2019 Jaguar I-Pace first drive review: This cat will hunt

The time has come for EVs to grow up. While cars like the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the 2018 Nissan Leaf show that everyday EVs are better than ever, buyers with a bit more discretionary income and a penchant for emissions-free motoring have had limited choices to say the least. Tesla has offered sedans and SUVs with blistering performance and everyday usability, but those wanting something different were left that way: wanting.

That's about to change. Audi's nearly ready to drop its electrifying E-Tron on the masses and, with Porsche spinning up the Mission E Taycan, Tesla's monopoly is properly under threat. However, the first real competition comes from a somewhat unlikely source: the $69,500 2019 Jaguar I-Pace. This all-electric crossover SUV will do 240 miles on a charge, delivers 394 horses through all four wheels and looks quite fetching. And did I mention it's a Jaguar?

Fast cat

The platform of the I-Pace is a layout that'll be familiar to EV fans: A big skateboard-shaped battery pack in the floor, flanked by stereo electric motors, one for the front and the second for the rear. This configuration offers a low center of gravity for good handling, all-wheel drive for all-weather performance and creates a flat platform upon which to build the rest of the car.

For the I-Pace it's a 90 kilowatt-hour battery pack sandwiched in there, about 10 percent smaller than the maximum range offered by the Tesla Model X, in the pack found on the $105,300 Model X 100D. No surprise that its range is smaller, at 240 miles on the EPA rating compared with 295 on the 100D. That's quite close to the 237 miles of the Model X 75D, which is also closer in price, starting at $79,500.

The I-Pace, however, is much smaller. Where the Model X seats up to seven in its three rows, the I-Pace maxes out at five across two. Opt for the five-seat configuration in your Model X and you can squeeze in 88 cubic feet of cargo, while the I-Pace sucks down just 25. You'll find that space behind the Jag's split 60/40 folding rear seats, while a petite frunk under the hood has room for for your fanny pack and little else. Fold down those rear seats, though, and you'll have 51 cubic feet at your disposal.

Jaguar I-Pace

The I-Pace isn't a car you're likely to see on the track too often, but it's quite capable, even on warm days.

Jaguar

Most Jaguar buyers will be more interested in acceleration times than cargo capacity, and there the I-Pace will disappoint few. Its pair of motors deliver a combined 394 horsepower, enough to scoot this crossover to 60 in just 4.5 seconds. That's 0.2 seconds quicker than the Model X 100D

Yes, that's damned close, but where the I-Pace should shine is in extended stints of demanded performance. Electric cars are notoriously sensitive to temperature, their battery packs shedding range at an alarming rate when running hot or cold. The I-Pace sports plenty of cooling, as you can tell by the rather traditional looking grille up front. This enabled the cars to stand up to multiple stints on a hot day at the demanding Algarve International Circuit in Portugal without loss of power or error messages.

According to Jaguar, the nose-mounted heat-exchanger can also extract warm air even on cold days, letting turn up the temp without also dialing up your range anxiety. We'll have to wait for some colder days before we can put that to the test.

Jaguar I-Pace

Tesla's got nothing on this. 

Jaguar

Comfy cat

So the I-Pace is quick, then, but being a Jaguar it must also be comfortable, and that it most certainly is. It starts with a cabin that's beautifully designed and wrapped in the kinds of luxe materials you'll want to reach out and touch. The fuzzy Alcantara-like headliner in particular received no shortage of fondling from yours truly during my two days in the car. 

The seats, too, offer just the right balance of support and suppleness, while potent heating and cooling will keep your bottom properly regulated. Rear passengers receive similarly plush accommodations, with the added benefit of a hidden shelf beneath their seats perfect for iPads or compact laptops. Headroom is generous front or rear, bolstered by the tinted glass roof that also creates an incredibly light, open feel.

Posh interior accoutrements are welcome, but it's the suspension that really defines the quality of a car's comfort, and there the Jag might not suit everyone's tastes. The I-Pace's ride with the optional air suspension is soft and supple, soaking up the many imperfections found on the (otherwise wonderful) roads in the Algarve region. In a near-silent EV like this there's plenty of opportunity for hearing complaints from the suspension or chassis, but none made themselves known.

That smoothness, however, extends to a feeling that the car is under-damped -- that is, a bit floaty. Hit a big bump or crest a rise and the car handles it nicely, but then takes a moment or two to resettle. Even in Dynamic mode the car is somewhat disconnected. While I was sadly unable to sample the base, fixed suspension, that may prove the better choice for those wanting more engagement.

So, not the sharpest handler, but still poised and engaging, with steering that's light yet precise with surprisingly good feel. Hustling through the turns requires some patience with the car's weight transfer, but it does change direction eagerly, with a reassuring amount of grip even from the base 20-inch wheels and tires. The optional 22-inch Pirelli P Zeros handle the asphalt with more aplomb, but they aren't worth the slight compromise in ride quality.

Jaguar I-Pace

The I-Pace offers a good mix of physical controls and capacitive touchscreens. 

Jaguar

Smart cat

The I-Pace marks the debut of Jaguar's InControl Touch Pro Duo infotainment system, which is similar to what we've seen on the Range Rover Velar. It starts with a 10-inch touchscreen that sits just above a sister 5.5-inch display, creating what Jag engineers refer to as the "flight deck." Top Gun aspirations aside, it's a clean layout that works reasonably well.

Up top you have access to the usual navigation and media offerings, plus vehicle settings. The smaller screen is primarily for HVAC-wrangling, though a set of simplified media controls can also be displayed down here. Two big, physical knobs adjust temperature plus seat heating and cooling. But unlike those on the Velar, they have no other functionality.

If that's not enough displays for you, a third rests behind the steering wheel, a fully digital gauge cluster that dynamically reconfigures to your every whim. This, unfortunately, is when things start to get muddy. Many of the vehicle settings, like enabling the car's (quite comprehensive) adaptive cruise and lane-keep systems, must be toggled here via a thumbwheel mounted on the steering wheel's left stalk. Many other crucial vehicle settings, like adjusting the amount of regenerative braking, are buried deep within submenus in the main 10-inch touchscreen. Jaguar hopes to streamline some of these interactions through future software updates, but until then owners would be wise to budget some time to learn all the menus before heading out on the road.

Jaguar I-Pace

As you plot your route, the I-Pace will dynamically indicate your anticipated remaining charge. 

Jaguar

That's all made worse by occasionally slow responses. When tapping on a given icon or even scrolling through the gauge cluster settings, I often saw slight but noticeable lag, resulting in my tapping something twice unnecessarily or scrolling past the desired setting. It almost feels like CPU upgrade time on a PC.

Though sluggish, the system is being asked to do some interesting and novel things, starting with the navigation. The car will not only automatically recommend charging stations along your route should you stretch the limits of that 90-kWh pack, it will also look at the topography of that route to determine how much charge you'll need to get there. The I-Pace also learns your driving habits, though I'm happy to report it didn't chide me for my enthusiastic and frequent use of the accelerator pedal.

Those sorts of smarts extend into the climate system, which automatically enables or disables cooling for front and rear passengers based on pressure sensors in the seats. Riding solo? Only the driver's side vents will operate. Picking up the kids at school? The cabin will quickly adjust and keep them cool, too.

These are simple but genuinely useful extensions to the car that make it a better EV, but all those smarts are let down by two major omissions: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The need for these is admittedly lessened by the Jag's excellent integrated navigation, but the lack of both at launch is a true head shaker in 2018. Thankfully, Jaguar has promised they're coming in a later software update.

Jaguar I-Pace

Low-profile, 22-inch wheels and tires are standard on the First Edition and look great, but the base 20-inch set offers a better blend of performance and ride quality.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Poised cat

So those are all the details, but what's the thing actually like to drive? It's genuinely fun, much more so than your average crossover SUV. It accelerates with urgency at any speed, surging forward even on a highway at the sorts of speeds where lesser EVs are running out of steam. Yes, the acceleration is far short of Ludicrous, but still capable of embarrassing plenty of properly quick cars, including Jaguar's own F-Type in supercharged V6 form.

That instant throttle response is as addictive here as it is in every powerful EV, but in the I-Pace those surges of acceleration come with something not found on any other major production EV: an engine noise. Yes, put the I-Pace in its sportiest Dynamic mode and, by default, the car emits a subtle hum that sounds like someone put a V8 in the trunk of the Jetsons' flying pod. The disparate layers sitting on top of each other feel discordant at times, and frankly it's an even more egregious sort of fake engine sound than the ones I hate on modern BMWs and elsewhere.

And yet, for some reason, I like it. I'm as surprised to admit that as you. The majority of those who actually sat in the car and sampled it liked it as well. Sound is such a fundamental part of sporty Jaguars (the F-Type SVR is legendarily unkind to neighbors) that the company wanted to add something here. I think it actually succeeded in doing not just something, but something interesting. Jaguar was intelligent enough to know that not everybody would like the sound, however, so it's easily disabled in the car's menus.

If you can find the appropriate menu, that is.

Once disabled, or in Comfort mode, the car is blissfully quiet, wind noise only starting to really become noticeable when you enter triple digits on the highway. (That's in kilometers per hour, mom.) This, plus the quality of the interior, create a relaxing space that'll keep you happy and comfortable for the 3 hours or so that you can reasonably expect to cover on a single charge.

When it's time to stop, the I-Pace supports the CCS standard for level 3 fast, DC charging, though only at 100kW. This'll provide an 80-percent charge in 40 minutes, or about half as fast as your average Tesla at a Supercharger. Home charging on Level 2 will take approximately 10 hours to get to 80 percent.

Jaguar I-Pace

Not that you likely would, but it's nice to know you could. 

Jaguar

Nice kitty

After two days and hundreds of miles I was left thoroughly impressed by the Jaguar I-Pace. I've been fortunate enough to drive every production model that Tesla has ever produced and, in terms of interior quality and overall driving refinement, Jag's new EV has them all licked. I think it's better looking, too. But while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Tesla still reigns in terms of outright power and ultimate range -- not to mention speed and availability of charging.

That's all rather academic, though, since Tesla doesn't yet make a premium crossover SUV. Jaguar's I-Pace stands alone for now, defining its own segment for those desiring an engaging, attractive, luxurious and fast crossover SUV with character. I-Pace is a much-needed alternative choice on the EV landscape, and a damned good one. 


Editors' note: Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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