BLACKPOOL, England — Blackpool is as working class as fish and chips, a pint of bitter, and apple pie with custard. A favorite destination during the U.K.’s Bank Holidays, the seaside resort—known among other things for its neo-Eiffel Tower and antique beachfront trams—welcomes us with a glittering array of gambling arcades, low-rent fast food eateries, back street riffraff, and the grand autumnal illumination that has to double the city’s electricity bill.
Speaking of electricity, mild panic made the rounds of Team I-Pace when the task of finding a sufficiently powerful charging dock for the brand-new all-electric Jaguar proved more difficult than expected. Thankfully there were a couple of low-power wall boxes at the hotel. By the time Wolfgang Ziebart (the driving force behind the I-Pace’s development and my co-pilot for our cross-U.K. adventure) and I set off the next morning, the state-of-charge display read 93 percent, and the range meter indicated we had more than enough juice to make the nominal 147 miles to our destination. In an effort to maximize driving pleasure and minimize consumption, the chosen route was practically devoid of highway stretches. The chase car carried a couple of spare wheels and a tow bar but no mobile charger.
“The I-Pace combines the best of both worlds … It protects our planet and puts a big smile on the driver’s face.”
An early eye-opener was a multimile duel we had with a black Mercedes-AMG C 63. True, at speeds over 90 mph where max power takes over from max torque, the AMG and its twin-turbo V-8 pulled away with vigor. But we reeled it back in through slower sections thanks to the I-Pace’s regenerative braking feature, which has the lift-off effect of a sudden super-strong headwind. Exceed 0.4 g, and its four disc brakes will match the AMG sedan inch by inch for stopping power, all while charging the batteries in the process. The I-Pace also excels around quick S-bends and wide roundabouts. Especially roundabouts. Its long, 117.7-inch wheelbase and high curb weight of 4,784 pounds kick the door open to a new dimension of grip and road-holding no similarly sized SUV save the Porsche Macan can match. Frustrated by the white apparition looming large in his mirrors, the Mercedes driver eventually gave up and waved us past.
“This was living proof that modern battery-electric vehicles are no longer about renunciation and dynamic concessions,” Jaguar’s beaming senior engineer declared from the passenger seat after our AMG encounter. Ziebart also lauded the I-Pace’s instant torque punch, its electric all-wheel drive that introduces a new dimension of axle-by-axle torque vectoring, and the air suspension, which helps neutralize the weight penalty. “The I-Pace combines the best of both worlds,” he said. “It protects our planet, and it puts a big smile on the driver’s face.”
Those smiles start with the car’s 90-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which feeds power to two electric motors, mounted in the center of the front and rear axles, that produce a total of 394 horsepower and 512 lb-ft of twist routed through a single-speed transmission. It hits 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and calls it quits at 124 mph, according to Jaguar.
It does it all with a hush, too. Just as the environment needs to get used to the silently approaching electric car, the driver needs time to learn and adjust as well. Take for instance the “single-pedal” driving style many cite as one of the breed’s dynamic highlights. You decelerate by lifting off of the throttle, using the high amount of drag-producing brake regeneration for the best balance of charging the batteries and pacing yourself. Ziebart loves the one-pedal feel, which probably explains why the toggle for alternating between low- and high-regeneration modes is hidden in the undergrowth of the I-Pace’s system settings. Although high works well in many situations, it forces you to keep the accelerator depressed at a certain minimum angle or the vehicle will swiftly purr to a stop. In terms of overall energy balance, low is therefore marginally more efficient than high.
“Forget range and state of charge,” commanded Herr Ziebart. “Just go for it. Drive it like an F-Type.”
Whenever we stopped for photos, food, or a brief pow-wow, the Jaguar was about as conspicuous to onlookers as the area’s grazing sheep. No one really took notice of this early exercise in zero-emissions mobility. That’s probably because the I-Pace looks first and foremost like a modern Jaguar, sporting a large trademark grille, a stubby squared-off front end, substantial 20-inch wheels (22-inchers are available, 18-inchers come standard) hugging the seldom-applied brakes, and a spacious body shaped for street cred and aerodynamic efficiency.
The I-Pace’s basic operation is as easy as most any other car. Hitting the starter button summons the instruments, lights, and infotainment. There are four self-explanatory keys labeled D, N, R, and P. The dished steering wheel is laden with various fumblements, the driving position is of the command-view type, and the 18-way seats are comfortable and supportive. However, legroom for taller drivers is compromised by the elbowing center console, and visibility is masked some by the rakish greenhouse and prominent C-pillars. That said, thanks in part to the lack of a conventional powertrain, interior space in the well-executed, cab-forward cabin is ample, with multiple significant storage areas and plenty of room for four adults, five in a pinch. A full-length glass panoramic roof further opens up the space. Three digital screens—the 12.3-inch instrument panel, 10.0-inch main touchscreen, and 5.5-inch supplemental touchscreen below it in the center stack—offer loads of information and are generally easy to use.
Heading north past Lancaster, we skirt the Forest of Bowland before heading inland for the Yorkshire Dales along a route usually haunted by members of the Anti-Destination League. But today you could easily mistake the 40-mile section between Ingleton and Bedale for a particularly picturesque stage of Rallye England. “Forget range and state of charge,” commanded Herr Ziebart. “Just go for it. Drive it like an F-Type.” Order taken, mission accomplished.
At just south of 1,400 pounds, the battery pack adds more than enough weight to flatten the ride, lower the center of gravity, and balance the axle loads. Even low-speed suspension comfort is acceptable; neither potholes nor crumbling soft shoulders will upset the car’s balance and poise. Long undulations and transverse irritations are rarely an issue, and tire roar is about level with wind noise. The I-Pace does a fine job building confidence through communication, composure, and coolness at speed.
Although Eco, Snow/Gravel, and Comfort modes have their place, Dynamic is where the I-Pace is at its paciest: Throttle tip-in strikes like lightning, and tip-out squashes speed as if an electronic gremlin had pulled the parking brake. Throttle action is downright aggressive, and although the steering may be a touch too heavy, the suspension stamps its go-faster signature onto every apex it can clip. Sound like a hardcore sports car? It should. We had it airborne over brows, occasionally lifted the inner front wheel when cornering Formula E style, and took no prisoners circling three-lane roundabouts on the racing line. Ziebart grinned but said nothing. He looked happy that I too now knew what he knew all along.
“Everyone is at the beginning of a learning curve, which may be steeper than we think.”
About two-thirds of the way across the British Isle, the range monitor suddenly suggested we should recharge ASAP, ideally at a shopping mall down the road, sparking some EV anxiety. Two minutes later, however, the computer caught up with the navigation system and indicated we were good to go for the remainder of the journey to Scarborough. “Everyone is at the beginning of a learning curve, which may be steeper than we think,” Ziebart said. “That’s why generous comfort and safety margins are so important.”
We arrived in Scarborough with plenty of range left, just in time for tea and scones. I was sorry to see the I-Pace go because it is a harbinger of a bright and promising future, and it is, most important, fun to drive. Make that a lot of fun. Max torque on demand is a killer asset, vehicle dynamics are already a match for the SVR mindset, and more space in combination with a smaller footprint scores 10 out of 10 on the practicality scale.
Not too long ago, Jaguar would have been proud to be an early adopter of technologies invented elsewhere. In the summer of 2018, however, things are different: The I-Pace is a surprise leader of the battery-powered pack.
2019 Jaguar I-Pace Specifications
|ENGINE||Dual synchronous electric motors, 394 hp, 512 lb-ft; 90.0-kWh lithium-ion battery pack|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front- and rear-motor, AWD crossover|
|EPA MILEAGE||93/97 mpg-e city/hwy, 240-mile range (est)|
|L x W x H||184.3 x 61.3 x 84.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||124 mph|