First drive: 2019 Jaguar I Pace [Video review]

Jaguar takes aim at Tesla with a premium EV of its own.

For those in the market for an up-scale electric vehicle, Tesla is the only game in town. Or rather was the only game in town.

Tesla is no longer the world's only premium automaker thanks to an unlikely source; it's not a giant automaker like General Motors or Volkswagen that's taking on Tesla, but rather plucky little Jaguar.

An EV with a British accentJaguar is squaring off against Tesla with its all-new I Pace. Officially, Jaguar refers to the I Pace as an SUV, but it's really more along the lines of a hatchback sedan. So while Jaguar views the I Pace more as a rival for the Tesla Model X, it's actually pretty similar in form to the Model S.

In terms of exterior dimensions, the I Pace is smaller than either Tesla. However, despite being shorter than the Model S, the I Pace actually has a longer wheelbase than Tesla's electric sedan, which contributes to a roomy interior.

And while we're on the subject of interiors, we should probably talk about the I Pace's digital center stack, which Jaguar refers to as the "flight deck.” The main user interface of the I Pace is essentially contained within two screens — an upper unit for things like navigation and vehicle settings, and lower screen for climate control functions. There are only two physical knobs on the I Pace's center stack, and even those have screens embedded in them.

The I Pace also has a fully digital gauge cluster. The high-resolution unit is configurable, so you can set it up just the way you like. And if that wasn't enough digital overload, the I Pace also comes with a head-up display to keep all pertinent information easily within your gaze.

But the I Pace's interior isn't just all tech and no luxury — it is a Jaguar after all. Lower-end I Pace models miss out on things like leather and wood trim, but mid- and upper-trim models feel just as Jaguar-ish as anything else in the automaker's lineup. Leather is soft and supple-feeling, and optional dark wood trim goes a long way in warming the I Pace's interior. Even with its digital dash, the I Pace doesn't hit you over the head with tech — it feels like a proper luxury vehicle that just happens to have a few LCD screens. Oh, and an all-electric drivetrain.

That electric drivetrain consists of a pair of electric motors — one located at the front and the other at the rear, giving the I Pace all-wheel drive. Total system output stands at 394 horsepower and 512 lb-ft of torque. And the I Pace needs that kind of juice — with all of its electronics onboard, the I Pace weighs over 4,700 pounds. Still, those torquey motors are more than enough to overcome the I Pace's heft, with Jaguar quoting a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds.

The I Pace uses a 90kWh lithium-ion battery pack that's sandwiched between its floor panels. That placement is important as it helps to keep the I Pace's center of gravity low, which improves overall handling. A perfect 50-50 weight distribution also contributes to the I Pace's surprisingly nimble handling.

The I Pace is good for 240 miles on a full charge. Recharging the I Pace from 0-80 percent requires about 40 minutes on a quick-charge source; if you're using a 220v source, that same charge requires 10 hours of plug-in time. If you're using a standard household plug, good luck. A 110v trickle charge will take 40 hours to top off the I Pace's battery.

Jaguar stylingThe I Pace is easily the most unconventional looking Jaguar, but you can still see the family resemblance to vehicles like the F Pace and XF. Up front the I Pace has Jaguar's signature headlight treatment and familiar grille. However, take a closer look at the I Pace's grille and you'll notice that it's not just an off-the-shelf part. The upper part of the grille curves backwards to funnel air up and through the Jaguar's hood. Jaguar was obsessive about aerodynamics when designing the I Pace, and it shows with all the scoops, creases and curves that make up the SUV's body work.

In profile a low roofline contributes to a very un-SUV like silhouette. But I Pace models equipped with the optional air suspension can look a little tougher at least; the system lowers at high speeds to improve aero, but you can increase the SUV's ride height at lower speeds. Available wheel sizes range from 18- to 22-inches.

The rear of the I Pace features a sharply raked rear window and an extremely blunt tailgate area — again, both were designed for maximum airflow. Ditto for the diffusor just below the I Pace's rear bumper. Taillights are wide and thin, similar to other vehicles in Jaguar's portfolio.

Overall the I Pace is a striking looking vehicle, but we wouldn't consider it the prettiest vehicle in the Jaguar lineup. That's not a huge surprise since the I Pace was designed with a greater emphasis on function rather than form. If you don't like the way the I Pace looks in pictures, hold your judgement until you see it in the flesh; the I Pace is one of those vehicles that looks better in person.

Drive timeDuring our time with the I Pace we were able to sample it on highways, twisting backroads, a race track and even an off-road course. Needless to say, we became intimately familiar with the I Pace's driving dynamics under a number of different conditions.

Like most electric vehicles, the first thing you notice when driving the I Pace is the instantaneous torque. Accelerating from a stop is intoxicating. A 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds isn't exactly world-beating these days, but the I Pace's instant lump of torque makes it feel far faster than the numbers would indicate. Moreover, the I Pace can take off like a bat out of hell at pretty much any speed. That sense of speed is enhanced by artificial sound pumped through the I Pace's cabin that can be best described as a UFO with a muscle car engine.

The I Pace handles far better than we were expecting. Despite its portly curb weight and classification as an SUV, the I Pace zips through tight corners without any appreciable body lean. It really does feel light on its feet. On initial turn-in you get some sense of the I Pace's heft, but then it kind of hunkers down and just hugs the road. And the I Pace's all-wheel drive system ensures all that power is delivered to the road surface in an efficient manner.

And you can really make the most of the I Pace's handling prowess thanks to a steering system that's well weighted and extremely direct. The I Pace has a nice on center feel and steering isn't so responsive that it feels twitchy during normal driving.

The I Pace is as smooth and comfortable as you'd expect a Jag to be. Our test model was equipped with the optional air ride suspension and it had no problem ironing out even the roughest of road surfaces — even with 22-inch wheels and low-profile tires. We also sampled an I Pace with 20-inch wheels and that model proved to be a smidge more comfortable thanks to its taller sidewalls. With no internal combustion engine rumbling under hood, the I Pace's interior is extremely quiet, although some wind noise does penetrate the cabin.

The I Pace's standard front bucket seats proved to be comfortable and supportive over a full day of driving. We found the sports seats with their thinner padding to be a little less comfortable. We also weren't big fans of the sport seat's aggressive bolsters, which were a bit too intrusive.

The I Pace's second row provides miles of legroom — far more than you'd get from a typical vehicle with the I Pace's footprint. But the I Pace's sloping roof will prevent you from chauffeuring around the NBA All-Star team. There's enough headroom for your average adult, but those a little over six-foot might struggle to fit their noggins within the I Pace's rear confines.

We doubt many owners are planning to take their I Pace off-roading, but Jaguar has baked in some decent capability into its electric SUV. With short front- and rear-overhangs the I Pace naturally has good approach and departure angles, and the air ride suspension can provide additional ground clearance when needed. The I Pace also features a few different off-road modes to cope with various surfaces, so it should have no problem getting you to that cabin in the woods.

One glaring omission from Jaguar's I Pace presentation was any talk of autonomous technology. But the I Pace does have some semi-autonomous tech like adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. We found the former to work as expected, but the latter wasn't the best system we ever sampled. Rather than keeping the I Pace centered within its lane, the lane keep system tended to "bounce” from one lane line to the other. So while Jaguar may be able to take on Tesla's electric vehicles, it's not quite ready to take Autopilot head-on.

Pricing for the I Pace will start at just under $70,000 before destination and any available government rebates. That's about $10,000 cheaper than a comparable Tesla Model X. A well-equipped HSE model will list from about $80,000, while the limited edition First Edition model will command $85,000. Go crazy with the options and you can spec out an I Pace to over $97,000.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe world finally has a Tesla alternative, and it's from a very unlikely source. But a Jaguar electric actually makes for a pretty good alternative to have.

Like the Model S and Model X, the I Pace has an electric drivetrain you can live with on a daily basis — range is more than acceptable and you can quick charge the I Pace in well under an hour. But unlike the Teslas, the I Pace has an interior that doesn't place tech ahead of traditional luxury, which could be a nice point of differentiation for Jaguar. The I Pace falls short of Tesla in terms of semi-autonomous driving aids and hidden surprise and delight items (in Tesla models you can do things like change the navigation screen to show the surface of Mars and display your vehicle as Bond's amphibious Lotus), but you do get a break in pricing. Those shortcomings aside, the I Pace is a solid first effort from Jaguar and one that should draw plenty of attention from Tesla intenders.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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