The I-Pace project was given the go-ahead in 2014, at which point, Jaguar Design Director Ian Callum recounts, “I said to the team ‘we’re going to create something special’.”
Seeing the I-Pace in Geneva, it was clear that Callum’s goal had been achieved. The I-Pace cleverly combines a new proportion, while still being identifiable a Jaguar. It’s the sort of car (an SUV) customers want. And it breaks that magic 300-mile range barrier that, to date, only Tesla can offer.
There’s much more to an EV than proportion, typology and battery range though. Which is why we’re stood on the side of a hill in the Algarve, photographing a red I-Pace (although whoever specified these press cars is not the design team’s best friend – the I-Pace needs a less in-your-face colour, and the signature, 22-inch wheel design).
On a typical day, the I-Pace experience will begin before you get anywhere near the car. Jaguar’s I-Pace dedicated app’s key function is the cabin pre-heating/cooling. The PR focus of this is on the benefits of performing these functions while the car’s still plugged in – to maximise range. But in our experience (we’ve owned a BMW i3 for 18 months), the benefit to the customer is the utter joy of never having to step into a freezing cold car in winter again. Or a hot one in summer. Or for that matter, ever having to clear your windshield of snow or ice.
Approaching the I-Pace for the first time when it’s locked, you note the lack of protruding door handles. Like the Range Rover Velar, recessed units deploy when you unlock the car with the remote. The handle’s physical design is heavy-handed when contrasted with some of the elegant design resolutions used elsewhere. It’s a point that Callum hints that he agrees with, it’s a shame the F-Type’s more elegant unit couldn’t have been used, or that the handles can’t detect your approach and motor out from their stowed position as a gesture of greeting, Tesla-style. The benefit of the door handles being recessed is their contributing to an impressive for-an-SUV Cd of 0.29 and permitting an uninterrupted body side.
The interior has changed more notably than the exterior when compared to 2016’s concept. In a light colourway and with a panoramic roof, the ample interior space is accentuated by the feeling of light and airiness. The I-Pace battery pack is an underfloor (rather than tunnel / T-shaped) unit, which means that the cabin floor can be flat. Most of the space liberated is cabin stowage here, Callum adding that: “we didn’t focus so much on this stuff in the past perhaps. But going forward, it will become a Jaguar selling point.”
One other area Jaguar (and Land Rover) have pushed forward is in understanding the connectivity desires of modern customers. There are six USB ports in the I-Pace, while under the rear seats are recesses capable of stashing an iPad or Laptop. But there’ll be many customers disappointed by the lack of wireless charge mats, and the fact that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t available. “It’s coming,” says Jaguar – relating to the news that Jaguar’s future operating systems will switch to QNX, allowing CarPlay support.
To Tesla-owning EV-owning innovators, the I-Pace technology, interface and start-up procedure may seem a little old fashioned. As one social media pundit wisecracked: “There’s a start button? How quaint.”
But this is deliberate. The I-Pace is set up not to trip up the uninitiated, it asks for no prior knowledge or induction – better to convince the EV wary and the non-expert. To set off, simply foot on the brake, power on, press the ‘D’ button on the stack-mounted gear selector and ease away on the accelerator. You know the car’s switched on when the cluster comes to life. In its standard mode it shows twin dials – a digital speedometer and a range read-out complete with power/charge swing-o-meter.
Supporting the cluster is Jaguar’s 10-inch InControl Touch Pro centre screen, well integrated into a gloss black surround, making the screen almost imperceptible when the car is switched off. This screen’s appearance and usability mirrors the Range Rover Velar – it’s a tile-centric design, is cheerily colourful in the sub-menus, but isn’t the quickest to respond and it features some conspicuously deep menu structures. Basics such as searching through music playlists on your phone feel unnecessarily hard. These are the common gripes of many in-car touchscreen systems today.
What’s of note is the EV-specific layers. A ‘My EV’ menu enables you to configure the specifics of how the I-Pace drives. Adjust whether you want it to creep forward like an auto (or not), and whether you want the heavy regenerative braking mode, to allow for one-pedal driving (you will), or not.
A potential function shows you how to increase range, by turning off power-consuming functions while the navigation system predicts your remaining range on arrival. Jaguar lacks the dedicated charge infrastructure provided by Tesla’s Supercharger network, something the American firm very cleverly integrates into its navigation. Jaguar – and other brands – have no answer to this, but the British firm has done its best to make EV life easy and reassuring out in the real world. A form of machine learning is built in – the I-Pace aggregating your driving style, number of occupants aboard, weather, traffic and topography to constantly update and provide you with the most accurate range it can. Based on our Portugese experience, it seemed 250 miles between charges would be easily achievable.
But it’s not the EV-specific stuff that most impresses from the driving seat – it’s the HVAC controls. An adapted version of the so-called TouchPro Duo system (again, from Velar) is employed. The narrower console means the tertiary screen area is smaller than the Velar’s, which at first seems a bit mean. But having used it, we understand why.
Jaguar’s pair of control knobs perform more functions than they do in the Range Rover, so you’re much less dependent on the screen – removing the duality of input methods the Range Rover opts for.
The physical controllers twist for cabin heat adjustment, push (and then twist) for seat heating/cooling, but unlike the Range Rover there’s a third function – pull – to adjust the fan speed. In reality this means you never need to look away from the road, because you can adjust the climate system by feel. In our view, that’s how in-car HMI should be – and we admire Jaguar for pushing it through. Callum adds; “I’m a massive fan of tactility, and not a fan of simply sticking an iPad on the dashboard. This provides theatre and it’s safer, I believe”.
That the rotary knobs are beautiful, knurled edge units which turn with a damped weighty quality, is the cherry on the top and adds an extra level of delight.
The I-Pace – like so many EVs – can take your breath away with its performance and the way it drives, but this is perhaps no surprise. The unexpected comes from how complete, easy to use and covetable this car is.
It impresses quietly – without resorting to show-off doors or jaw-droppingly big screens. That’s not just a dig at Tesla, more to point out that the I-Pace is less of a statement than a Tesla. Some won’t like that; this is clearly not a product of Silicon Valley’s ‘move fast and break things’approach to innovation. Instead, like BMW’s i3 and i8, it feels deeply well-engineered and thoughtfully designed, by people who have worked their whole life in the car industry but are now embracing electro-mobility.
Unlike those BMW i cars, its design is accessible – less elitist, easier to understand and like. An aspirational car for regular people, rather than designers, one might argue. And it is a car that just about anyone could get into, without instruction, and enjoy driving. Among other things, these qualities are what makes it an authentic Jaguar. And in the here and now, it’s a real coup d’état – Jaguar stealing a march on its premium rivals.
More than that, in many ways, it is the most impressive and forward-looking Jaguar since the E-type. Praise doesn’t really come much higher.