New Jaguar I-Pace early drive review

5 Mar, 2018 5:00pm John McIlroy

Thorough engineering is evident in the Jaguar I-Pace as we get a brief taste of Jag’s new electric car


Jaguar insiders have been excited about the I-Pace for a long time, and even after this short squirt around a slow course, we can see why. For all its ground-up newness, it feels like how a mainstream manufacturer would (and should) build a pure-electric car - as an evolution of the combustion-engined creations that have served us all so well over the years, cherry-picking the benefits of electric motoring while trying its hardest to temper the downsides. And there’s nothing wrong with that; if anything, the level of thorough engineering that’s evident in this car just leaves us desperate for a full, comprehensive test on British roads.

The Jaguar I-Pace is arguably the most radical vehicle in the British manufacturer’s 82-year history - the first proper Tesla rival from a mainstream brand and, crucially, a pure-electric model that’ll be in dealers before the Audi e-tron or Mercedes EQC.

We sampled the original concept last year - and then had a passenger ride in a development I-Pace on the streets of Los Angeles. But now jumbo-bg has had a brief chance to get behind the wheel of a production version of the car, around a specially prepared course in Geneva.

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Seeing the I-Pace in the metal, and out in broad daylight at last, the first thing that strikes you is what a clever bit of design it is. Jaguar’s Design Director Ian Callum and his team have tried to exploit the advantages of a bespoke all-electric platform, while minimising the disadvantages of having to store 432 lithium-ion battery cells that are mounted in a pack in the floor.

The end result is a crossover more than a pure SUV, with a futuristic mix of sharp creases and, in some places, glorious, simple Jaguar curves. The most obvious of these are at the front wheelarches, where the I-Pace draws in its most obvious inspiration from the stillborn C-X75 hybrid supercar.

A tiny rear overhang - and a short bonnet allowed by the absence of a combustion engine - help to give the car a cab-forward look. It’s unlike any Jaguar we’ve ever seen - and yet it should look entirely at home when parked up beside an F-Pace or an E-Pace. In particular, Callum’s team has done some stellar work to mask the hefty amount of metal along the flanks; in this respect, the I-Pace makes a Model X looks positively dumpy.

Under the skin, those 432 battery cells combine to produce a 90kWh pack, powering a pair of electric motors, one at each axle. The set-up, like all of the car’s electrical systems, has been developed by Jaguar Land Rover. This is particularly relevant in the motors, because the driveshafts pass right through them, allowing for a more compact installation. They also use synchronous permanent magnet technology, which could give the I-Pace an edge in efficiency over lesser, cheaper rivals, as and when they arrive.

You’ll notice the neat packaging at the rear if you try to actually live with an I-Pace because it looks pretty darn practical. Lift the rear tailgate and you’ll find a commendably flat boot floor and 656 litres of load bay - and this can rise to 1,453 litres if you lower the split rear seat. There’s an additional 30-litre ‘tub’ under the bonnet, incidentally - but this is most likely to be used to house charging cables. Jaguar has also used the EV packaging to deliver a very deep central cubbyhole between the front seats, and to allow further, limited storage below the second row.

The rest of the I-Pace’s interior is more predictable. There’s a bit of wow factor in the front, where there’s a multiple-screen set-up to control many of the car’s systems - but at least some of this layout should look familiar to anyone who’s sat in a Range Rover Velar. And while the rear accommodation is surprisingly generous for six-footers, there’s really nothing to tell passengers that they’re in a ‘special’ Jaguar.

The first thing that you’re likely to notice as you slide into the I-Pace’s driving seat is the height of the floor; your feet seem high compared with the level of your hip, so you could find yourself nudging the seat backwards at little to compensate. That aside, though, the layout is smart, functional and clear - less of an event than in even Tesla’s Model 3, let alone the Models S and X, but quite possibly easier to use on the move. Turning a rotary dial to increase the temperature is something that can be done by feel alone, after all - unlike searching for a virtual button on a vast touch-screen.

Our test course in a production I-Pace was a very short route that involved negotiating a complex set of cones, so these must go down as very early impressions only. But even from this experience, it’s possible to feel the potential in this car. The I-Pace ticks the usual EV boxes, with instant torque delivery and the ability to slow down to a complete halt just by lifting off the throttle pedal. But there’s also impressive refinement from those dual motors; only a faint whine is audible under hard acceleration.

There is not, it must be said, the gut-wrenching shove of a Tesla Model S P100D in Ludicrous mode. But the I-Pace has more than enough on tap to feel brisk, even rapid when you want it to.

Does it feel nimble? The steering is admirably direct and the turning circle was better than we’d expected. And while we weren’t able to tackle any corners at great speed, there’s something in there that gives us the feeling that the I-Pace is going to be stable and assured. Comfortable, too, even on super-large alloy wheels (entry-level S models get 18in wheels, but up to 22-inchers are being offered).

Whether the I-Pace sticks with those to character traits or manages to be fun and involving, time will tell. Its centre of gravity is 130mm lower than an F-Pace’s, for example. But at the same time, it does weigh 2.1 tonnes.

Indeed, if anything, this low-speed run has us really quite intrigued about how agile and capable the I-Pace could be when it reaches the open road. Drag racing in EVs already seems very 2017; we already suspect that Jaguar has looked beyond poster-child tricks and tried to create something of considerable depth here. A proper test in the UK simply cannot come quickly enough.