next recharge. Such a deal.

Recharge 5. Genoa, Ohio. Odometer: 422.3.
This was shaping up to be a quick recharge, given that we had embarked on this short leg with almost a full battery. But once again, when we connected to the brand-new Electrify America charger, it wouldn’t converse with the I-Pace. Another annoyed phone call to EA’s customer service brought the advice to try a specific charger (all cables were available). This one worked and we took on 41.3 kWh in 43 minutes for a tax-included cost of $27.98.

It was during this recharge that we took time to notice the water-cooled cables are easier to manipulate if the vehicle can be parked in parallel with the charger. The cables are thick and unwieldy and the connector doesn’t like to attach to the vehicle at much of an angle.

On this leg, we became aware of how serene the Jaguar’s cabin is during 90-mph (241-km/h) cruising. Although there’s just a single-speed transmission – it appears the performance-EV market is destined to adopt two or even more transmission ratios – maximum power is developed at an ear- and buttocks-friendly 4250 rpm, so there’s no buzziness or frizzle from the twin motors, which also are painstakingly isolated with special mounts.

Recharge 6. Girard, Ohio. Odometer: 570.3
For the final recharge, we returned to the same station at which we’d started the journey. This time, we selected the charging cable that customer service had recommended yesterday; the truck partially blocking this spot was gone. There was nobody else charging – in fact, at none of the stations we used on this trip was there ever another EV being charged.

The adventure was in getting here: we arrived with an indicated seven miles (11 km) of remaining range. Although we’d traveled essentially the same distance on the outbound trip and arrived at the charging station with a tense 11 miles (18 km) of remaining range, on the return we’d apparently consumed a little more energy. And when we started this leg, the Jaguar’s interface indicated 177 miles (285 km) of range; we traveled an actual 150 miles (241 km).

After easing into the station, we juiced up the Jag with a hefty 72.6 kWh. And showing the real grunt of DC fast-charging, the battery was brought from 5% state of charge to 93% (according to the recharger’s display) in 1 hour and two minutes. We paid for that speed, of course: $37.49 this time, plus $2.53 tax for a total of $40.02. The maximum charging speed again was just under 100 kW.

Total EV trip experience: We’ll take it
Covering a total of 636 miles (1,024 km) in about 16 hours demonstrates that new EVs with high-capacity batteries, combined with the building-out DC fast-charging network, offer the one-two punch needed to make EVs viable long-distance transportation. It’s the technical and infrastructure combo that Tesla patented.

The I-Pace is an impressive example of premium-EV state-of-the-art. All-wheel drive is a desirable feature and the car’s overall performance portfolio would please nearly anyone. In favorable ambient-temperature operations, our experience was that the I-Pace typically outstripped Jaguar’s listed energy consumption of 44 kWh per 100 miles, which is about what is expected with the current state of battery and traction-motor technology. The onboard readout showed that during our trip that required approximately 290 kWh and the car recovered about 23.7 kWh. Some perspective on the trip’s electric-consumption figure: to go to Detroit and back, the I-Pace used electricity equivalent to run our home for about six days, based on the house’s 12-month average-day consumption.

Meanwhile, Electrify America and others that are expanding the fast-charging network are doing a creditable job. It’s difficult to speculate where pricing will go as more EVs come into mainstream and commercial use, but our total of $152.60 to travel 636 miles is a “fuel” cost of almost 24 cents per mile (not including the 111 “free” miles we gleaned). That can be reduced markedly with Electrify America’s inexpensive Pass+ subscription. But given that regular-unleaded gasoline was $2.75 per gallon during this trip, a 30-mpg vehicle would’ve required only about $60 of gasoline – so fast-charging has some competition.

In practical terms, we learned that onboard driving range-calculation algorithms seem to have room for refinement. EV drivers need to account for the unexpected, as the functionality of chargers – even newly-installed units – cannot be assumed. It’s simply going to be a long time before fast-charging capabilities are as readily at hand as a fuel pump. Range anxiety isn’t quite vanquished, but when one can drive a five-passenger EV 600 miles through three states and back in less than a day, the new-propulsion era doesn’t look so far away.

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