I used to be a die-hard petrol-head, but Jaguar’s electric SUV converted me

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The 2019 Jaguar I-Pace is a very important vehicle to Jaguar. While obviously no automaker can afford to launch a flop, smaller automakers like Jaguar are always walking a tightrope of profitability and loss. Every new model can potentially torpedo the yearly margin for the whole company. As Jaguar’s first fully electric vehicle, the pressure on the I-Pace is doubled because it is also pioneering new technology for Jaguar. It’s not like they have a lot of experience releasing all-wheel drive vehicles with two electric motors powered by a 90kWh battery.

Every manufacturer is jumping in the EV game right now, with the leaders launching models and the laggards beginning their planning phases. So it’s no surprise that Jag is jumping into electron propulsion. Nor should it be a surprise that their first EV is an SUV and not a sedan or sports car. SUVs are ruling the sales market right now, and center of profitability for most automakers. Making their first electric car an SUV is basically placing the safe bet.

And what an SUV it is. From the form following function aesthetics to the sumptuous leather touchpoints, from top to bottom the I-Pace is utterly spectacular (with one caveat). Every aspect of this vehicle exudes Jaguar-ness, and upscale futurism. If this is our electric driving future, bring it on. And I don’t say that lightly or glibly. Simply put, this is the first electric vehicle I’ve driven that hasn’t made me miss an internal combustion engine, or even once consider that I’m in an electric car. The I-Pace removes you from that internal monologue by executing every role it has with precision. Regardless of how it is propelled or refueled, the I-Pace is simply a great SUV. Full stop.

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The Jag also puts the Sport in Sport Utility Vehicle, and this is where it wears its British character on its sleeve. Jaguars have always been about sporting luxury, from the XK120 to the E-Type and up through the modern executive XJ. Jags have had that little bit of edge and personality to draw you from the safe-bet BMWs and Porsches of the world. There are certainly more luxurious SUVs on the market. And more powerful than its 394hp and 512 lb-ft of torque. And more technological. But there are few that exist that so evenly and proportionally balance the feelings of sport and luxury so as to not overwhelm or overcompensate, but simply provide an overall cohesive experience that results in driving pleasure. Put this delicate balance of athleticism and upmarket fittings into an EV, and suddenly you’re in a class of one.

But what about the Model X?

Obviously, the elephant in the room here is the Tesla Model X. Starting at $81,000, while you can get into the Jag for $70,000, these two are clearing aiming at the same customers. Our tester rings the bell at $88,001 after ticking the box for the “First Edition” and adding wheel locks, rear seat convenience features, a $49 car care kit, and the Premium Interior Protection Pack – which somehow consists of $549 worth of cargo nets and rubber floor mats. Regardless, most Model Xs are up-optioned as well and it is perfectly reasonable to cross shop these two SUVs. They are also the main game in town when it comes to electric SUVs at the moment, so you’d be foolish not to consider them both if you’re in the market. In our testing, we’ve found the Model X to be a fine automobile with otherworldly features and fit and finish problems not seen from other global manufacturers. The Model X is a well-driving car that can swallow up family activities with aplomb. But the I-Pace is a differently bred animal.

The I-Pace not only has the EV street-cred of the Tesla while having vastly superior fit and finish both inside and out, but the Jag is actually sporty. Not sporty in the point-and-squirt Ludicrous mode kind of way. That’s not sporty at all unless you live your life on quarter-mile at a time. A Model X in Ludicrous Mode will trounce the I-Pace’s 0-60mph time of four seconds, but the big Tesla is no athlete when it comes to the twisty stuff. Ask any sports car or racing fan – a sporty feeling to a car comes not from quickness or outright speed, but from how a vehicle can handle those annoyingly frequent non-straight sections of road. See, the Jaguar I-Pace brings its athleticism through suspension tuning and setup, not through ludicrous mode.

While the I-Pace outperforms the Model X with a skid pad performance of .9g, the real proof is the seat-of-the-pants feeling when flogging the Jag around an autocross. The I-Pace feels eager and willing to indulge your infantile desires, a willing co-conspirator rather than a begrudging participant. Again, has always been Jaguars party trick and I-Pace lives up to this mischievously legacy perfectly.

Not futuristic touchscreen

It also lives up to a long history of behind-the-times infotainment systems. The I-Pace’s touchscreen control unit is so slow it would be laughable if it wasn’t so annoying. Good luck getting to your vehicle settings or music delights without letting out one disgruntled sigh. Strangely, there is very good tech just six inches down from the infotainment screen, this time controlling the HVAC settings. Each front seat gets a round selector knob that is actually triple-function. Rotate the knob left or right and you’ll adjust that person’s cabin temperature. Pull the knob out and the function of the knob as well as the center screen switches to controlling the fan speed for the HVAC system. Lastly, pushing in the knob switches over to controlling and displaying the seat heater/cooler function. The whole system is a very elegant and pleasing solution to packaging constraints of modern cars.

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Packaging solutions are a major reason the Ian Callum designed exterior looks the way it does. Without a traditional engine and transmission architecture to accommodate, the front wheels can be pushed farther forward – benefitting stability, comfort and interior space. You can see this move in the I-Pace’s abbreviated hood and overall squat looks. During our time with the car, opinions on the looks were consistently 8 out of 10 positive – to which I would add my vote. In person, the electric Jag has unique and attractive proportions that never fail to stand out, especially in this Photon Red paint.

The fit and finish of all the body panels, as well as that of the interior, is as beautiful and precise as you would expect from an $70,000 automobile, where the I-Pace won me over. Up to now, some of the highest praise heaped on EVs and hybrid cars is that “they feel just like a normal car.” I myself am guilty of this. But in all the historical cases, the vehicles drove like a normal car but you never forgot you were in an electrified conveyance. They displayed, and still display their difference front and center, and the best you can do is to have that difference in the back of your mind while you realize how normal it drives. The Jaguar I-Pace is different. It just doesn’t matter that it’s electric. It never even enters your head. You’re simply piloting a normal SUV doing normal things feeling normal.

Let’s talk about range baby

Let’s talk about that range. Yes, the 234 miles of electric range is less than even the baseline Model X’s 255 miles. However I would argue that we as a society have arrived, range-wise. At 220+ miles of range, the average American commuter can plug in their EV once a week and never run out charge. I put this simple fact to the test and it completely transformed my relationship to electric cars and forever banished my range anxiety. By banishing the mundane and seemingly forgettable task of plugging in your EV every time you park and each night, you take your remaining range from top of mind to something you think about as often as you think about how much gas you have in the tank – only once in a while. This difference turns a vehicle from an electric car to a car. The Jaguar I-Pace doesn’t drive just like a normal car, it is a normal car. And all the better for it.

Jaguar bet an enormous amount – both financially and reputationally – on the I-Pace, and that bet has paid off. Here is the car that took home an IDA Design Award, European Car of the Year, and World Car of the Year, not to mention a host of Best Ofs from individual publications and site. Allow me to also throw my hat in the ring behind the big Jag. I’m proud to declare the Jaguar I-Pace the Digital Trends Editor’s Choice for Electric SUVs. This is the car that completely converted me, a dyed-in-the-coveralls petrolhead, to the fun EV future. Hybrid sports cars like the NSX and i8 helped, but this full electric family hauler is what convinced me that a fully EV future is going to be a blast.

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