WHAT IS IT?
Jaguar’s eagerly anticipated foray into full-electric production vehicles and a clear statement of its future vision. The company is remaining coy on what’s next in the electric fleet, but the I-Pace is the car we’ll look back on and remember as the model that began the charge of electric SUVs from mainstream manufacturers.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
To date, technology start-up Tesla has been the dominant force in pure electric vehicles, bringing high-performance, luxurious models to a largely unpopulated market. But as emissions regulations tighten, mainstream manufacturers are joining the party. Electric SUVs from other premium brands will follow, though as the first zero-emissions attempt (with a modicum of off-road ability), Jaguar’s first production EV will act as a barometer for the segment. If the I-Pace recipe is right, Tesla’s days as an EV authority are numbered and the transition to a future of proliferating electric vehicles will look a lot brighter.
The electric SUV carpark is notably sparse at the moment, with the Tesla Model X the only similar vehicle to the Jaguar, but it’s more of an MPV, with zero off-road pretensions. BMW’s plug-in-hybrid X5 xDrive40e is the only other large SUV offering some electric range (before having to revert to combustion power).
THE WHEELS VERDICT
IT’S highly unlikely a Jaguar I-Pace owner will ever take their car to an intimidating Portuguese racetrack, and it’s probably just as unlikely they’ll wade through water crossings or scale rocky hillsides, but that doesn’t seem to matter. People buy watches that will sink to 10 atmospheres below the surface of the ocean yet the most action they’re likely to see is a spilled latte. Jaguar is trading on the same principle.
For its international debut, Jaguar made no changes to its regular launch schedule simply because the I-Pace is electric. That’s a huge statement of confidence no other manufacturer has yet been able to equal. Compared with other EVs and even some PHEVs, the I-Pace isn’t a car you have to make allowances for, or tolerate to live with. It’s a car you’re simply going to want.
PLUS: Serious performance and range; surprising dynamics; practical touches; class-leading styling; apparent durability; established brand confidence
MINUS: Brakes don’t tolerate punishment; no local purchase incentives
THE WHEELS REVIEW
TARTS, sardines, cobblestones and Ronaldo – just a handful of images that spring to mind when you think of Portugal. But the sliver of azure-fringed earth clinging to Spain’s western flank has another national treasure far more precious than all the custard-loaded pastries in the world. About an hour inland from the pretty town of Faro sits a 4.7km band of blacktop comprised of 15 corners and dizzying elevation changes, proudly branded with the FIA’s stamp of approval. It’s here at the punishing Algarve International Circuit Portimao that Jaguar has chosen to cut the umbilical cord on its foray into full electrification – the I-Pace.
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This emissions-free SUV’s arrival doesn’t just mark a significant milestone for the British marque but ignites a whole new battle in unchartered territory, beating Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz to the punch. The future-defining I-Pace needs to brace its shield as other mainstream and premium brands progressively introduce their electric SUV contenders, while simultaneously wielding a sabre, proving it has the performance, dependability and class to wear the leaping-cat badge.
It’s a process that begins at the base of a towering grandstand bathed in gentle European sunshine; rarely has the start line at Portimao had such metaphorical significance. Will Jaguar’s electric SUV be the car that defines the segment, gaining a lucrative head-start over its inevitable rivals, or will it be forever remembered as the EV that struck too early?
Unleashing a fleet of I-Paces at a track as gruelling as Portimao is a deliberate statement of confidence by Jaguar. If Samsung couldn’t prevent a phone from spontaneously combusting when downloading a quiche recipe, how’s the I-Pace supposed to keep its cool when the 90kWh battery is churning out more amps than a Marshall factory? Nearly 1200, if you were wondering.
A few full-bore laps in the I-Pace fails to produce any smoke, or a single warning message on its expansive digital dashboard displays. On the contrary, the I-Pace bites hard into the track with a stoic resolve, and accelerates with unfaltering athleticism, lap after lap.
With nearly 2.2 tonnes to haul up, there’s no disguising the Jaguar EV’s considerable kerb weight as its brake pedal lengthens and stopping resistance fades after heavy use, but that’s the only black mark against the I-Pace’s track performance.
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With a good chunk of the I-Pace’s weight at floor level where the battery is hidden, its centre of gravity is low, translating to surprising dynamism at Portimao. Front-to-rear balance is excellent and lateral grip feels almost aero-sticky, though it’s more likely the effect of simple mass-over-tyre. In the right hands, the I-Pace is the classic embodiment of the slow-in, fast-out technique, proving capable of lapping this serious circuit with unbelievable energy. At the end of the session, all 16 cars are successfully back in the pits, fans whirring like a panting dog but with no obvious complaints.
It’s a similar story out on the incredibly diverse roads behind this stunning circuit. The Portuguese really are obsessed with cobblestones, which provide an uncommon test for the I-Pace’s NVH. Yet even on huge 22-inch wheels – standard fitment on the limited-run First Edition model ($159,700) – the I-Pace’s ride is as absorbent as Kleenex.
In more remote areas, sudden bomb-holes in the road surface make occupants wince and brace for impact at speed, but even with a rear wheel kicked into the air, the I-Pace’s optional air suspension and clever torque management sort everything out with little effort.
Sweet steering that happily feels related to the excellent XE and XF complements the I-Pace’s stability and grip, while the ability to squeeze on instant torque mid-corner makes Jaguar’s EV fantastically quick. Pin the quiet pedal mid-corner and it will punt you out of bends like you’ve just trodden on its tail. There’s no turbo-lag or downshifting to wait for here.
Lifting the throttle during fast corners nudges the I-Pace into oversteer, which is easily controlled. Conversely, slap-happy steering in tight corners will provoke understeer, yet the I-Pace requires no mental adjustment to get the best from it. This might be an all-electric, two-tonne all-wheel drive but you can man-handle it like any other 4.7m-long high-performance SUV. Thank that wheel-at-corner stance, not just its battery location.
A quick pit stop and yet another custard tart offers a chance to digest the I-Pace’s aesthetics.
With no engine to accommodate, its short bonnet is as threatening as a snub-nose .38, but unlike a Ruger, the electric Jag has accuracy and range. On a full charge, the Brits claim the I-Pace can cover 480km. An 80-percent charge is possible in 10 hours from a home 7kW wall box, or 40 minutes at a 100kW station.
On the inside, the I-Pace’s tech tour de force continues. There’s a digital screen for the instrument cluster, central display, climate-control panel; even the temperature/fan-speed dials are tiny screens. The whole package is wrapped up in more hide than a BDSM party, and a super-stiff body structure made from 94-percent aluminium resists squeaks and rattles caused by twisting on the road. Two adults will also be happy in the second row, with ample room and vision aided partly by a huge (optional) panoramic roof.
As if a scorching track stage and road trip aren't enough, the drive route takes an interesting turn towards unsurfaced territory. With a quick switch to an off-road setting, the I-Pace fords a water crossing and scales an impossibly steep and rocky hillside, with my presence required only for steering. It’s proof that electricity could be the future for all-terrain mobility too.
At this point, you’ll no doubt be jumping up and down pointing at the larger, identically priced Tesla Model X and regaling its ballistic acceleration, all-wheel-drive system and comparable range because, for now, there isn’t another genotype that gets closer to the I-Pace. But the Jaguar resoundingly pees on the bonfire that the Californian technology start-up lit. Yes, the Model X is faster in a straight line but that’s where its advantages end. Where the Tesla feels cumbersome and remote during fast dynamic driving, the Jaguar is fizzing with feedback.
The I-Pace’s comfortable, practical interior doesn’t need fancy doors to work, and it doesn’t require a specialised charge point to feed its batteries. It’s also undoubtedly handsome. Alongside the striking electric Jaguar, the Model X looks like a slightly embarrassed beluga whale. Tesla has done a commendable job creating its gull-winged brood hauler, but the Jag is clearly the product of a more established ethos.
Indeed, the I-Pace is an amazingly complete car, but timing will be critical in such an unknown segment. As bountiful government incentives entice electric-vehicle buyers in Europe and the US, the Jag’s arrival is spot-on, but in Australia, where alternative energy has few fans in high places, the I-Pace is going to struggle to find an audience when it arrives in October, despite its near-perfect scorecard.
The I-Pace’s local target market is also a complete enigma at this stage, though at least 10 orders have already been placed. Until there are more reasons to buy into the electric-vehicle movement in Australia, Jaguar isn’t going to sell the I-Pace in any real volume here. But this plug-in pioneer sets a precedent that is virtually guaranteed to start a trend.
Read next: 2018 Jaguar XF Review
JAGUAR I-PACE SPECS
Model: Jaguar I-Pace S
Engine: 2 x electric motors
Max power: 294kW
Max torque: 696Nm
Transmission: 1-speed epicyclic
0-100km/h: 4.8sec (claimed)
On sale: October