Given the dearth of nationally available electric vehicles with 200 miles or more of range — until now limited to three Tesla models and the Chevrolet Bolt EV — it’s encouraging to see Jaguar join the gang with the new I-Pace, an all-wheel-drive EV with an EPA-estimated 234 miles of range. The British luxury brand fancies the I-Pace a low-slung SUV, though it’s really a glorified hatchback. Whatever you call it, Cars.com D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier deemed it unapologetically fun when he spent a day behind the wheel at Jaguar’s New York press preview.
Four months and a full change of season later, Cars.com editors evaluated an I-Pace at our Chicago headquarters. The cooler conditions matched our overall enthusiasm for the EV, which is to say it waned as fast as daylight in November. We drove an early preproduction I-Pace HSE, the highest trim level save a limited-run First Edition. It ran preproduction software, Jaguar warned, so several areas weren’t up to production par. Glitches notwithstanding, too many inherent attributes still got our goat, even as Meier stood by his original take.
Kelsey Mays, senior consumer affairs editor (that is, this author): Fred’s drive showcased the I-Pace’s acceleration and dynamics, two areas I didn’t take issue with in our time with it. But the cost of entry for any car is fundamental ease of use, and Jaguar’s latest prodigy has many warts. Start with visibility, where the I-Pace forces you to play I-Spy: The squat windshield limits forward sight lines, and the rear window is an afterthought. Jaguar claims the SUV’s aerodynamics push air over the latter to clear it without a rear wiper, as Fred reports. But all of that does zilch at low speeds or in Reverse.
Up front, the mammoth center console houses multiple displays that are unacceptably slow on startup. Some of that may improve with production-spec software, though slow response at startup is part of the territory for many touchscreens. That’s where Jaguar’s reliance on them versus analog controls concerns me. We’ve expressed concern over driver distraction with this setup in other products from Jaguar’s sister brand, Land Rover, and the same goes for the I-Pace.
Fred Meier, D.C. bureau chief: No apologies, the I-Pace is fun. And for a vehicle pushing $80,000 or more, genuine driving fun to me is the true cost of entry. Ease of use is important but can be overrated unless you’re buying a dishwasher — there are plenty of awful cars that excel at ease of use. Not to mention we’re talking about an EV, which for now still has its own ease-of-use issues. Offsetting the flaws — all cars have things you’d change — is that the I-Pace combines practical electric range with the good looks and excellent driving dynamics of a conventional Jaguar. The I-Pace is also just a nice place to be, with Jaguar’s refinement in a quiet, high-quality interior that easily fit my 6-foot-2 frame in front and back. And I like the way it wraps around you like a driver’s car rather than spreading out like a minivan.
That said, I don’t love the complicated, menu- and screen-driven controls and multimedia system. But it’s a version of the latest system in other Jaguars and Range Rovers, and I don’t love it there, either (though I like many of those vehicles overall). It also gets in its own way. One-pedal operation in traffic was one of my favorite I-Pace features, but digging through menu steps to set the regen for it was not. The system gets easier, though not faster, with familiarity.
I disagree on the console, though. The big area left things close at hand, and it’s actually a deck with useful storage space underneath. Some drivers will wish the sides were padded, but it didn’t hit my knee in my preferred driving position. And I’m just confused on visibility; I drove it around Brooklyn and Manhattan before heading for the twisting hills, and, while it’s no Subaru Forester for sight lines, it felt safe in the city’s heavy car, pedestrian and bike traffic.
Mike Hanley, senior research editor: As far as visibility is concerned, I couldn’t disagree more. The I-Pace’s rear visibility and over-shoulder views are some of the worst I’ve experienced in a long time. It’s not as compromised as a Chevrolet Camaro’s, but it’s not far off, either.
The other thing that bugged me about the I-Pace is that even though it’s a relatively large vehicle — about 15 feet long and 6 feet wide — it feels a lot smaller inside. While front-seat comfort is good, the aforementioned center control panel encroaches on your space, and backseat passengers must put up with a low seating position that doesn’t offer great thigh support. The rear cargo area is small, too. Tesla, meanwhile, shows that it doesn’t have to be this way: The cabin of its Model S luxury EV sedan is open and airy.
I really thought Tesla would be tested once established automakers, with their expertise in building cars and the resources at their disposal, started competing with them in the luxury EV space. The I-Pace, however, isn’t up to the task.
Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor: I agree with my colleagues in many ways, including the good drivability, the dreadful rear visibility, the relatively small confines relative to the I-Pace’s exterior size, and the touchscreen and capacitive control systems — the latter of which are immediate deal-breakers for me even when they work as intended in a production-level Land Rover. Where I think the I-Pace falls flat is as an all-new electric model. Maybe this is more a commentary on the choices Jaguar has made than on the I-Pace’s appeal to today’s shopper, but I guarantee those choices will catch up with Jaguar in the eyes of shoppers a year or two from now.
I’ve watched the resurgent EV movement for a decade, and it’s been littered with missteps both minor and major. It’s always a misstep when an automaker invests in a new or reengineered electric vehicle and doesn’t leapfrog the competition. What the EV market has needed most desperately is what today’s consumers favor: SUVs. The I-Pace’s first failure is that it isn’t one despite attempts to market it otherwise.
Another fundamental and presumably permanent shortcoming is its inefficiency, where the I-Pace gets an EPA-rated 76 mpg-equivalent combined. The mpg-e rating is pointless in most cases, but it’s good for EV comparisons, and the Tesla Model X SUV is rated between 85 and 93 mpg-e. What does that mean in a tangible sense? It means a Model X 75D with a 75-kilowatt-hour battery pack (the higher, 93 mpg-e figure) can go an estimated 238 miles. The I-Pace requires a 90-kwh pack to go its estimated 234 miles. A Model X 100D (100 kwh) can go 295 miles, estimated. Will this generation of I-Pace ever be able to go farther on a charge? Probably not significantly so.
The inefficiency also means the I-Pace is comparatively slow to charge, maxing out at about 18 miles of range per hour on 240 volts. The same current and time for a Model X equals more miles of range. Jaguar makes it worse with an onboard charger (the hardware built into the vehicle) that limits charging to 7 kilowatts. The Model X accepts 11.5 kW. This is a misstep I’d remedy immediately if I were Jaguar.
In case you think I’m contradicting myself by saying the I-Pace isn’t an SUV and then comparing it with an SUV, try comparing it instead with an electric car and you’ll see the efficiency consequences described above become downright embarrassing.
To be clear, I believe the I-Pace will find its buyers. It drives well and looks good — probably better in both regards than the Model X — and 234 miles of range is definitely workable. But I don’t think Jaguar has maximized its opportunity, and that will be reflected in the market, especially as the model ages.
FM: Comparisons to Tesla are inevitable, and, for me, the Model S sedan is a work of art as well as engineering, but the X not so much. And while I think efficiency is an important goal, if the lowest cost per mile is your priority over luxury, better buys would be a Hyundai Ioniq (136 mpg-e), Tesla Model 3 Long Range (130 mpg-e) or Chevy Bolt EV (119 mpg-e). The I-Pace’s onboard charger is also sufficient for now to handle what’s generally available through most home and Level 2 public chargers. The EV universe is changing fast, but the I-Pace remains a solid platform that could support inevitable software and hardware upgrades.
This is the first of a new generation of electric SUV/hatchbacks from traditional luxury brands, and I think it’s a helluva good start. I’m happy to see an automaker willing to create an electric car in its own brand image to give us more choices, not just to chase Tesla, and this would be my choice. The I-Pace is an EV you could love for design and driving fun, not just for its battery.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Nov. 21, 2018, to remove that the I-Pace doesn’t offer lane-centering steering; it does.
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