It’s only a bit over a decade ago that Jaguar was desperately trying to overturn its fuddy-duddy, tweed-jacket image after years of stagnating design. Then up turned designer Ian Callum and the brand-redefining 2008 XF sedan.
This time, Jaguar is not playing catch-up to its traditional German luxury-marque rivals. This time, Jaguar is taking the lead – in the fightback against electric-car start-up upstart Tesla.
The I-Pace is the British carmaker’s first vehicle to dispense with an internal combustion engine. Jaguar calls the I-Pace an SUV, though that’s arguably doing a disservice to what is a fairly radical design. It could just as easily be viewed a high-roofed sedan as a chopped-roof sports utility vehicle. There’s certainly minimum off-road pretence.
Step inside and you quickly appreciate how electric cars will give carmakers greater flexibility with vehicle packaging as a result of removing the large lump of metal up front (and all its associated plumbing).
There’s more cabin space than you’d expect from a vehicle that is about the same length (4.7m) as the XE compact sedan and shorter than the F-Pace SUV. The key aspects are those front overhangs and the wheelbase that’s only a few centimetres shorter than the distance between the front and rear axles of the 5.1m XJ limo.
Rear legroom is plentiful, and headroom is fine, too, even with a stylish, fixed glass sunroof in place (which brings extra welcome light, and costs $3380 unless you get the First Edition). Taller riders may just find the curvature of the roof line closer than they’d like.
Practical elements include a centre armrest with lidded tray and cupholders, two USB ports, 12-volt socket, net pockets, and door bins that will take (smaller-sized) drinks bottles. There are also vents in the door pillars.
The rear seats split-fold to increase luggage capacity to nearly 1500 litres. That’s not quite the cargo-swallowing ability of the XF Sportbrake (1700L maximum), though the I-Pace’s 656L boot trumps the wagon (540L) as well as the F-Pace (508L).
There would be even more space if it weren’t for the I-Pace’s plummeting roof line, or that short rear overhang, though you can understand why Callum and his team didn’t want to spoil the Jag’s sporty proportions/silhouette.
From the driver’s seat, the sloping rear reduces rear vision, so the standard 360-degree parking aid camera and lane-keep assist are likely to be appreciated by owners.
The $130,200 mid-range SE model we tested – positioned above the $119,000 entry S and below the $140,800 HSE – also includes blind-spot monitoring.
It’s not just trim-grade names Jaguar has borrowed from sister brand Land Rover. The I-Pace’s dual-touchscreen Touch Duo Pro system links it visually with the dashboards of the latest Rangies, albeit with a Jaguar flavour – with more curves and angles to the interior design rather than being all squared up and vertical.
It’s also obvious Jaguar has used the I-Pace as a marker for improved cabin quality, even if fit and finish weren’t perfect in a couple of places on our test car.
Another point of design difference: the bridge-style centre console, and push-button transmission control instead of the rotary dial found on most JLR SUVs. Just select the D button after pressing the start button on the dash and you’re ready to go.
For those who’ve never driven an EV before, a period of acclimatisation will be needed – mainly to get used to the regenerative braking that helps charge the I-Pace’s battery on the move, but almost makes the brake pedal redundant.
Lift off the accelerator pedal and the I-Pace starts slowing at a considerably faster rate than a conventionally powered car – to the point where you’re likely to find yourself returning to the throttle pedal to reach a junction or set of traffic lights.
It’s not a negative in our book: it quickly becomes instinctive that you can leave it very late to slow the car around town, essentially using the brake pedal only at the last moment to bring the Jaguar to a complete standstill.
And there is the option of Low Level regenerative braking, which trades lower battery charging for a more natural coasting behaviour. We found the brake feel more inconsistent in this mode, though; in High Level we also occasionally experienced a graunching sound when bringing the I-Pace to a stop (which Jaguar couldn’t explain).
There was also some occasional creaking evident from the rear-left of the cabin. Also noticeable, but more natural, is the whine from the electric motors above 80km/h, because the I-Pace is otherwise such a quiet vehicle to drive.
It’s also satisfying to drive. While some drivers may miss the sound of a Jaguar V8, or even supercharged V6, this is a Jaguar that very much stays on brand with performance.
The electric, all-wheel driveline is a beauty – so fantastically linear and responsive in a way even the best internal-combustion engines can’t match. Acceleration is superb, whether the Jaguar is rolling already or taking off from a stationary position.
It’s not quite the eye-widening experience of the ($200,000-plus) Tesla Model X P100D’s Ludicrous mode, but give the throttle pedal a purposeful push and the I-Pace pins you back in your seat. A 0–100km/h quote of 4.8 seconds sees off a 100 D Model X that’s more closely aligned on price, while seeing off most Jaguars. There’s even a hint of V8 burble that’s introduced artificially.
To say the I-Pace’s ride isn’t quite as smooth as its drivetrain would be harsh as that’s a tough ask, especially for the SE model with its big, 20-inch wheels (up from the S’s 18s). While they contribute to some minor low-speed brittleness across sharper bumps and cat's eyes, the Jaguar is plenty comfortable whether it's traversing urban streets or country roads.
The Goodyear Eagle F1 SUV tyres fitted to our SE were surprisingly quiet on coarse surfaces, too – if not necessarily the grippiest if trying to drive the I-Pace like an F-Type.
There’s an enjoyable level of handling here, though. Jaguar says the I-Pace’s centre of gravity is 13cm lower than the F-Pace’s thanks to that ‘skateboard’ battery-pack platform. Carry speed into a corner and there is indeed body roll more typical of a Jaguar XF sedan than F-Pace SUV – i.e. less.
The I-Pace also turns into corners responsively, showing an agility that defies its 2100kg kerb weight (yes, batteries still make EVs very heavy things). Our test car featured optional air suspension ($2002) with automatically adjusting dampers (Adaptive Dynamics, $2405).
Good steering also helps. If not as brilliant as the steering found in the XE compact sedan, the I-Pace’s steering offers all the traditional Jaguar accuracy when turning the front wheels. There’s a tight turning circle, and the I-Pace’s generous width doesn’t feel intimidating.
All very well, but what about the Jag’s range, I (probably) hear you ask? The Brit-brand claims a 470km maximum range on a single charge, a figure achieved on Europe’s new, tougher WLTP test cycle. Our week with the I-Pace suggested that figure is realistic – at least based around regular, everyday driving.
For commuting-style parts of our test, the I-Pace’s battery range read-out dropped commensurately with the kilometres we drove. There was less correlation between actual distance covered and range kilometres ‘lost’ when we took the I-Pace onto country roads (including some dynamic assessment) and freeways.
And with Australia’s EV charging infrastructure still very much in its embryonic stages, there’s still not a high degree of confidence for I-Pace owners considering longer distances. Jaguar says it has more news to come on its infrastructure plans for the I-Pace. Last year it teamed up with charging specialist Jetcharge.
That 470km range at least dispels any range anxiety for normal daily driving. Based on our experience, even using a simple domestic power socket will boost the I-Pace’s charge by between 80 and 85km overnight (about nine hours charging). Owners with a garage can have a $2280 7kW AC wallbox installed that’s three times faster – or about 35km of extra range per hour, according to Jaguar.
Find one of the public 50kW DC rapid charger stations that are around in limited numbers, and Jaguar says it’s possible to boost the I-Pace’s battery from zero to 80 per cent in about 40 minutes. (You just need the $425 optional public charging cable.)
(Follow CarAdvice’s I-Pace long-term reviews and you can read about our experience of living with the electric Jaguar.)
Jaguar is certainly throwing out enticements for I-Pace prospects. Besides a separate eight-year (160,000km) warranty for the battery, the I-Pace’s standard warranty is five years/200,000km compared with three years/100,000km for every other Jag’. Five years of servicing and roadside assistance are thrown in, too.
That’s not all. While taking into account this is a vehicle that costs $120,000 upwards, the I-Pace is possibly the most well specified Jaguar (or Land Rover) for the money.
We’re not suggesting the Jaguar’s options list looks like it’s been borrowed from a Lexus, but the features that are optional actually seem reasonable extras instead of begging the question, ‘Why isn’t this standard?’ (Okay, digital radio shouldn’t be an option!).
The SE model we tested is arguably the sweet-spot of the range. Priced from $130,200, it adds plenty of good features over the $119,900 entry S: bigger wheels, premium LED headlights with daytime running lights, fully electric front seats, auto tailgate, and grained-leather upholstery (‘Luxtec’ for the S).
And as part of a standard Drive Pack that’s optional on the S, there’s autonomous emergency braking that works at higher speeds (up to 160km/h), adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring. (A $2230 Drive Assist Pack adds a 360-degree camera and partial self-steering for the adaptive cruise.)
The $140,800 HSE also sits on 20-inch wheels (though different style) but adds key features including Windsor leather seats, a fixed panoramic roof, four-zone climate control, configurable ambient lighting, and a head-up display.
It’s incredible to think Jaguar turned this vehicle around in just three or so years. That might have suggested it was being rushed to market just to make a statement. Yet not only does the I-Pace look like a Jaguar and drive like a Jaguar, it’s the brand’s stand-out model in more ways than one.