by Gabe Beita Kiser
As far as colors go, Yulong White can make just about anything disappear into the background so that it's hidden from chance encounters with the peripherals of pedestrians. That might be why I felt disappointed when the I-Pace Jaguar had lent me for the weekend was delivered with its striking body, drawn up by the company's rockstar designer Ian Callum no less, hidden under that anonymous shade of white.
By chance, I had to collect it from San Francisco's Chinatown district during a busy day. Tourists were quick to spot the EV's radical shape against the shades of Mao Red and many of them ended up having to pick their jaws and lens covers up off the floor once the trance wore off. One thing prospective owners should know is that states of trance are something the I-Pace dispenses as easily as it writes off 4.5-second runs from 0-60 mph.
Park the I-Pace on the street and it'll draw crowds as if it were the latest Banksy. Trying to explain why the I-Pace turns so many heads might sound trivial (just look at it), but I have a theory. For years, Tesla has been the leader in the EV revolution because it held a total monopoly over selling good-looking electric cars. Yes, the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf boast a competitive range and price, but they are victims of old-school thinking that believes alternative powertrains must come in polarizing alternative body styles.
By closely following the recipe for sex appeal, Tesla avoided alienating buyers with dorky aesthetics. Jaguar, however, has taken the I-Pace ten steps further. Rather than styling it like a normal crossover, it reimagined what a car could look like when the need to stuff a battery pack in the chassis arises but the engine, transmission, and driveline disappears.
Jaguar adapted to these parameters by making the I-Pace look radical and intriguing but also sexy and alluring. A long wheelbase lets the heaviest and most expensive part of the I-Pace, the battery, lie low and in the center of the chassis for better handling. Short front and rear overhangs, tall doors that look at home on a crossover, and a smushed greenhouse that can replace a Porsche Panamera's roof without anyone noticing make it so one is never sure if they're looking at a sports sedan or an SUV.
In reality, the I-Pace doubles as both thanks to height-adjusting air suspension and dimensions that place it right between large sedan and small SUV. Its powertrain helps too. Jaguar calls its only engine and battery mashup "EV400," and it's comprised of one 90 kWh battery pack and two electric motors-one powering the front wheels and another motivating the rear.
Combined output sits at 394 horsepower and a chili-pepper-in-the-eye 512 lb-ft of torque-all available from 0 rpm until the I-Pace's 124 mph top speed. The stealthy nature of the I-Pace's acceleration enables power that could have corrupted Nelson Mandela. Think about it, if you could go invisible or use telepathy, would you be able to resist playing pranks or eavesdropping on juicy gossip? Those are the moral dilemmas I wrestled with when gaps in traffic opened or when autonomous startup-owned Bolts wearing LIDAR crowns got stuck in intersections for no reason.
It was here that my lead foot came down hard. In the time it takes to say "hold on for torque steer," the I-Pace had already found a new home a few car lengths ahead of the vehicle it just overtook while I locked eyes with its wide-eyed driver through the rear-view mirror, both of us wondering what the hell just happened.
It's a feeling that never gets old, but it's not one that requires you to buy an I-Pace to experience. The oncoming wave of luxury EVs can all deliver the same satisfaction. Few competitors, however, approach design the way Jaguar does, especially inside the cabin. Equipped with the top-tier HSE package, the seats inside my borrowed I-Pace were covered in buttery soft Windsor leather-colored a bright shade of Mars Red no less-with the optional Light Oyster suedecloth headliner blanketing almost everything above eye level.
You can easily see it when looking back because it covers giant C-pillars that tighten the interior space and make the panoramic glass roof feel like a necessity rather than a luxury. Ahead of the black leather-wrapped steering wheel lies a mix of aluminum trim and black dash with two glossy squares housed in the center stack that's supported by a pair of independent beams like a buttressed Gothic cathedral.
These become screens when the oddly small Start button is pressed and give access to an infotainment system that initially feels more complicated than it needs to. While fit and finish of the buttons and the laggy infotainment leave something to be desired, Jaguar did inform me that this I-Pace was a preproduction model running prototype software, so it gets a pass.
The ideas that work, like the steering wheel's programmable Favorite Button, give rise to an emotional bond with the I-Pace. What doesn't operate as fluidly, like the fact that many controls live buried in the confusing software layout, don't feel so annoying that they compromise the aesthetic value they add to the interior. The result is still less confusing than Tesla's tactic of forcing drivers to interact with an iPad and the little touches, like knobs that house HVAC controls and seat temperature in one unit look awesome and feel sensical.
Press the "D" button on the push-button shifter, my last gripe about interior controls, and the battle to win the heart of a petrol purist begins. For those who value steering feedback and cornering speed, just know that the I-Pace isn't the car that will convert you to the electric side. The first thing that becomes apparent is the way the I-Pace isolates occupants from the outside world. Yes, it's easy to maneuver, but the steering and suspension do very little to facilitate a relationship between driver and road.
In the default Comfort mode, the I-Pace displays more polite sides of the Jaguar marquee while Eco mode slows the pace at which the range indicator whittles down. In Dynamic mode the suspension stiffens, the throttle gets sharper, Active Sound Design noise cancellation dials back to add road noise, and steering gets heavier. Armed for battle, the I-Pace rips around corners with speed, prose and a curious lack of satisfaction.
Driving the I-Pace hard on the type of road justifies an MX-5 purchase quickly reveals the meaning of the phrase, "just because it can doesn't mean it should." Once the battle between EV-optimized Goodyears and the laws of physics starts to get hot, the I-Pace leans away from the corner as body roll starts to take its toll. A driver does have the luxury of keeping the steering wheel cranked and letting the brake-operated torque vectoring system help steer, but the sense of disconnect with the road means it's not a very fun experience. It only takes a handful of corners to learn that spirited driving is not worth killing the battery over. Much more enjoyable, as long as getting a luxury SUV dirty doesn't irk you, is taking the I-Pace to a steep hill covered in mud and grass and seeing if it can manage to get up it.
Spoiler alert: it can, and without a hint of struggle either. It was surprising to me how great a case the I-Pace makes for electrification when it goes offroad. All it takes is the press of the lift button to raise the suspension and viola, electric torque and torque vectoring comes into play to make off-roading a seamless experience-no locking diffs or low range needed. There's even a downhill cruise control mode just in case you want to get serious about finding out just where the I-Pace can go.
In fact, the I-Pace's main drawback off road is the same one that makes all EVs poor companions for the long road trip: range. With an EPA estimated 234 miles of range per charge and Northern California's extensive network of charging stations, I never felt as if I was at risk of having to ask AAA to collect a dead I-Pace.
However, driving with air conditioning on and the sweet-sounding Meridian speakers playing fast tempos makes the range indicator dwindle quickly and brought awareness to the I-Pace's 76 MPGe rating. It falls short of the Model 3's efficient use of juice, which apparently gets 126 MPGe. That rating, Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, is one of the EV fixtures that drivers will have to get used to, but least Jaguar attempts to make the electric transition easier by adding Creep mode. Its job is to inch the I-Pace forward when the brake is released to mimic any two-pedaled gasoline car. The I-Pace also features a regenerative braking system with two modes that vary how much deceleration it contributes. I quickly found myself turning brake regeneration to high and shutting Creep mode off, which should be the go-to setting for anyone who's driven EVs before.
That combination of settings also helps iron out the I-Pace's weakest link: the way the two braking systems work together. The transition between regenerative braking and pad braking is tough to get right, but I was left feeling like Jaguar could have done better, which Chevy did with the Bolt. When Creep mode is on, the regenerative system slows the car up to a point, but after that deceleration unexpectedly goes away and one finds the I-Pace's gorgeous front end inching towards the car ahead. It doesn't help that the tight space between the brake and throttle makes transitioning between the two cumbersome.
And then there's the fact that the stronger regeneration mode doesn't bring the I-Pace to a complete stop for the full single pedal driving experience. But like the I-Pace's other faults, brake feel is something a driver can adapt to, especially when this Jag has a tendency to steal the hearts of anyone who encounters it.
In the I-Pace, there's an unmistakable sense of satisfaction that rises to the surface and dominates the experience behind the wheel. It's a phenomenon many EV drivers have tried to articulate, but the I-Pace packs a much different flavor of it. Rather than rely on the drivetrain to define the car, Jaguar has crafted an EV that delivers a well-rounded persona and brings the skill of an experienced automaker to a world that's been dominated by a newcomer.
In this arena, where passion for design and excitement for the future has turned Elon Musk into a household name, nothing less than all-out pursuit of excellence will suffice. With the I-Pace filling a niche the Model Y has yet to and doing so with a distinctive flair that raises more pulses than the Audi e-tron, Mercedes EQC, and the BMW iX3, Jaguar has pulled it off. One thing it does have in common with Germany's future EVs is price.
The base I-Pace S starts at $70,495 including destination, but the top-tier HSE model I drove, which includes 20-inch wheels, a power gesture tailgate, Windsor leather seating, a Meridian surround system, and a full suite of driver aids, costs $81,495 including destination. Add $2,400 for the heated and cooled sports seats, $970 for a heads-up display, adaptive dynamics for $700, and a handful of lighting and appearance options costing no more than three figures each and you can get your I-Pace to cost $89,310 like my tester. That's a lot of dough, but it's a price tag that should leave Tesla worried for one reason: a large chunk of its customer base has no trouble scrounging up that kind of cash.