When the Tesla Model X launched nearly three years ago, it was the only option for buyers who wanted an all-electric luxury SUV with enough range for a week of commuting or a weekend getaway.
Buttressed by the prestige of the startup’s flagship Model S sedan, the Model X dominated the segment as its sole player even as it suffered complaints over design flaws and build quality.
Enter the Jaguar I-Pace, the market’s second luxury SUV to run on battery power and the first from a major automaker. The five-passenger crossover will arrive at dealerships later this year as a sleek, 394-horsepower alternative to the Model X.
Using a 90 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery powering a pair of electric motors, the I-Pace delivers an estimated electric range of 240 miles. (The Model X gets about 237 to 295 miles depending on the trim.)
Jaguar, a brand owned by Jaguar Land Rover, developed the I-Pace after showing it as a concept at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show. Industry watchers marveled that a relatively small car company without the global resources of Daimler, for example, could be the first to take on Tesla.
Jaguar’s model won’t be the sole challenger to the Model X for long. It’s the first in a parade of forthcoming rivals as the cost of batteries drops and consumer demand grows. The industry expects a slew of all-electric SUVs from Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW as well as Tesla’s planned compact crossover, known as the Model Y, over the next few years.
“That space is going to get a lot more crowded in the next five years, and we know that,” said Stuart Schorr, vice president of communications for Jaguar Land Rover North America, at the global launch event for the I-Pace in southern Portugal.
The I-Pace is Jaguar’s third SUV following the launch of its flagship F-Pace and compact E-Pace crossovers. The F-Pace catapulted to the top of the brand’s lineup shortly after its 2016 debut and boosted its sales by more than double.
But the marketing challenge for this newest model is different, Schorr said.
As the first major automaker to produce an all-electric luxury crossover, Jaguar Land Rover faces a unique challenge: how to market it. Will market share come from Tesla customers, Tesla holdouts or people who haven’t even considered an EV before?
In the meantime, until the crop of electric competitors launches, Jaguar said it’s competing against the high-performance versions of familiar SUV nameplates such as the Model X 100D, Porsche Cayenne S and Porsche Macan GTS.
A couple of days behind the wheel of the I-Pace, which comes standard with all-wheel drive, validates Jaguar’s claim. Even though it establishes a new mid-size premium battery-electric vehicle segment, it still drives like a sports car, as proven by a back-to-back comparison lap with Jaguar’s F-Type halo car on Portugal’s Autodromo do Algarve race track.
It zips from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds, hits a top speed of 124 mph and comfortably handles the challenging, 2.91-mile circuit’s undulations and tight turns, boosted by the instant torque of its electric motors.
Its performance also is near-Land Rover levels on road, off road or in water but with the stealth of a silent EV. On the drive to the track, the SUV waded through a muddy ravine, climbed up a steep mountain path and descended the other side with confidence. On the pavement, it also accelerated, merged and passed other cars with the speed and dexterity of a sedan.
Sleek as a sports car and muscular as a traditional SUV, the I-Pace hews to the Pace family’s “cab-forward, coupe-like silhouette,” according to its designers. But its powertrain helped “liberate” the SUV from typical constraints, they said.
The battery pack is centered between the two axles, which allows for a 50:50 weight distribution, lower center of gravity and more interior space within a smaller overall footprint. The position of the motors also allows for a short hood and rear overhangs. Together, these elements conjure the sporty essence of the Jaguar C-X75, the automaker’s 2010 mid-engine supercar concept.
And despite its performance chops, the I-Pace is making a foray into the autonomous movement, gearing up to join Waymo’s fleet as its first premium self-driving electric vehicle.
Though the 2019 model won’t be offered with any fully autonomous features, it’s the first Jaguar Land Rover vehicle available with adaptive cruise control and steering assist, which centers the vehicle in the lane.
The I-Pace will debut with an Amazon Alexa Skill, allowing users to ask questions about the vehicle based on information held in the Jaguar InControl Remote mobile app. A battery pre-conditioning system allows the crossover to reach a pre-set temperature ahead of time, maximizing range by precluding the need to draw power from the on-board battery. The I-Pace also can optimize the driver’s route to conserve battery power, adapt to driving habits using artificial intelligence machine learning and update its software over the air.
The 2019 I-Pace will be available in a trio of trims, as well as a First Edition model available for the first year only.
Covered by an eight-year warranty, the I-Pace’s lithium-ion battery can achieve an 80 percent charge in 40 minutes using a 100kW DC fast charger. Home charging with a traditional 230-volt AC wall box takes a little longer — just over 10 hours — but should leave drivers with a fully juiced battery by morning.
Before government incentives, the starting price is $69,500. That’s $10,000 less than the Model X.
Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event where Jaguar Land Rover hosted travel and lodging.