Jaguar’s new I-Pace makes a compelling case for electric vehicles. It is among the most impressive cars I’ve driven because of its blend of practicality and performance on and off road. Electric propulsion makes it that much cooler. At the moment, it is the only EV that’s comparable to Tesla’s Model X and Model S for performance and range. Its 90 kWh lithium-ion battery pack provides a 240-mile range, and you can charge it up to 80 percent in 40 minutes with a 100 kW DC fast charger.
Electric vehicles have already moved from curiosities for early adopters, who mostly charged at home, to practical mainstream transportation. It was only six years ago when Tesla introduced its Model S, showing what a premium EV could be and waking up established automakers. Charging networks have since sprung up and continued to expand, and drivers can now take long trips without worry in many areas.
While it’s clear that electric vehicles benefit the environment, other bonuses result from how designers and engineers can package them. Since they don’t need to work around internal-combustion drivetrains, they’re freed up to move interior spaces, components, and weight. Electric motors can also provide plenty of performance flexibility with their abundance of torque.
For a day, I hustled the 394-hp, 512-lb-ft all-wheel-drive I-Pace along twisty mountain roads, diverted off road, waded through a stream, scaled steep inclines, and lapped a track at racing speeds in the Algarve region in southern Portugal. The car was thrilling to drive in every situation, even for an auto enthusiast like myself who still loves the smell of gasoline. It shows what an established luxury automaker is able to do with EV technology, and where the future lies for vehicles overall.
The packaging of the I-Pace differs from that of Jaguar’s traditional models. Because they didn’t need to accommodate an internal-combustion drivetrain, the designers used a cab-forward design reminiscent of the C-X75 concept car from 2010. They also pushed the wheels to the far corners, which allowed for an interior volume comparable to that of a long-wheelbase Jaguar XJ, the company’s flagship sedan. The body structure is 94 percent aluminum, with the battery pack arranged below the floor of the passenger compartment, between the axles. This configuration provides a center of gravity that’s lower than that of the Jaguar F-Pace SUV and a 50:50 weight distribution. The large interior, which is appointed with beautiful materials, exudes the quality you’d expect from a luxury car.
The designers utilized clever aerodynamic details, such as a slot at the top of the grille that flows back through a vent in the hood. This keeps the airflow clean against the windshield and over the roof. The underside of the car is smooth and leads to a functional diffuser that sits at the base of a Kamm tail design. The rear-end treatment helps air flow off of the body, minimizing turbulence and drag. The car’s drag coefficient is .29, according to Jaguar designer Wayne Burgess, lower than that of any other Jaguar up to this point. While Tesla’s Model X claims .24, Burgess says that that car’s aero creates lift at high speeds and that lack of airflow to the cooling system can result in overheating in some conditions, while the I-Pace can run on the track for sustained periods.
I drove the car on a route that tested its abilities in varied conditions. The navigation screen showed what the expected level of charge would be at each waypoint. When setting a destination, the navigation takes into account factors like topography, traffic, weather, and available charging stations. The car will also learn your driving style so that it can improve expected range estimates over time.
As I rolled off, one feature I noticed was the energy regeneration on deceleration. Take your foot off the accelerator and the car immediately slows, as though the brakes have been applied. The effect is much more apparent than on any hybrid vehicle that I’ve driven, and it delivers up to .2g of deceleration. In fact, you can drive almost completely with one pedal, hardly ever using the brakes. If needed, the brakes will add another .2g of deceleration. After only a few minutes behind the wheel, I got used to the feel and enjoyed it. You can turn this setting down, but I’m not sure why you’d want to because doing so would reduce the amount of kinetic energy that the motors can harvest back to the battery.
After navigating some tight village roads, I got onto the motorway to see what the I-Pace could do there. Its dual electric motors provide 394 hp and 512 ft-lb of torque in total to both axles. Those are big numbers, and because electric motors produce their full torque from zero rpm, the effect of tipping into the accelerator is immediate. There is no waiting for revs to build and reach a power band. Smooth power surged as long as I kept the pedal down, and that feeling was intoxicating.
The car is capable of sprinting to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and because it’s so quiet, it’s easy to drive a lot faster than you think you’re going. There’s only a slight electric motor whoosh on acceleration and whine on deceleration. To provide some aural feedback, a subtle blend of internal-combustion rumble and Jetson’s flying-car warble is piped into the cabin. You have a few settings to choose from, and the system provides a bit of active noise cancelling at the lowest setting.
Once I reached the mountain roads, the dynamic ability of the vehicle came to the fore. The I-Pace weighs 4,784 pounds, making it much heavier than any sports car, but Jaguar has managed to hide its bulk. The variable air dampers with optional Adaptive Dynamics keep body roll to a minimum as it senses the road surface and continuously adjusts to suit your driving style. The front double wishbone suspension is pulled from the F-Type sports car. The I-Pace handles tight bends well at speeds that most drivers will likely never ask it to tackle. Torque vectoring helps to send power where it’s needed to enhance agility, and the car rockets out of corners. Dynamic mode tightens up the steering, stiffens the air suspension, and amps up the response from the accelerator pedal, but even in Comfort mode, the I-Pace always remains composed in spirited driving. Steering feel is quite good, providing more feedback from the front end than I was anticipating, inspiring plenty of confidence. I didn’t expect the car to be as entertaining as it was on such curvy roads, but this setting was where I enjoyed it the most.
The next phase of my route was off road, and the I-Pace had no problem hooking up on loose surfaces, even with summer tires. On inclines that would be difficult to walk up, all I had to do was raise the air suspension, which went up nearly two inches, and maintain a steady speed. The optional Adaptive Surface Response software controlling the motors on both axles did an amazing job of sorting out the surface and finding grip. The car has a 19.7-inch wading depth (the same as a Land Rover Defender), and on the course I drove, I had no problem driving down a stream. It was hard to believe that a vehicle that worked this well off road was the same one I was tearing through mountain passes in earlier.
Finally, I ended up at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimão. An I-Pace is unlikely to find itself lapping a racetrack, but the circuit allowed me to stretch the car’s legs without breaking the law. Pushing the I-Pace at racetrack speeds revealed its weight a bit more than the public roads did, but it still gripped without drama on long sweepers and tight turns. The car stayed neutral until the limit, where a touch of understeer showed itself. The instant response from the electric motors was even more noticeable as I managed my line through challenging corners. I drove for only a few laps, but the track setting showed that the I-Pace is capable of sustained hard driving without overheating or reducing power output.
The I-Pace is a well-rounded vehicle that can tackle almost any scenario while providing a luxurious experience for its occupants. Aesthetics are subjective, but I think this car’s interior—even in the base model—surpasses those in the Teslas. It also undercuts them in price. The I-Pace starts at $69,500 before you deduct any government incentives. That’s $5,000 less than a Model S and $10,000 less than a Model X. Moreover, Jaguar is an established automaker and shouldn’t have any trouble scaling up production as needed, which contrasts with Tesla’s production challenges as a startup.
Tesla arguably retains an edge, for some buyers, on a few points, however. One is its Supercharger charging network, which has had a head start. Jaguar isn’t planning on developing its own network and instead will rely on third-party CCS charging stations. There is a growing network, but not all stations are ready to deliver full 100 kW DC fast charging yet. As more EVs come to market, network expansion should accelerate.
The next point is self driving, which Tesla has been developing with its Enhanced Autopilot system. Jaguar didn’t talk about this while I was in Portugal, but the company offers optional semi-autonomous features such as adaptive cruise control with steering assist, traffic-sign recognition, emergency braking, and park assist. Could a future over-the-air update unlock more functionality? Autonomous driving is on Jaguar’s radar as shown by its commitment to build 20,000 I-Paces for Google’s Waymo driverless taxi service. The cars should appear in Waymo’s fleet in 2020.
Finally, if you need a vehicle that fits seven, Tesla’s Model S and Model X can accommodate you, while the Jaguar fits five in total.
That said, the I-Pace is a great car that will help expand the electric-vehicle segment by offering more choices to buyers and further normalizing the concept. Other manufacturers like BMW, Audi, Porsche, and Mercedes do have EVs in the pipeline. The I-Pace won’t be the only EV to come from Jaguar, moreover, as the company and sister brand Land Rover plan to offer an electrified model in every product line starting in 2020.
The acceleration of EV acceptance has been a long time coming until recently, but the newfound commitment by automakers to get into the market means there’s no turning back. Cars like the I-Pace prove that an EV can get an old-school auto enthusiast’s blood pumping. I’ll take one as long as I can still drive my 1987 Porsche 911 on the weekends.
Jaguar I-Pace at a Glance
Price: Available in four trim levels, from $69,500 to $85,900
Powertrain: Dual permanent magnet electric motors, one at each axle
Battery: 90 kWh Li-ion, nickel-manganese-cobalt chemistry, liquid cooled
Range: 240 miles
Charging time: 80 percent in 40 minutes using a CCS 100-kW DC fast charger, or 10 hours using a 7-kW home charger
Power: 394 hp, 512 lb-ft of torque
0–60 acceleration: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 124 mph
Curb weight: 4,784 lb
Cargo capacity: 25.3 cu ft /51.0 with rear seats folded, plus .95 cu ft “frunk”
Warranty: 5-year/60,000-mile basic, 8-year/100,000-mile battery (up to 70 percent state of health)