The new Jaguar I-Pace is quick from a stop. It’s quiet as a mouse. The ride is comfortable throughout, from the cushy seat, to the air suspension, to the smooth, low resistance in the wheel. The I-Pace is also shorter than you probably think it is; up close, it looks like an SUV that’s been (carefully) stepped on.
Other than that, there’s not much more I can tell you about what the I-Pace is really like, since I only had about one minute to drive it.
That drive took place on the eve of the New York International Auto Show in a parking lot behind Jaguar Land Rover’s new Mahwah, New Jersey headquarters. The stark, sharp building is surrounded by fresh dirt that’s roped off on the outside, and gleaming white paint on the inside. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the corporate headquarters of discount store Amazing Savings, and both buildings are tucked into a carved-out piece of the land just off Route 17, a maybe five or ten minute walk from the New York border.
The I-Pace makes its North American debut at the New York Auto Show
JLR’s new digs feature a gym on the first floor, EV charging stations (with some still being installed), an open floor plan, and — to the apparent delight of the employees in attendance, based on their hoots of approval when it was called out during the night’s big event — coffee stations on each floor with fresh-grown beans that have been locally sourced.
Those employees, along with Jaguar Land Rover dealers and executives from around the globe, sipped wine, picked at tiny chicken-and-waffle hors d’oeuvres, and clutched signed portraits of Olympic ice hockey champion Meghan Duggan on Tuesday night in the dressed-up cafeteria. JLR had gathered the group to show off the I-Pace, as well as the new Land Rover SV Coupe. But also, we were there to see the F-Pace SVR, a wagon-y crossover SUV with more horsepower than the base Porsche 911 Turbo. The event was a christening of sorts for the new home, which JLR chose after toying with leaving the state.
I was there for the I-Pace, though. The all-electric SUV is making its stateside debut at the auto show, and it’s brought a wave of buzz with it across the Atlantic. That’s for good reason, too. The car is powerful (dual electric motors developed by Jaguar give it just about 400 horsepower), it boasts an admirable range (240 miles in the EPA cycle, the company claims), and is being offered to customers at a $69,500 price tag that’s $10,000 cheaper than the most affordable Tesla Model X.
Thousands of chiclet keys will surely shatter under the weight of automotive journalists’ fingers as they compare the I-Pace to the Model X for the rest of time immemorial — or, at least until a few more premium electric SUVs hit the market. I certainly didn’t have enough time to form a definitive opinion on how the I-Pace might be better, or where it falters in comparison. At first glance, the materials in the I-Pace didn’t seem as premium as you’ll find in a Model X. (The amount of plastic involved seems to point to one area where Jaguar might have saved some of that ten grand.) The dual-touchscreen setup, which is an iteration of what’s found in the Velar, is sharp, but seemed to stutter a bit.
There’s a few reasons why the I-Pace has a grille, despite being an EV
Otherwise, the I-Pace mostly felt and looked like a premium SUV. And it drove like one, too, at least in the rodeo pen of fences that Jaguar laid out for the drive. I and others drove the I-Pace through something that resembled, but wasn’t quite, an autocross course — think “gates” of cones on pavement. But these were “smart cones,” which lit up in sequence and worked with sensors and antennas in each I-Pace to track the accuracy and speed of each car’s run through the course. That meant each run followed a different path, which in turn meant that it wasn’t possible to run the same course a number of times to get a comparative feel for how the car handled in the same sharp or sweeping turns, hard braking zones, or long stretches of acceleration.
Last fall, I got to drive the decidedly less premium Chevy Bolt in an autocross event in the flat suburbs of Detroit. I was surprised by how much fun it was to whip the Bolt around a parking lot, since it doesn’t have a jaw-dropping 0–60 time or a wild horsepower rating. Having a third or so of a car’s weight on the floor thanks to the battery layout certainly helped. But the Bolt’s upper body also flexed a bit with every turn, and the smaller tires were torn to shreds after an hour of constant punishment. It’s not a car that’s built for performance, and while it performed admirably, that showed.
The I-Pace was far more comfortable on the attack, which shouldn’t be a surprise. It has a more advanced suspension, borrowed from the F-Type, and massive 22-inch Pirelli tires to paw at the tarmac. It’s shorter by 1.5 inches than the Bolt, and wider by half a foot, giving it an even lower stance that helps make sure there is no flex in its aluminum body. Again, my time was brief, but it’s easy to see why there’s going to be an entire racing series built around this car.
There were some other things I gleaned about the I-Pace from my time at Jaguar’s new American home. It has a traditional grille, in part because the company is still growing its presence in the US, and the grille is one of the more recognizable aspects of a Jaguar these days. But the grille is also not just for looks. Air flows through it to cool the batteries, and feeds the air conditioning system. Some air also splits up to the top of the grille and goes through a scoop in the hood, to help reduce drag. The back end is abruptly squared off to help with aerodynamics, too.
More broadly, there are two reasons why the company’s first all-electric vehicle is an SUV to begin with, according to lead designer Ian Callum. He said that putting the batteries in the floor of the I-Pace meant it was more likely to be a bit taller than a sedan, so the company decided to dodge that challenge by going with an SUV design. The other was more telling: the SUV market is booming, and the F-Pace SUV is Jaguar’s best-selling car ever. Why wouldn’t Jaguar make an all-electric SUV? As Callum said, “We’re going to have a sure bet with it in terms of its popularity.”
The deciding factors for EV adoption still seem to revolve around range and charging support, so while this is all well and good, Jaguar faces the same kind of uphill battle as any manufacturer of battery-powered cars. But while the I-Pace still won’t go on sale until later this year (employees on-site kept joking all day that the actual sale date keeps changing at a dizzying rate), Jaguar already has a customer for 20,000 of them: Waymo. On the morning of Jaguar’s big event, it was announced that the company born out of the former Google self-driving car project in 2016 and the one with decades of history as a brand known for luxury and performance are collaborating to build up to 20,000 self-driving I-Paces.
That’s a pretty good start for a car that hasn’t hit the market yet. But Jaguar obviously still wants to sell its cars to people so they can be driven, at least for a while. When that happens, those people will probably be pleased with the experience.
Photography by Sean O’Kane / The Verge