The New Electric Pace-setter
The 2019 Jaguar I-Pace is a Jaguar first and an electric car second. Ensconced inside the leather- and metallic-filled interior of the I-Pace, there’s no clear hint of its all-electric powertrain. Press “D” on the unique transmission panel and the electric world opens up to you. As you would expect from a Jaguar, the power is immediate and grand; the suspension is taught, but not rigid, and reminders of luxury are always within touch.
Jaguar has been previewing the I-Pace for some time—a classic long intro—and I’d seen prototypes and production-intent models in auto shows as well as viewed numerous online photos of the all-wheel drive crossover. To me, it didn’t scream SUV the way the bulbous Model X (and virtually all of the other large modern crossovers) does. Instead, the cab-forward I-Pace looks like a sporty hatchback sedan or maybe a shooting brake (English-speak for station wagon). The compact exterior hides a midsize interior, the result of optimizing the design to take advantage of electric vehicle packaging.
Taking It to the Hills
I was able to take the 2019 Jaguar I-Pace for two short drives in conjunction with its consumer introduction in the San Francisco Bay Area (the “Jaguar Electrifies Experience” program’s first stop; it’s moves on to Miami, Los Angeles and New York City ). In order to get a better feel for what Jaguar had created, my Jaguar co-driver allowed me to deviate from the street drive route and take a detour into the nearby hills in search of some roads with a bit more personality. We managed to find them, and I put the I-Pace to a bit more of a challenge than the traffic-light-to-traffic-light course in the flats. The Jag did not disappoint. With several hundred pounds of lithium-ion batteries slung below the seats (resulting in a 100-mm step-in height increase), it’s no exaggeration to say the 4,784-pound I-Pace easily stays planted, but does not feel as heavy as its weight indicates. Add in 394-horsepower from dual electric motors driving two wheels each, and you have the formula for a satisfying driver experience.
My second time behind the wheel took place on an interesting slalom course that was another part of the program. The course was unlike any I’d experienced before. While it consisted of the usual gates, it lacked a defined course. In place of lines, each gate was topped by electronic lights that signaled which gate was next—as well as the one that would follow. The computer-selected gates shifted the focus from following a course to making sure you had the I-Pace positioned properly to hit the next gate.
The course demonstrated the I-Pace’s ability to quickly react to driver input and maintain a great equilibrium while traversing a topsy-turvy slalom. I walked away even more impressed with the attention to handling that Jaguar has built into its first electric model.
Its Place in the Electric World
The 2019 Jaguar I-Pace is a significant model. It represents the first mainstream challenge to Tesla’s electric juggernaut. While some automakers might have tried to challenge the wild features of the Model X (its gull-wing doors, slick seats or monstrous electronic screen, Jaguar took a more conservative—Jaguaresque if you will—route. The company focused first on creating a Jaguar that had an electric powertrain, investing much of the company’s engineering expertise into the project rather than just assembling off-the-shelf technology. The result, in my view, is the antidote to the high-tech, ultra-modern Model X—a refined, powerful, traditional luxury crossover that is all-electric.
Jaguar also added another very-Jaguar element—real off-road ability. Since Jaguar incorporates Land Rover as part of its brand, augmenting the streetability of the I-Pace with off-road capability was not a stretch. The I-Pace can increase its ride height by four inches, which, combined with its sophisticated four-wheel electric drive system, creates a formidable machine that can challenge much more serious off-roading than the street-oriented Model X (as well as many other conventionally powered crossovers).
None of this is to say that the Model X suffers in comparison to the I-Pace. Both are formidable electric vehicles that have much to say for themselves. The key with the 2019 Jaguar I-Pace is that it is a Jaguar, which will be a comfort to Jaguar aficionados and others looking for a major auto companies’ name on a luxury electric crossover. More are coming (from Mercedes, BMW, Audi and others), but for now Jaguar stands alone and should be able to carve out a serious niche for itself while waiting for more competition. It’s arriving at dealerships and is priced starting at $69,500.
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