By Marc Lachapelle
FARO, Portugal – For decades, tradition overshadowed and somehow blunted Jaguar’s audacity and innovative strength. Even though these virtues had begat a C-Type that won Le Mans in 1953 with the first-ever use of disc brakes, a D-Type thrice victorious at this great endurance classic with a revolutionary aluminum monocoque, and then the E-Type, a sports car simply magnificent in all respects.
Jaguar has nonetheless growled its way firmly into the 21st Century this past decade with the gorgeous F-Type sports cars and the wildly popular F-Pace and E-Pace, its first-ever sport-utility vehicles, among others. And now, these fearless Brits are making a final leap into full modernity with the I-Pace, a fully-electric, luxury/performance crossover with sexy aluminum bodywork sculpted by Jaguar’s award-winning design team, led by Scotsman Ian Callum for almost two decades.
Better still, Jaguar is the first automaker to launch a direct competitor to the highly-acclaimed and widely-publicized Tesla Model S and X, the sleek sedans and SUVs that have made electric vehicles cool and popular with luxury buyers, worldwide. The fact that the revered British marque will start delivering the I-Pace this summer, while German luxury brands are still announcing names and putting final touches to their own electric wonders, is a major achievement.
Sleek and spacious
Jaguar designers took full advantage of the freedom allowed by the elimination of the cumbersome lump that is a thermal engine with electric drive. The I-Pace’s short and low front end, with strong fender bulges, was inspired by the stunning C-X75 mid-engine prototype. The familiar, black grille is there for brand identity but also has flaps that open when the propulsion system needs cooling. If not, air just slips over its curved upper section and flows out through a wide vent in the hood and smoothly over the windshield.
Under the hood is a tiny, 27-litre trunk. No worries, since the tall, truncated rear section houses 656 litres of cargo volume that turn into 1,453 litres when the split-folding, second-row seatbacks are tipped forward. A cap-like wing atop the rear hatch and a functional extractor, under the rear bumper, help the I-Pace claim a low drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.29.
The sloping and highly-tinted rear window offers an unexpectedly decent view to the rear, despite the narrow, half-moon shape image in the mirror. Visibility to the front and side is excellent, helped by well-placed mirrors, on slender pods. And the giant, cabin-long glass roof that filters both infrared and ultraviolet rays to keep the cabin safe and cool is just perfect.
With minuscule overhangs, the I-Pace is shorter than its F-Pace sibling by 4.9 cm, yet sits on an 11.6 cm longer wheelbase. This gave Callum and his team the long-awaited opportunity to create a ‘cab-forward’ design with interior space to match the limo-like XJ sedan’s. The driving position is excellent with seats that provide an impeccable blend of comfort and support, a nicely-shaped, manually-adjustable wheel that combines smooth leather and fine aluminum trim and a wide, flat footrest. Rear seating is good too, with a flat, tunnel-free floor, despite the I-Pace’s coupé-like roofline. There are even discreet storage bins under both outside cushions.
Electronic virtuosity and challenges
The instrument panel, at once classic and modern, has plenty of well-designed and finished buttons, levers and switches to set and adjust the various systems. Because Jaguar still believes in their ergonomic virtues and in sheer tactile pleasure. Two large, electronic knobs that control different functions within the climate control system when either pushed or pulled, are nice and effective. The center console is wide, on the other hand, making it tight for the driver’s right leg.
The I-Pace gets the two large touch screens of the Touch Pro Duo interface, first seen in the Range Rover Velar, and a 12-inch horizontal “driver display.” Jaguar has gone with Amazon Alexa, instead of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, to match the vehicle’s systems with various applications, including its own InControl app. The I-Pace will also become the first Jaguar able to get wireless software updates, Tesla-style.
One easily masters most of the essential operations and settings, but others seem impossible to find at first, and the system is sometimes slow to respond. With a plethora of integrated systems, some of which use artificial intelligence to fine-tune personal settings and profiles, we predict hours of fun browsing through the thick, owner’s manual.
A quick and agile bruiser and cruiser
A young engineer at Jaguar created an all-new electric motor with driveshafts running through its center, for the I-Pace. Each axle gets one of these compact and fully-patented units, for a total output of 394 hp and 512 lb-ft of instant torque, and fully variable all-wheel drive with brake-based torque vectoring.
The pair is powered by a 90-kWh, lithium-ion battery with its 432 cells packed in 36 “pouches” under the floor. Jaguar’s claims of a 0-100 km/h sprint in 4.8 seconds and 386 km of range seem perfectly credible. I also saw 205 km/h on the short straightaway at Circuito do Algarve in Portugal while Jaguar claims a top speed of 200 km/h. This first I-Pace is plenty quick and fast, indeed. While it can recover 80% of its charge in 40 minutes on a fast 100-kW charger, a full charge requires 12.9 hours on a Level 2 charger with 7 kW.
The battery frame is an important structural element of the I-Pace’s monocoque body, 94% of which is glued and riveted aluminum, with high-strength steel for the most critically-stressed sections. Jaguar says the I-Pace has the best torsional rigidity of all its models. The remarkable solidity, stability and quietness, regardless of speed or road surface, certainly bear this out convincingly.
The I-Pace even does surprisingly well off-road, with its height-adjustable air suspension and the steady, linear response of its electric powertrain. It even fords water 50 cm deep. With perfect 50/50 weight distribution and a low centre of gravity, thanks to the floor-mounted battery and small motors, it remains utterly stable, precise and predictable, on roads wide and narrow, straight or twisty, even on a racetrack, with a substantial curb weight of 2,170 kilograms.
The electrically-assisted steering is sharp and linear but low on feedback. Ride comfort, on the other hand, was equally commendable on all surfaces, during our drives on Portuguese roads. Whether riding on the 20-inch or huge 22-inch alloy wheels, shod with low aspect-ratio tires in both cases.
Built in Austria, at the Magna-Steyr plant, the I-Pace EV400 will land here in late summer with prices from $86,500 for the S to $103,500 for the swanky LE or First Edition, which is $80,000 less than a Tesla Model X that is almost as powerful.
The upcoming Porsche Taycan and other future rivals will no doubt impress, but nothing will diminish the sheer brilliance of the I-Pace, or Jaguar’s impressive feat.
Model: 2019 Jaguar I-Pace EV400
Price: $86,500 (S), $92,500 (SE), $96,500 $ (HSE), $103,500 (LE – First Edition)
Motors: Two permanent magnet electric motors
Peak combined output: 394 hp
Peak combined torque: 512 lb-ft
Transmission: single-speed transmission concentric with motor, all-wheel drive
Battery: 90kWh Lithium-ion, liquid-cooled, 432 cells in 36 pouches of 12
Suspension front: double wishbone, air springs
Suspension rear: integral link, air springs
Length: 4,682 mm
Width: 1,895 mm (excluding mirrors) 2,139 mm (with mirrors)
Height: 1,565 mm
Wheelbase: 2,990 mm
Curb weight: 2,170 kg
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 4.8 seconds (claimed)
Electric range: 386 km (EPA norm)
Top speed: 200 km/h