The All-Electric 2019 Jaguar I-Pace First Drive: So Good, It'll Keep You Up at Night
Listen up, gasheads: The fantastic new Jaguar EV will come silently in the dark and eat your young.
Strange thoughts come to me late at night. While reasonable and untroubled people are sleeping, I crawl through the darker corners of my imagination. Tonight, I’m in a hotel room in Portugal that doesn’t have a TV. The Internet is European, so I can’t stream anything. I am alone with my own cruel mind. So I’m agonizing over it all: Anthony Bourdain, and what the hell was he thinking; Donald Trump, and what the hell is he thinking; electric cars, and what the hell am I thinking?
I spent the day in the all-electric 2019 Jaguar I-Pace, and I’m starting to question some of my fundamental beliefs. Among them, a staunch and stubborn belief that electric cars are stupid. I’m an ICE man; I love the internal combustion engine. And anyway, the world will end long before the average U.S. consumer actually buys electric cars. Americans drive trucks, pure and simple. Last year, just over 1 percent of the 17 million cars sold in America were EVs, or around 200,000 units. Ford sold 900,000 F-Series pickups alone. Add the Chevy Silverado and Ram 1500, and you get, well, you get a whole lot of red meat.
EV sales are still a rounding error, if that. Even as underdogs, they barely register.
So how do you sell consumers a product they neither want nor feel they need, and that is, in fact, the exact opposite of what they want. One path to take is intrigue. Tesla built a ravenous fan base with a revolutionary vehicle, the Model S. This sedan is elegant, simple, bold, and righteous. It has brilliant gimmickry, like the Autopilot semi-autonomous system, which was made possible by the genius of Tesla capo de regime Elon Musk and his fuck-the-lawyers embrace of risk. It also has extraordinary speed wedded to whimsy (Ludicrous!). Tesla is a marketing story for the ages, and Musk, like Steve Jobs and Donald Trump, is above all a marketing guy. He knows how to bait a hook, wet it, and set it. He is a master of intrigue.
But Musk can’t really build cars, and he doesn’t have a Tim Cook to handle the complicated lift of production. Tesla has been around for 15 years, has burned through many billions in capital, operates on a massive loss and still barely manages to construct 100,000 units a year. Which leads us to the better way to convince the public to buy a product it doesn’t want: Harness the intrigue, then build something really good.
Tesla has gotten us interested in the electric car. Enter the real carmakers, with their old fogey dad-bod and that irreplicable ability to build a lot of cars in a short period of time. Thank you very much, Elon, for setting the table. Now, while you build tent city factories and pick stupid Twitter fights, the OEMs and their supply chains that reach to Jupiter and back are going to eat the food right off your plate.
But I had my reservations, and that lead me to this insomnia: Jaguar has fired the first meaningful shot at Tesla’s EV primacy, and it's not a shot across the bow. This one is a direct hit, right into the hull. The Jaguar I-Pace, which I spent two days caning on the back roads across the picturesque and impoverished farmlands of southern Portugal and on the Algarve International Circuit in Portimao, is a sporty, electric revelation.
After 30 minutes of driving the I-Pace, I began a battle in my head: Why do ICE cars even exist anymore? This car is an appealing low-slung crossover with outrageous linear acceleration and a ride that toggles between pleasant and aggro. It also has an interior that doesn’t skimp on content in the name of weight savings (EVs have always been bedeviled by chintzy design compromises). It doesn’t rattle or skitter over bumps. It is planted, fierce, and fun to drive.
The I-Pace has a liquid-cooled 90-kWh lithium ion battery that uses nickel manganese cobalt (manufactured by LG Chem) to power two Jaguar-designed motors that sit on either end of the 50:50-balanced aluminum chassis. In the two trims I tested—the I-Pace S and the First Edition—I found almost no compromise in the performance. The price? Around $85,000. The price of a comparable Tesla Model X P90 is $100,000. This is the sort of math that should keep Musk awake right next to me. (But not literally.)
You can be excused if you mistake the Jaguar I-Pace for the Jaguar E-Pace. While the Pace family of crossovers (that’s the three-year-old F-Pace, the slightly smaller E-Pace, and now the I-Pace) have saved Jaguar’s bacon by nearly doubling its U.S. sales to around 40,000 units in 2017, it has been abused by a foggy naming convention. The “E” in E-Pace doesn’t mean electric. It just means “E.” I don’t know what the “I” means, but the I-Pace is the electric one—the first all-electric Jaguar has ever made for sale. Not only that, but in a coup that took a while for me to process when it was announced earlier this year, Jaguar has teamed up with Google’s Waymo, which is planning to buy at least 20,000 I-Paces (as well as triple that number of Chrysler Pacificas) as testing beds for its self-driving car initiative.
So how does the I-Pace drive? As well as its numbers suggest: 400 horsepower, 512 pound-feet of torque, 0-60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds that feel shorter. All things being equal, a fully charged I-Pace has a range of 240 miles, and a 100-kW DC fast charger can fill it up to 80 percent from flat in 40 minutes. If you plug it into a 230-volt outlet in your garage, a 10-hour charge fills it up overnight.
So why am I still so wary of electric cars?
Nevermind the Gimmicks
Driving the Jaguar I-Pace on a twisty road through the ragged Algarve countryside, I kill at least two birds. They were small birds—like sparrows—and they’d been loitering on the road as I approached around a corner at cruising speed. I presume they were eating bugs. I’ve been driving for many decades and never killed a bird before. In fact, I’d always marveled at how birds always just barely miss getting hit. But these two poor critters take off just a beat too late, both hitting the solid Jaguar grille right at the leaper on the badge, then deflecting in a spatter of blood and viscera off the windshield.
“Bird strike!” I said to my cringing driving partner, who was already a little carsick.
While still processing that carnage, I roll through a three-house village and came upon two dogs just sitting in the road. I slow to a near stop and yell out my window. The dogs turn, surprised. They didn’t hear me. Neither did those two poor bastard birds. Because there’s no engine, no turbo waste-gate dumping pressure, no exhaust note purring or whining or belching or burbling with this Jag. At 30 miles per hour, there’s not even any wind noise. The I-Pace is the slipperiest Jaguar ever made, with a drag coefficient of 0.29. It is silence on wheels. By the time you see it coming, you birdbrain, it’s too late.
Two birds’ loss is my gain. Inside the car, if the silence freaks you out, there is a programmable “digital soundscape,” where you can toggle between two settings, "Calm" and "Dynamic." The former actively cancels out the noise, while the latter uses manufactured sound to create something like a whoosh sound—or what experts think you think an electric vehicle is supposed to sound like. “It’s not a fake sound,” says one of the Jaguar engineers. But it is.
I’m fine without the gimmicks. The interior is well up to Jaguar’s standards, with clean lines that focus the console on two touch screens—a 10.0-inch screen up top and a 5.0-incher down below. Packaged up in layers of menus are settings for battery preconditioning, which heats up the battery before a drive if the car is plugged in, as well as EV-centric navigation, which steers you on long trips to fast-charging waypoints if there are any available. There’s also an Alexa app if you get lonely for your robot friends, a HomeLink Connect app to gaslight your family by remotely jacking up the thermostat while puttering around town, and AI software that will, after tracking your keyfob for two weeks to “observe” you, adjust basically all the settings—seat position, air temp, radio preferences according to time of day— to your personality. Now your life as a commuting schmuck is a little less miserable. (Thanks, Jaguar. No, really: Thank you.)
There’s also a camera that shows up on the screen that pops up when you’re at an intersection and projects both directions. I kept thinking, Shouldn’t we just look in both directions? Do we really need a camera for that? Beware gimmickry, for it can turn a great car into just a good car.
Electric Track Day?
Who brings an EV to a racetrack? Elon Musk recently bragged that Tesla’s not-quite-ready $78,000 Model 3 Performance Edition can smoke any comparable track car. No doubt, the acceleration of the Tesla Model S in Ludicrous mode is sick. But tracking a car means taking laps. Can a Tesla put in 10 laps without overheating or draining the battery to exhaustion?
The group of journalists I was with put a combined 12 laps in the I-Pace, and it showed no signs of fatigue. The I-Pace is not light—its 4,784 pound curb weight makes it nearly 1,000 pounds heavier than its ICE-powered relative, the F-Pace (the EV's batteries alone weigh 1,329 pounds). But basically all of that weight sits beneath the H-point, including the 432-cell battery, the twin motors, and the HVAC system.
The braking system has two settings that you can toggle—high and low. In high mode, you can use the throttle to brake (it’ll engage with up to 0.4 g of force), so I wanted to opt for that. I punched through the sometimes-frustrating menu and selected high mode (don’t ask me to find it again; this should be a button on the dash), launched out of pit lane with that stunning linear force that only a tweaked single-gear EV can provide, and then came off the throttle to slow for the first left-hander.
The I-Pace S package has 20-inch wheels, and they clawed the tarmac as I launched out of the first corner. (Driving to the track in the First Edition on 22-inch wheels, I found the road noise to be slightly irritating; the 20s are much quieter in general.) By the end of the first lap, though, the tires are squealing as I drift all four of ‘em in a high-speed right turn onto the back straight. For a car with such a piggish weight, the I-Pace is agile, responsive, and oftentimes exhilarating. At times, I want more brakes, and the only overall complaint is the steering can feel a little muted—a no-no in a sports car—especially one with a Jaguar badge. But this is a crossover.
The I-Pace is an expensive car, but it’s smartly-priced to grab buyers from all the Teslas, as well as other competitors like the Porsche Macan GTS, the BMW X4 M40i, and whatever crossover EVs Mercedes and Audi have coming. But Jaguar is here first, and it's built a killer with enough chops to keep an old gashead like me awake at night, fretting over the past while dreading the future a little less.