Could this week’s road test subject be the most significant new car to leave the halls of a British manufacturer since the McLaren F1?

Don’t bet against it. For one thing, it is remarkable that the Jaguar I-Pace – not just a new Jaguar but a new breed of Jaguar, remember – was conceived in a mere four years.

Regardless of our verdict, this is a courageous project from a marque whose total annual sales amount to a fraction of what big-hitting Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz can muster. Despite the greater R&D budgets of its rivals, Jaguar has become the first established luxury car brand to bring its expertise to bear on a zero-emissions product.

The curious paradox is that the I-Pace is simultaneously the most limited and unrestricted Jaguar yet built. On one hand, to fulfil its potential it relies on the scope of a charging infrastructure outside of Jaguar’s direct control, and owners will need to plan activities in a way they simply wouldn’t need to if they owned a petrol-powered car. On the other, this opulently sleek, long-range electric car is claimed to accelerate to 60mph in less than five seconds but is uncommonly spacious within owing to its cleverly packaged powertrain.

I t can also perform software updates ‘over the air’; can wade to a depth that’s typically the preserve of purpose-built off-roaders; is clever enough to save battery charge by only activating air vents for the seats in which passengers are actually sitting; and should, claims Jaguar, set new benchmarks on crossover SUV handling with perfect weight distribution, a low centre of gravity and a focus on feel. Early drives have suggested its four-wheel-drive powertrain also has huge potential off the beaten track, though that is to be followed up on another occasion.

On this one, our aim is to discover whether the I-Pace is good enough for you to put that Tesla Model S order on hold; or maybe even if its versatility and dynamism can convince us to give up hydrocarbons altogether.

Design & Styling

Jaguar claims the I-Pace takes aesthetic inspiration from the C-X75 concept. You might wonder what an electric family car could possibly have in common with a turbine-powered hybrid hypercar, but similarities do exist. Both feature cab-forward proportions, and both have similar broad, Tarmac-sniffing snouts and a commensurately low, vented bonnet.

The rear of the I-Pace is more of a departure, being tall and squared off for a commendably low drag coefficient of 0.29. Incidentally, it’s Jaguar design director Ian Callum’s least favourite element, although to our eyes lends the car a rakishly robust, super-distinctive and appealing visual character.

But how to classify the I-Pace? It is exactly a centimetre longer than an XE and yet its wheelbase eclipses that of the XF mid-size saloon. It presents as an SUV but sits conspicuously low to the ground by the standards of such cars. It’s also supercar-wide, at 2139mm, including mirrors.

Underneath the aluminium bodywork resides an electric powertrain of predictable architecture. A ‘skateboard’ battery pack (423 lithium ion cells, liquid cooled) of 90kWh is spread below the cabin floor and sits entirely within the car’s wheelbase for a claimed 50:50 weight distribution (53:47 as tested).

It drives a lightweight permanent-magnet electric motor on each axle. Each drives through a single-speed epicyclic transmission and open differential (there is brake-based torque vectoring in lieu of a locking diff) for maximum compactness.

At low speeds, the I-Pace is powered by just one of its motors, though on our EV400 test car, both can combine to deliver 394bhp and 512lb ft through all four wheels, and a claimed 0-60mph time of 4.5sec – the latter coming despite a claimed 2133kg kerb weight, which presented as 2236kg on the scales in the case of our test car. And when we tested a Model S with precisely the same battery capacity in 2016? It weighed an almost identical 2230kg.

Range for the I-Pace is quoted at 292 miles on the new WLTP lab test cycle, with the battery capable of charging to 80% in 40 minutes from a 100kW DC rapid charger. A full charge from a 7kW home wallbox takes a fraction under 13 hours.

Thus far, the decisions have been made for you. That changes when it comes to the suspension, which operates through an encouragingly conventional double wishbone front and integral-link rear design. As standard, the I-Pace is equipped with a passive steel coil suspension set-up.

Adaptive air suspension (it lowers the car beyond 65mph for a more aerodynamic stance and can raise it at low speeds for greater ground clearance) and adaptive dampers (for an even more driver-configurable drive) are offered as options – and both were fitted to our test car.

Interior

“The best Jaguar cabin in years” was how one tester described the I-Pace’s interior, a claim that – for the most part – is entirely warranted.

Material selection is key here. Gloss black and metal panelling sit alongside leather-upholstered surfaces and slick digital touchscreens for a sense of slick modern sophistication.

However, if you look a little closer, there are one or two areas where Jaguar might have done a little better. The tray that covers the cupholders in the centre console, for instance, is made from a kind of plastic that has no place in a car costing upwards of £60,000, and there are one or two other material low points among the car’s minor switchgear.

These low points are few and far between, however. The I-Pace sets standards on perceived quality and material richness that would impress anyone.

The car’s ergonomics are also very good. Optional ‘performance seats’, while firm, provide plenty of lateral support, while their 14-way electronic adjustability and memory settings streamline the process of settling in behind the wheel. The seats up front are heated and cooled, while seat heaters in the rear are also included, helping justify the £3940 asking price for the uprated seats.

Those in the back reap the benefits of that ‘cab-forward’ design and lengthy wheelbase too; there are executive saloon levels of leg room on offer, while head room isn’t in short supply even with the £960 fixed panoramic roof optioned. The boot, meanwhile, is a useful 656 litres, while under the bonnet there’s an additional 27-litre storage bin. Good luck fitting anything other than a laptop bag in here, though. It’s worth noting that a Model S offers more, with a 690-litre boot and a 150-litre storage area at its nose.

The infotainment system is arguably the weakest aspect of the I-Pace’s entire cabin. While the integration of the twin screens into the upper and lower dash fascia has been executed very tidily indeed, the responsiveness of the software along with a lack of intuitiveness are ultimately the system’s undoing.

There’s a noticeable degree of lag between input and response that might be acceptable on a more run-of-the-mill infotainment system but needs to be ironed out when applied to a vehicle costing in excess of £60,000.

These grumbles aside, the level of features that you get with the system is at least acceptable. DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation and a rear-view parking camera are all included as standard.

That said, Jaguar doesn’t make specifying Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility an option, which seems like a missed opportunity owing to their superior intuitiveness. Meridian sound systems are standard across the board, with an 825W surround sound system available as a £600 option.

Performance

The I-Pace’s two-way average 0-60mph time of 4.5sec marks it out loud and clear as a seriously fast family car, but it’s the manner in which it picks up pace from urban speeds that makes it seem special.

With our timing gear rigged up, the electric Jaguar clocked a 30-70mph time of just 3.5sec. Admittedly, that’s not quite super-saloon levels of pace, but the fact that the last Mercedes C63 AMG Black Series was only 0.2sec quicker showcases just how potent a thing the I-Pace is.

Acceleration off the line is deliciously constant and linear, pushing you back into those firmer performance seats with some force. The only caveat is that there seems to be a brief scrabble for traction at the front end, as the I-Pace’s 2.2-tonne weight shifts backwards.

For a relevant benchmark, look no further than the Model S P90D we tested back in 2016. It was quicker both to 60mph from rest and from 30-70mph than the Jaguar. The I-Pace’s performance feels more balanced than the Model S’s did, however; not quite as breathtaking from rest, sure, but tailing off less at motorway speeds, as if Jaguar had deliberately chosen longer gearing than Tesla to trade a bit of headline-making 0-60mph performance for more balanced real-world pace.

The powertrain’s responsiveness is, of course, what takes the most getting used to and what makes it so compelling to interact with. Gaps in traffic become that much more accessible owing to the rapidity with which the electric Jaguar responds to your right foot’s inputs, while getting up to motorway speeds from a crawl takes virtually no time at all.

It’s a touch disappointing that the I-Pace isn’t quite as hushed out on the motorway as you might expect an electric vehicle to be, particularly one positioned towards the more expensive end of the market. At a 70mph trot, our sound meter recorded cabin noise at 66dB, which is 1dB louder than that of a Model S. This was largely down to road roar from those 20in alloys, and the propensity of the car’s aluminium body structure to conduct it into the cabin.

Under emergency-stop conditions, with the full extent of the brake pedal’s travel being exercised, the I-Pace will pull to a halt from 70mph in 46.7m on a dry stretch of road. The heavier, more powerful Model S, on the other hand, required 51.7m on a damp track.

Ride & Handling

It’s no stretch to call the I-Pace a milestone in the dynamic development of electric cars. Thus far, the genre has been hamstrung by its inability to deliver anything offering satisfactory levels of feel, agility or engagement, to the extent that it seems many manufacturers simply gave up on the prospect early on. But where there has been mostly darkness, the I-Pace brings light.

Jaguar’s electromechanical steering not only possesses pleasing heft but weights up in a linear fashion. It’s also just about quick enough to yield an agility unknown to cars this heavy, and so in the I-Pace you flow through direction changes with an economy of movement that comes as a pleasant surprise.

Of course, weight is the biggest dynamic barrier for electric cars, and yet the Jaguar manages well here also. It is not by any stretch a light car, but confining the battery pack to a low, wide section of chassis real-estate between the axles does to some extent convert a weakness into a strength. On its optional air suspension, even committed cornering is dispatched with impressively little body roll and a neutral balance that will be alien to those familiar with a Model S.

There is some throttle adjustability, too, and through corners you get the welcome sensation of the car confidently pushing itself along – up to a point. Heavy-handed driving will always be punished, though. The car’s narrow tyres clearly have only so much to give and, when they run out of grip, the I-Pace’s electronic stability program interjects in abrupt and draconian fashion – probably the only way it can to save the driver from dialling up so much instant torque at the outside wheels that the understeer would be cataclysmic.

The good news? That a well-timed lift will see the rear axle gently rotate during corner entry. And furthermore that, if you’re smooth and proportionate with your inputs, the I-Pace responds with a delicate, level, fluent keenness we’ve not yet seen from larger electric cars until now. Less delicate is the ride quality.

With so much weight and power to contain, it was almost inevitable the I-Pace would seem firm in most driving scenarios. The car can fidget over bigger intrusions and body movements are sometimes dealt with a touch too abruptly for our liking. This is not to say the car is at all jarring about town or uncouth at a cruise, but there is room for improvement in both respects.

The I-Pace’s clever packaging and potent electric performance would have had more of a chance to shine here were it not for an incredibly heavy-handed electronic stability program. Any downwards vertical travel through the many compressions of the Millbrook Hill Route seemed to be particularly good at setting the systems off, which would then result in a complete, though temporary, loss of power.

Past this, however, the I-Pace’s sense of balance and agility are really rather impressive. It will change direction with far more conviction than a Telsa Model S, which can at times feel as though its weight is still travelling one direction long after you’ve turned the wheel. Those 245/50 section tyres provide decent, though not brilliant, levels of grip.

Verdict

With its first all-electric model, Jaguar has not only beaten wealthier rivals to the punch but also set a high bar for those to come after it.

The I-Pace is not quite the dynamic masterstroke some might have expected, but plainly has enough dynamism for owners to take much encouragement and satisfaction from the car’s driving experience. The car also has performance bordering on the wild, a design effective in being progressive yet recognisably Jaguar, and a fine interior – all of which should secure it the consideration of anyone who cares about driving and sustainability.

The scarcity of compatible rapid-charging infrastructure means those owners may be frustrated when not allowed to use their cars for the effortless long-distance cruising to which the I-Pace would otherwise be suited. Moreover, its electronic chassis aids and torque vectoring systems don’t quite deliver the revolutionary handling we were promised.

But, to keep proper perspective, we must give due recognition to Jaguar: it has produced a true driver’s car here – and a bold, appealing and hugely innovative one at that.

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Categories: Electric cars

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