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.
?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