Due to hit Australian roads in November, Jaguar's I-PACE shows why Tesla’s head start in the electric SUV market is officially over.
To know Ian Callum is to understand why he was the right person to create the Jaguar I-Pace, and to understand why it’s a success.
The Jaguar design director is a famously convivial Scot, a man of far-ranging interests. He reads C.S. Lewis, restores old Porsche 914s, and consumes an omnivorous diet of music, to which he listens while he designs.
He’s also the darling of automotive critics everywhere. Maybe it’s his disarmingly humble Scottish brogue that announces him simultaneously as one of the boys and the leader of the pack. Maybe they love him because he gave the world the Aston Martin DB7 and DB9, the Vanquish, the Jaguar F-Type, and the Nissan R390, a rear-wheel-drive Le Mans racing car. Each of these embodies Callum’s ability to push car design forward at historic brands.
Callum's latest play is Jaguar's first purely electric vehicle. The low-riding, compact I-PACE is an SUV that you might compare against everything from the Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid, Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC.
I’m not going to call it a Tesla-killer – the Model S and Model X remain automotive all-stars. But the I-Pace is the first vehicle that holds its own against them in terms of range, performance, technology, and design.
It’s also the logical next step for Callum’s evolution as a designer. As the company attempts to regain its heyday after a severe depression in design and performance and never making a profit under Ford Motor’s reign in the 1990s and early 2000s, it’s the right vehicle for Jaguar to launch now.
“Jaguar has always been about innovation,” Callum told me, explaining why it’s natural, though unexpected, for an 84-year-old British racing brand to turn around and produce an all-electric vehicle, and an SUV at that. “We have to embrace the new; we have to find ways to push things forward.”
The I-PACE looks distinctively like a Jaguar, with a low-slung roofline, wide stance, and gently curved hood – no small feat for a futuristic 2.2-ton rig that must find space to store a large 90-kilowatt-hour battery under its floor.
In my driving, it performed as well as any electric vehicle you’ll find on the market today. Jaguar has given the I-Pace two motors that send 294kW of power and 696Nm of torque to all four wheels.
It can hit 100kph in 4.8 seconds, which puts it on par with much more expensive vehicles like the Porsche Macan E-Hybrid and entry levels of the Model X. Top speed is 200kph
The gearless, instant torque turns highway exits and on-ramps into a thrilling experience. With its quietly whirring motor, it creeps up on BMWs and Audis jogging through traffic and easily dusts them.
But the regenerative brakes take some getting used to: the strongest of the two modes of regenerative brakes slows the car the moment you lift your foot off the accelerator, which is a weird sensation when you’re used to driving cars that simply coast when you let off the gas.
Otherwise, the I-Pace feels glued to the road, riding so low there’s no apparent body roll, and as good a handling around corners and switching lanes as you’ll find in the Model X. It’s no sports car, but it’s responsive enough.
The I-Pace has a range of roughly 470km, which at least matches the general going rate set by the Tesla Model X (or what Callum refers to as Elon’s “breadbox”) coupled to a very useful fast charge capability so you spend less time drumming your fingers and more time driving.
On a day trip with the Model X, I spent hours unwillingly waiting inside a Denny’s while the vehicle charged. Never again, I grumbled to myself for days afterward.
Charging on the I-Pace takes 40 minutes to get from zero to 80 percent full at a 100-kilowatt rapid charge station (or add 100km driving range in 15 minutes), or 85 minutes at a more common 50kW charger.
Home charging with the optional $1,500 7kW wall box will get the I-Pace from zero to 80 percent in 10 hours, or basically overnight.
(Using a regular AC socket will take around 38 hours to deliver a full charge, so you won't want to rely on this for anything more than an overnight trickle.)
Jaguar and local operator Jet Charge will offer charging stations at all 45 Jaguar dealerships across Australia, including a dozen outlets at Jaguar's Sydney HQ, with I-PACE owners receiving a three-year subscription to Jet Charge’s own Chargefox network.
That 90-kWh battery contains 432 pouch cells that help aid this process. According to Callum, they’re preferable to use for their high energy density and superior heat management - after all, one of the biggest challenges about engineering electric vehicles is figuring out how best to keep the batteries cool.
Because of this, the exterior of the I-Pace is designed to maximize airflow.
The hood and front grille area feature a subtle scooped-out ventricle all across the top that funnels air from the front and shapes how it flows over the car. Its radiator-looking front is curved inward to pull air inside and through to its underbelly.
At the back, a high and blunt square spoiler over the rear windshield keeps flowing air attached to the vehicle, as it were, which limits turbulence and minimizes drag.
In fact, the exterior styling is the most exciting thing about the I-Pace. I mean this as a good thing. In the midsize luxury SUV segment where every new model looks bland at best and forgettable at worst, Callum has managed to do what he says is more difficult than creating something original – he created something rather beautiful.
Inside, the driver can select high or low levels of regenerative braking to assist in improving efficiency and vehicle range. The high regenerative braking mode theoretically allows you to drive with just the accelerator, never touching the brake, since the car decelerates automatically when the driver lifts off the gas pedal.
The rest of this relatively compact, 4.7-metre-long SUV (it’s within an inch of Jaguar’s small XE sedan, for instance, though it looks much longer) flows without a seam into these two ends, topped by a large panoramic sunroof and flanked by 22-inch wheels (18- and 20-inch come standard, though I predict few buyers will end up with them).
It offers three largely cosmetic trim level options: S, SE, and HSE. All of them look elegant and have the weight of quality materials well-deployed.
Inside, there’s significantly constricted visibility out the rear windows, but the cabin is otherwise spacious and sunlit. There are smart cellphone storage options, and the seats are easy to adjust. It fits five adults and has enough storage in the back (0.7 cubic metres) to fit overnight bags for all of them, should you take that ill-advised road trip.
An electric powertrain provides more freedom to maximize the space inside the car, since there is a lot less, mechanically speaking, to take up room between the axles. (On the other hand, with all that space, the lack of visibility for the driver becomes even more frustrating.)
The two clever central command screens combine touch technology with comforting tactile controls (sometimes buttons and knobs are the best tools for the job) that monitor climate, navigation, audio, driving characteristics, and dual-mode regenerative brakes.
You can do things like adjust cabin air ionization (it mitigates smells and improves air quality) and preheat or precool the interior of the I-Pace using the touchscreen or, remotely, the smartphone app. If you do it while the I-Pace charges, you can hit your goal temp without using power from the battery, thus preserving the driving range for when you get inside.
It all feels as refined, quiet, and sensibly dutiful inside as it feels to drive. Deliveries start in November at $119,000 plus on-road costs for the base model I-PACE S, with the SE at $130,200; the HSE at $140,800; and the fully-spec'd 'First Edition' at $159,700.