Jaguar’s innovative I-Pace goes after Tesla

This First Edition I-Pace, in Photon Red, is dressed for formal evenings in the city, but can ford as much as 20 inches of water.
This First Edition I-Pace, in Photon Red, is dressed for formal evenings in the city, but can ford as much as 20 inches of water. –Silvio Calabi

With every new model, automakers fervently hope to surprise the market — in a good way, of course. With the debut of the third member of its Pace family of SUVs, Jaguar scored a good-surprise trifecta.

First, the 2019 I-Pace is a sophisticated long-range electric vehicle (EV) with no internal-combustion backup. Second, it’s weirdly capable off-road. And third, it works on a racetrack, too. In fact, as our Photon Red First Edition I-Paces crested a steep, rutted dirt track, which the I-Jags had climbed with Adaptive Surface Response and no input from their drivers save for steering, we came upon the Algarve International Circuit, Portugal’s modern Formula One track.

After five years of design and engineering, 1.5 million miles of testing and more than 200 prototypes, the I-Pace is the most technologically advanced Jaguar ever. —Silvio Calabi

The I-Pace runs hard and sticks like glue. Gumball tires help; so does full-time all-wheel drive with torque vectoring, adjustable air suspension and drive modes, a rigid structure that’s 94 percent aluminum, slippery aerodynamics, wonderfully neutral fore-and-aft balance, and a very low center of gravity and responsive steering.

The ace up the I-Pace’s sleeve, though, is its powerful electric drive. Any dip into the throttle produces immediate, prodigious torque: a combined total of 512 pound-feet of it. I asked Jaguar’s pro drivers: Which Jag, the I-Pace or one of the F-Type roadsters, also on hand, would turn a faster lap? After muttering among themselves, they agreed (almost reluctantly) that the SUV might win. Mind you, they added, these were four-cylinder F-Types, with just 296 horsepower, and not the big V-8s, but still.

The I-Pace borrows cutting-edge off-road technology from its cousins in the Land Rover branch of the JLR corporate family, and electric drive allows precise throttle control. —Silvio Calabi Dealer Specials:

It was almost as surprising to watch I-Paces whoosh down the front straightaway at 120 miles per hour in electric silence. Welcome to the future.

The I-Pace is a crossover SUV by convention — four doors, a hatch, all-wheel drive, an integral chassis — but it defies convention, too. It’s a shape-shifter. Its footprint is a couple of inches longer and wider than a CR-V’s, but its roof is six-inches lower than the Honda’s and its wheels have been shoved out to the corners. There’s no bulky engine in its nose, either; just a small frunk. See how far forward the windshield reaches? This cabin is volumetrically optimized, as they say, with more rear legroom than a stretch Jaguar XJ sedan, plus a decent cargo bay. And everything inside feels deluxe, including a full-length UV-absorbing panoramic roof, tuned digital soundscape, touchscreens, controls, and premium seats.

With a powerful electric motor on each axle and the wheels pushed out to the corners, Jaguar’s innovative new premium EV (electric vehicle), the 2019 I-Pace, combines a roomy and luxurious cabin with all-weather SUV practicality and sportscar performance. —Silvio Calabi

The I-Pace is brilliant technologically, too. Each axle has its own compact, high-efficiency, 197-horsepower electric motor and single-speed transmission. These are unique items designed and made in-house, not bought from a supplier. The brakes provide regenerative charging to the 90 kWh lithium-ion battery pack below the (flat) floor; high-regen mode enables intuitive single-pedal driving. Just lift off the “gas” and the I-Pace slows quickly and reassuringly.

The I-Pace cabin is a refined and tailored space with touches of hand craftsmanship. —Silvio Calabi

Want to know the car’s charge level any time, or whether it’ll get you to the airport? Check your phone, or ask Alexa. The I-Pace also recognizes each driver and automatically sets his or her seat position, climate control and infotainment. This and much more is part of Jaguar’s “wired for life” package. Both fast Direct Current charging and home charging are possible.

Racing and off-roading aside, in daily use on highways and surface streets and in city congestion, the I-Pace is strikingly competent and comfortable, and wholly satisfying. Jaguar’s claims of up to 298 miles of electric range still need to be verified, and the market will pass judgment on I-Pace’s $70,000 to nearly $90,000 price tag (before tax credits), but a new, extended warranty should ease any reliability concerns.

The I-Pace center stack, with its “floating” lower console, presents a host of features: gear and drive-mode selector, climate control, infotainment, navigation, ride-height adjustment, forward-looking and top-down cameras, Web browser, 4G WiFi hotspot, dual touchscreens, and more. —Silvio Calabi

The two automotive hotspots right now are compact SUVs and clean, renewable electric power. Jaguar — a small British brand known for cars that resemble Cotswolds cottages or turn petrol into speed and noise — has beaten everyone else, including Tesla, to the mark here.

Welcome to the future.