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Review: 2018 Jaguar I-Pace could be a game-changer for the brand and industry

The 2018 Jaguar I-Pace.

Jaguar Land Rover

Over two days in the Algarve we pushed the Jaguar I-Pace through all sorts of driving, from twisting roads through tiny villages, around the Portimao racetrack, up a steep dirt road, over narrow gravel pathways skirting valleys below, and on standard highways.

Through it all, we hardly touched the brake pedal.

That’s because each time we lifted our foot off the accelerator, regenerative braking kicked in to collect and feed the energy back to the 90 Kwh, lithium-ion battery. Firm (technically, up to 0.4G of force) yet smooth, the system acted like a continuously variable transmission on steroids, descending from 90 km/h to 30 to zero when entering Portugal’s endless array of roundabouts, all by itself.

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Jaguar has taken its time to introduce an all-electric vehicle, following Chevrolet, BMW and others into the space. And now that the I-Pace is out there, with a global press drive occurring this week, what we have is an obvious Tesla Model X challenger. With a tested 480 kilometres of battery range [European testing, which may be optimistic by up to 100 km], the I-Pace respectfully demands consideration as much more than a vehicle to sate the environmentally conscious.

The crossover SUV hauls five people comfortably and fits a couple of hockey bags in the trunk. As such, it is a serious contender to relieve the range anxiety of the home-to-cottage set. The Calgary-Kicking Horse, Vancouver-Whistler, Toronto-Muskoka and Montreal-to-Eastern Townships jaunts are reachable, without recharge. It’ll handle off-road, the suspension rising with the touch of a button, and even fords up to 500 mm of steam water.

“It’s from an established and storied brand, it will have sufficient distribution points within Canada, it was designed from the ground-up as an EV only – it’s not a conventional SUV converted to also be an EV,” said analyst Robert Karwel, of J.D. Power in Toronto. “It looks good and is well proportioned. It’s all-wheel drive and is wrapped in a utility body – which are prerequisites for growth these days. And the Jaguar brand already resided within the luxury sphere so there is less-to-no worry about sticker shock.”

A panoramic sunroof absorbs EV rays.

Nick Dimbleby

The starting price in Canada when the vehicle is made available in late summer or early fall is $86,500, up there in the early-adopter zone. As with big-screen TVs back when, the price may come down with time and perhaps with competition, as the German automakers will soon follow the British-designed, Magna-manufactured [in Austria] I-Pace with their own premium EVs.

Consider in the meantime that Tesla makes three versions of its all-electric SUV, the Model X. The I-Pace arguably matches up most closely with the middle version, the 100D: 100 kWh battery (I-Pace: 90 kWh), 475-kilometre range (480), zero-to-100 acceleration in 4.9 seconds (4.8).

It starts at $123,800, $37,300 more than the I-Pace. The base Model X, the 75D, gets 381 kilometres of range, seats five (with options, unlike the I-Pace, to change configuration to six or seven), and accelerates from zero to 100 in 5.2 seconds. It starts at $102,300.

When conceiving the first electric vehicle, first and foremost was to integrate classic Jaguar attributes, says engineer Simon Patel, “driver input responsiveness, precise and well-balanced handling.”

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Weight distribution front and rear is 50-50, and the body structure is made of 94 per cent aluminum, making for the stiffest Jag to date. Twin electric motors are installed at each axle. Torque is delivered to all four wheels.

To demonstrate its off-road capability, Jaguar had us climb a steep dirt path better suited to goats. The optional all-surface progress control (ASPC) proved to be basically cruise control for hills. Set a speed, and away it goes. All you need do is steer (some day, probably not even that, as Waymo has committed to buy up to 20,000 I-Paces to test self-driving tech). The 22-inch summer performance tires (20-inch is standard) spun briefly, then the car reinstated control without human interference.The tech, transferred from Land Rover, handles all road conditions at speeds between 3.6 and 30 km/h. In short, it’ll get up those gnarly cabin roads.

For fun, there was the Portimao Circuit. The FIA-certified race track, an undulating, tight-turning layout, presented a couple of opportunities to gun the vehicle. I hit 180 km/h on this track, but then, Villeneuve’s talent eludes me. The car showed no sign of failing to reach the posted 200 km/h ceiling, with a more talented driver behind the wheel. (Put it this way: When I drove the signature Jag F-Type earlier, a counterpart in an I-Pace passed me).

Paul Cummings tested the car before the press got its hands on it. He is president and CEO of Grand Touring Automobiles, a luxury dealership in downtown Toronto showcasing seven brands including Jaguar Land Rover, and also former president of Volvo Canada.

The starting price in Canada when the vehicle is made available in late summer or early fall is $86,500.

I-Pace

“I am a petrol head, I enjoy cars, I love cars and it shocked me,” he said. “I was overwhelmed by the performance, its agility, its size. There is no lag, it just goes, no hesitation at all. “

Cummings believes the I-Pace is a game-changer for the brand if not the industry.

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“With Jaguar, there’s so much depth, but now they’ve become relevant to a new generation with the I-Pace,” he said. “Jaguar was an older person’s car. We saw that with our buyers. Now you’ve got a powerful brand with all that technology. Downtown Toronto, you might have to squeeze into a parking spot, but with this vehicle you don’t have to be worried about two SUVs beside you because its size is perfect. It suits the lifestyle – and it’s green.”

Green maybe, but with a lot of history underpinning it.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

Tech specs

Base price: $86,500

Engine: Magnet electric, one per axle

Transmission/Drive: Single-speed epicyclic/all-wheel drive

Fuel efficiency: 480 kilometres, quoted range

Alternatives: Tesla 75D, Tesla 100D

Looks

The vehicle’s 50-50 weight distribution is reflected by an even design balance, front and rear.

Nick Dimbleby

Simon Tovey, lead exterior designer for the I-Pace, says the goal was to “try and reinterpret the past with new ideas, but I have to say the new ideas were about being purely functional.” Aerodynamics ruled in order to create a 0.29 drag quotient. So the classic long swooping hood of the E-Type is replaced by a short nose (no engine underneath the “bonnet”). The Jag grille was retained though not necessarily needed – air goes over it, under the hood and over the roof. There are also side intakes. The 50-50 weight distribution is reflected by an even design balance, front and rear. The familiar strong haunches are visible, a black graphic on the side breaks up the height, and it has the XJ’s hockey stick window.

Interior

Minus the gas engine, designers pushed the driver forward, leaving generous leg and head room in the front and back.

Nick Dimbleby

Stylish, with a clean and simple design accented by luxurious touches such as leather seats and dashboard stitching. Minus the gas engine, designers pushed the driver forward, leaving generous leg and head room in the front and back. One quibble: it’s difficult to see over the dash. Cabin is quiet though not super-quiet; you can hear tires over road. The navigation system worked near-flawlessly. Panoramic sunroof absorbs EV rays.

Performance

There are three driving modes: eco, comfort and dynamic. The responsiveness in dynamic is both prompt and deceiving, the latter because you don’t hear an engine roar. It’s like operating Forza Motorsport 4 or some-such video game with the sound turned off. Jag people described the sound as “whoosh.” In fact, knowing that the sensitive thrust will freak out certain drivers, Jaguar engineered a “creep” function to let it move warily from a stop without applying pressure to the accelerator, just like a gas-powered car. All-wheel drive is standard.

Technology

The tech is fully engineered to meet the desires of urban millennials and their descendants with three 12-volt sockets and six USB ports; “Ask Alexa” whether the battery charge is sufficient to reach the workplace; 4G WiFi; Tesla-matching over-the-air software updates; with a remote app, pre-heat or cool the cabin when the car is plugged in; charging pre-set for the least expensive hydro rates; HomeLink to control your residence’s heating, lights and doors from the car. Jag is confident enough in the lithium-ion battery to warranty 70 per cent of original life after eight years or 160,000 kilometres.

Cargo

Second-row seats fold flat, increasing rear storage from 656 litres with the seats up, to 1,453 litres. There are also hidden trays under the rear seats for laptops and tablets.

The verdict: 9.5

Whether to haul kids to practice, commute emission-free, or head for the cottage, the I-Pace combines flexibility with performance. The price, while hefty, undermines Tesla and moreover, with an intact dealer network, delivery won’t be an issue.

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