Jaguar I-Pace: First Drive

We missed an earlier event this year when Jaguar were offering test drives in their new I-Pace electric vehicle, so when we received the chance to get behind the wheel of one at the San Francisco car show this week we jumped at it.

Since it was a car show test drive, it was relatively short (about 10 minutes) and constrained to the streets around the show in downtown SF (which, for those unfamiliar with the city, is generally congested and currently has some of the worst road surfaces in the country).

Interestingly, while the line for a ride in the R spec F type two-seater was long, when I finally made it up to the street level for my drive, there was nobody else in the I-Pace line at all. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it was great that I didn’t have to wait that long for my drive, but on the other it means that there still isn’t much interest from Jaguar’s customers in the I-Pace. That being said, one of the Jaguar employees who I spoke to there did mention that most people arriving at the counter did not have a clear idea of what they wanted to drive.

First Edition

The cars they were using for the test drive were the fully loaded ‘First Edition’ spec vehicles with all the bells and whistles. The only visible things from that spec that I was immediately aware of were the larger wheels on the outside, and a heads up display, but it does include different seats, trim details and more according to the model details. The whole package comes in at an eye watering $85,900 base price, although that is really $78,400 for most people after the federal EV incentive is taken into account (and potentially less than that depending on whether any state level incentives are also available).

First Impression

Sitting down and getting the seat adjusted, my first impression was that it was luxurious & very comfortable. Pulling slowly away from the front of the Moscone, and getting into the traffic on Howard St was smooth. A left turn onto fourth took us onto a surface that could almost be described as off-roading it was so poor, but the I-Pace handled it with aplomb. Continuing long 4th, until we reach Bryant where we turned left heading towards the water. Left again on 2nd, then again on Howard brought us back to the Moscone. Very little opportunity there to stretch the big cat’s electric legs, though it was clear from pulling off at the many red lights along the route that it has plenty of torque and few things on the road will beat it off the line.

Comparisons

The only vehicles I really have to compare it to are our Mercedes B Class EV, the Tesla Model X we rented over the summer for a few days and our 2018 Audi Q5.

B Class

Obviously, the I-Pace has much more power and torque than the B Class, though it misses out on some of the Mercedes’ more clever features like brake hold and radar based automatic regenerative braking. It also lacked the steering wheel paddles that the B Class uses so effectively for controlling its regenerative braking modes.

Inside, the I-Pace, as you’d expect from a car selling for almost double the price, is more luxurious and far more modern in its design. The B Class is an entry level Mercedes, but still has a build quality that feels solid and dependable. The I-Pace matched that in initial impression, but only time will truly tell whether the new electronics in it are as reliable as the tried and tested, if somewhat dated, Mercedes ones.

Tesla Model X

We only had the Model X for a few days, but we drove several hundred miles in it including everything from motorways to tiny Devonshire lanes. While the X was a blast to drive, and had its fair share of clever features, the quality of the interior did not feel up to the same standard as the I-Pace. Additionally, while the giant screen looks cool at first, actually using it while driving at 70mph on the motorway in the UK was far from simple. A lot of that could be fixed by a better UX, but at the end of the day, having dedicated controls and commonly used features that the driver can feel for rather than having to look for would probably be safer.

The Model X was larger in terms of seating capacity (ours seated up to six, in three rows, though the back row was pretty small), but the front seats were less comfortable than those in the I-Pace. In particular, the Model X headrests do not adjust, and for me at least, the bottom corner of the diamond shaped headrest in the X pressed into my back between my shoulder blades all the time. The I-Pace headrests adjust up and down.

The panoramic glass on the Model X differentiates it from the I-Pace, and pretty much everything else out there, though the glass roof in the I-Pace today made it feel light and airy inside.

Audi Q5

In size terms, the I-Pace is closer to our Audi Q5 (which is powered by a 2.0l turbo charged gasoline engine). The Audi’s interior includes their current virtual cockpit (which I absolutely love) and the touch pad entry system (which I am not so sure about). I think the I-Pace interior felt a little more modern than even our Q5, but looking at the e-tron interior photos it looks like the Audi EV will be just as modern inside (and, at least outside the US, maybe even have some gadgets the I-Pace lacks).

On the outside though I think the I-Pace’s design looks far more edgy and modern than the Audi. While we couldn’t get inside it today, we did get the chance to walk around the e-tron on the Audi booth, and it looks just like the Q5 and Q7. If it wasn’t for the e-tron badging and the strangely plasticky closed off front grille, you might think it was the long rumored Q6. 

Where Audi won over the competition we compared it to when buying it was in the handling its Quattro four wheel drive system provides, and it wasn’t really possible to compare the Jag’s handling to that given the short time that I had in it today. I would say that it certainly did not feel as though the big cat would disappoint, and even on the rough section of San Francisco’s streets it felt planted and confident. Pulling off (relatively fast) in some loose gravel from the red light at 4th and Folsom presented no issues for it at all, but that is not much of a test.

Winning Hearts

Interestingly, Andrew, my Jaguar co-pilot for today’s test, says that while many of his colleagues have picked up F-Pace or F-Type Jaguars for their own vehicles, he has yet to pick one and his time in the I-Pace has him leaning in that direction.

We had a similar experience with the salesperson for our B Class, who admitted steering customers away from the EVs, but after he drove ours to the dealership from a sister dealership around 40 miles away, was rethinking his opinions of them, not least the performance part.

It would have been nice to see more people taking a test drive in the I-Pace today as I think even a short drive could help dispel some of the myths that they are not as much fun as an ICE vehicle to drive.

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