Only a few short years ago there was the common belief that electric cars might forever remain a technology of the future, without becoming practical for everyday use.
At the same time, the view was that Jaguar might never escape its past, and would remain trapped by its illustrious heritage as a musty retro brand for nostalgists.
Now, Jaguar has introduced the I-Pace, a vehicle that represents the singularity of those disparate trends. The I-Pace is at once the best EV yet introduced and is the best Jaguar ever. It merges astounding EV capability, Jaguar-like handling and the stylish practicality of a contemporary SUV.
And while Jaguar has not yet flung itself fully into the future by offering self-driving capabilities for the I-Pace, the company has cut a deal to provide as many as 20,000 of these new electric SUVs to Waymo for Google's autonomous car subsidiary to convert to self-driving ride-hailing vehicles.
The I-Pace has a 90 kilowatt-hour battery pack that provides a driving range of about 240 miles, putting power to the road through an all-wheel drive system driven by a pair of electric motors that combine for 394 horsepower and 512 lb.-ft torque.
These are specifications that are very similar to those of the Tesla Model S sedan and Model X SUV, which have obviously already been available to customers.
The I-Pace’s performance includes a 4.5-second 0-60 mph acceleration time and a top speed of 124 mph. These are numbers that Tesla’s vehicles can match or beat. And nevertheless, the I-Pace is better.
To start, with a base price of $70,000, the I-Pace costs less than comparable Tesla models. And as a five-seat crossover SUV, it is in the most popular vehicle segment, appealing to more buyers than Tesla’s sedan or larger, three-row SUV. Our tested First Edition is loaded with all the possible goodies, so it stickers at $85,900.
Jaguar uses battery packs stuffed with plastic pouch batteries that pack more densely than Tesla’s AA-sized batteries, whose cylindrical shape necessarily wastes space in the gaps between the cells.
A benefit of this more advanced battery technology is better cooling of the cells, which is one reason, along with thorough cooling of the electric motors, that the I-Pace is able to deliver the kind of vigorous driving experience expected of a vehicle wearing Jaguar’s ‘Leaper’ emblem.
That means hours of hammering over mountain passes and continuous laps of the race track, as Jaguar provided by letting us drive the I-Pace through southern Portugal and to prove it at the same Algarve International Circuit where we recently tested the Aston Martin Vantage sports car.
Teslas easily tear off astounding acceleration runs, but their electric drive systems aren’t robust enough for this kind of continuous hard use without reverting to a low-power ‘protection mode.’
The I-Pace also enjoys the advantage of suspension developed by Jaguar’s experts, who have been at the game of producing spirited driving machines for far longer than Tesla has existed. Their expertise is well demonstrated by the I-Pace, which boasts responsive steering, with none of the sluggish-feeling understeer that makes most SUVs feel ponderous when their manufacturers ill-advisedly roll them out on race tracks.
This lest the I-Pace rip through the downhill curve leading on the front straight sliding slightly at the rear, with a touch more power correcting the slide thanks to input from the front wheels.
The fully-loaded I-Pace First Edition rolls on smartly stylish 22-inch wheels, but taller-sidewall tires on the 20-inch wheels yield a better ride over pavement imperfections with little loss of maximum grip. The base equipment is 18-inch wheels, which we did not test.
What is standard equipment on all I-Pace trim levels, however, is the enormous panoramic skylight, which makes the car’s cabin open and airy. It is tinted enough that even the mid-day Mediterranean sun did not feel too bright, despite the lack of a sunshade.
And the glass roof doesn’t compromise utility for drivers who need to haul gear on the roof, as Jaguar demonstrated a roof rack for carrying a surfboard.
Jaguar is better known for stylish looks than for utility, and the I-Pace delivers on that in ways that Tesla’s Model X does not. Jaguar designers are unabashedly proud of their success marrying superior style with the demands of a five-passenger SUV body style.
The I-Pace's fast rear hatch angle manages to escape the hunchback silhouette that plagues BMW's X4 and X6 (though that has been reduced in the latest iterations of those vehicles).
An exceptional detail is the stylists’ trick of creating what looks like a conventional upright grille for a vehicle that doesn’t have the cooling requirements of an internal combustion engine. The I-Pace’s glossy black grille curves backward at the top, spilling air out through an exhaust vent in the hood, which effectively reduces the car’s frontal area and creates less drag.
Aerodynamics are employed at the rear too, where the roof spoiler directs air down the rear window to blow water off the glass and eliminating the need for a rear window wiper.
Jaguar plays with technology inside the I-Pace too, with a system that controls sound inside the cabin. Active Sound Design lets you choose the "calm" setting, in which is actively suppresses cabin noise for the most soothing EV experience possible. "Dynamic" is at the other end of the range, providing a synthetic interpretation of combustion engine sounds to convey the impression of speed. Setting the drive mode to Dynamic boosts "Dynamic" Active Sound Design another level, for even more noise.
It sounds cheesy, but the sound is reasonably convincing. Consider it the audible equivalent of a haptic feedback touchscreen keyboard. It seems real enough.
I-Pace sales are real too. With the order for 20,000 examples in hand from Waymo, Jaguar is already delivering I-Paces in Europe, and American dealers will get their cars during the second half of this year. Crossover SUV buyers, Jaguar enthusiasts and EV fans should all take note. If your lifestyle or location doesn't preclude daily driving an EV, the I-Pace should be a leading contender.