Jaguar I-pace

Pro­to­type all-elec­tric SUV

Auto Car (UK) - - THIS WEEK - MATT SAUN­DERS @Thedark­stormy1

On the ground floor of a dim, multi-storey car park some­where in east Lon­don sits what might be the most dar­ing and im­por­tant new Jaguar in more than five decades. Glow­ing in a coat of Pho­ton Red paint so vi­brant that you’d swear it was lu­mi­nes­cent – and de­fy­ing your ev­ery at­tempt at clas­si­fi­ca­tion but for rea­sons that only in­vite your eyes to linger – the I-pace looks bold and ex­cit­ing even here among the strip-light yel­low and con­crete grey. It’s part su­per­car, part util­ity car; some­how all Jaguar and yet not re­ally like any Jaguar there has ever been. By the stan­dards of the most far-fetched show cars, it’s stun­ning. ex­cept that here and now, away from the mo­tor show stand where thou­sands have al­ready ad­mired it, the I-pace is clearly not fan­tasy: it looks ready to be driven. And to­day, it will be.

To­day will be one of only a hand­ful of oc­ca­sions when the I-pace con­cept will ever be driven – and, sadly, it won’t be driven widely or quickly, or in any­thing like the fash­ion that we’d like. But driven it will be. Be­cause when Jaguar in­vites you to ex­pe­ri­ence a car as po­ten­tially trans­for­ma­tive as this first-hand and at such an early stage, you grab the op­por­tu­nity with both hands and learn what you can.

There are only a hand­ful of I-pace pro­to­types in ex­is­tence, and this very one will be whisked off to­wards the bright lights of the Geneva mo­tor show when we’re done. The car is in­sured for £2 mil­lion – and that’s prob­a­bly a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate of its true value to Jaguar. So you drive it re­spect­fully, with a poly­styrene pad un­der your back­side so your jeans don’t mark the leather and your shoes left on the pave­ment so you don’t get the carpets muddy. But sure, they say, you can drive it. And so to­day, the story of what the I-pace might mean for its maker – and what it might do for it – can hit an­other gear.

Be­fore all of that, though, comes a chance to catch up with some of the key men in­volved in the I-pace project and find out what stage it has reached, be­hind the in­creas­ingly im­pen­e­tra­ble wall of se­crecy that en­cir­cles Jaguar Land Rover’s Gay­don head­quar­ters. They are Matt Beaven, chief ex­te­rior de­signer, ad­vanced de­sign for Jaguar; Sandy Boyes, Beaven’s op­po­site num­ber on in­te­rior de­sign; and Dave Shaw, ve­hi­cle engi­neer­ing man­ager. Un­der some duress, and with the

Jaguar says the I-pace will do 0-62mph in around 4.0sec and have just over 300 miles of us­able cruis­ing range

un­der­stand­able ret­i­cence of peo­ple who are work­ing on a car that has yet to fully ma­ture, they sketch in a few tan­ta­lis­ing de­tails about this mould-break­ing all-elec­tric sports car-cum-suv.

“We’re about half­way through the de­vel­op­ment work of the pro­duc­tion car,” says Shaw, “and we’re on time and on track to de­liver against our orig­i­nal prom­ises. That means we’re about six weeks away from hav­ing the first val­i­da­tion pro­to­types [the first mules in what’s ap­proach­ing a fi­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tion] to work on.”

Sounds like life’s about to get quite ex­cit­ing for Shaw and his team. The prom­ises he refers to are the head­line num­bers that Jaguar com­mit­ted to when the I-pace con­cept was un­veiled at the Los An­ge­les mo­tor show last au­tumn: 395bhp and 516lb ft of torque from two elec­tric motors, one per axle; 0-62mph in around 4.0sec; just over 300 miles of us­able cruis­ing range; and a 90kwh lithium ion drive bat­tery than can be charged to 80% full from a pub­lic DC fast-charger in 90min. If those per­for­mance tar­gets are achieved, they’d make the I-pace a faster-ac­cel­er­at­ing and longer-legged car than the Tesla Model X 90D that we road tested last month. And that would be a pretty stel­lar show­ing for Jaguar’s first road-go­ing EV of any kind.

Shaw is ev­i­dently so con­fi­dent of hit­ting those tar­gets be­cause his en­gi­neers were in­volved in the I-pace’s de­sign from its em­bry­onic stages. The I-pace, as any­one in­side Jaguar will tell you, was that trea­sured rar­ity among so-called new cars: a gen­uine clean-sheet de­sign un­con­strained by seg­ment norms or pre­de­ces­sors or the de­sign com­pro­mises im­posed by a nor­mal com­bus­tion en­gine and driv­e­line. It could have been the wildest de­signer’s flight of fancy any mo­tor show ever saw – but it isn’t.

Shaw says: “As a com­pany, we re­alised about five years ago, that it saves us all a lot of pain fur­ther down the line if we all sit around a ta­ble early on to de­cide what’s the best we can do with what we’ve got.

“Oth­er­wise, the de­sign­ers come up with a car that aes­thet­i­cally meets ev­ery­thing they want it to do, only to hand over to the en­gi­neers who have to say: ‘Yeah… but, ac­tu­ally, that bit can’t, that bit can’t and this bit won’t.’ This way, we’re all in it to­gether and we all move faster that way.”

So the I-pace re­ally isn’t just an­other show car, as Beaven ex­plains: “De­sign-wise, we were work­ing on the pro­duc­tion ver­sion of the I-pace at the same time as the con­cept,” he says. “We were keen not to over-prom­ise; that the pro­duc­tion ver­sion shouldn’t let you down. It will end up be­ing very sim­i­lar.

“This was a huge chal­lenge for us. The I-pace has to be recog­nis­able as a Jaguar while start­ing in a to­tally blank space. We knew from the off that we weren’t in­ter­ested in the kind of elec­tric car sub-brand that other car mak­ers have in­tro­duced. This had to be an au­then­tic Jaguar and com­mu­ni­cate Jaguar’s tra­di­tional values through en­tirely new pro­por­tions.”

So where do you start de­sign­ing a car like this – or even just when tak­ing it in? It’s hard to know what to make of the I-pace away from the pedestal mo­tor show glare and in such a sin­gu­larly unthe­atri­cal set­ting. Those short over­hangs, aero­dy­namic-look­ing sil­hou­ette and cabin-for­wards pro­file owe more to su­per­car de­sign type than SUV de­sign con­ven­tion – so the I-pace ac­tu­ally looks more like the C-X75 than it does an F-pace. The F-type sports car was an in­flu­ence, too.

“The car’s short front haunches and elon­gated rear ones are like an F-type in mir­ror-im­age,” says

Beaven. That sounds like clas­sic car-de­signer dou­ble-speak – but if you stand far enough back and take in the whole of the car’s shape, you can see what he means. Ul­ti­mately, al­though you can’t quite de­cide if it’s a hatch­back or a sports car or some new sort of SUV you’re look­ing at, you can’t help but won­der if know­ing re­ally mat­ters. The I-pace is some­thing new and noth­ing more or less than the very best EV that Jaguar can imag­ine right now.

I’m shoe­less and ready to slide on board at last. Heavy door, fid­dly han­dle. “What­ever you do, don’t slam it.” Yup, this is a con­cept car all right – but the driv­ing po­si­tion and the cabin lay­out will be re­li­able guides of what to ex­pect from the pro­duc­tion ver­sion. You sit low by SUV stan­dards, at a sim­i­lar height as you might in an F-pace, but in a cock­pit that’s more sparse, airy and spa­cious-feel­ing. A high cen­tre con­sole makes you feel snug, but the con­trols and in­stru­ments in front of you are at a lower level than you might ex­pect to find them. Maybe this is an SUV after all.

A low scut­tle grants ex­cel­lent for­ward vis­i­bil­ity. Over­all, you’re seated very com­fort­ably, with very lit­tle ex­panse of bon­net or dash­board in front you, close to the car’s front wheels. And al­though I’m not per­mit­ted ac­cess to the pris­tine back seats to ver­ify as much, I’m told that the cabin-for­ward lay­out also makes for ex­cel­lent sec­ond-row oc­cu­pant space, on a par with that of a lux­ury sa­loon, and 530 litres of boot space.

De­signed in homage to the F-type’s asym­met­ric driver-fo­cused fas­cia, the I-pace’s dash­board curves around to en­cir­cle you in the driver’s seat. There’s an LCD in­stru­ment screen im­me­di­ate ahead, and a larger in­fo­tain­ment screen at the top of the can­tilevered, ar­chi­tec­tural-look­ing cen­tre stack, which con­tains a smaller, sec­ond touch­screen at a lower level. This be­ing a con­cept car, none of the screens are work­ing – one of them dis­play­ing blink­ing lines of pro­gram­ming code that bring to mind Neo’s bad dream from The Ma­trix. Still, I can be­lieve that they’ll do the trick when they are on song, be­tween them con­sol­i­dat­ing enough con­trol func­tions to keep the rest of the fas­cia fairly un­clut­tered.

If this is a glimpse of Jaguar’s fu­ture cabin de­sign, it looks to be tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from its Ger­man com­peti­tors in some ways, mak­ing more of a de­sign fea­ture of its ventilation con­trols. They look like over­sized watch bezels and all the more dec­o­ra­tive in an in­te­rior that’s oth­er­wise very light on switchgear and fit­tings. There’s more chrome dec­o­ra­tion on the I-pace’s steer­ing wheel and on its col­umn stalks than I’m ex­pect­ing, too. Per­ceived qual­ity has been an area where Jaguar could im­prove for a long while now. It looks like it’s in­tend­ing to.

A small, square starter but­ton and a three-but­ton trans­mis­sion con­trol are all you need to ready the I-pace for the off. This one has been per­form­ing short demon­stra­tions all day and the ge­nial chaps who’re man­ag­ing it tell me they’ve been strug­gling to charge it be­tween runs. I’ve no idea how much charge is in the bat­ter­ies, but I’m told I’ll get a cou­ple of runs up and down the 200-yard strip of tar­mac we’re stand­ing on be­fore they have to take the keys away again. It’s not much to go on; less still when they tell me that this car has only one of its two elec­tric motors on board and that it’s lim­ited to 50mph.

Even so, it doesn’t strug­gle to get

away from stand­ing. Like most EVS, the I-pace re­sponds in­stantly to the mer­est prod of ac­cel­er­a­tor and zips up to town speeds with the easy flex­i­bil­ity of a one-tonne su­per­mini. Jaguar won’t say how much the car weighs, but it must be con­sid­er­ably less than a Model X. With twice as much in­stant torque on tap as this, I can be­lieve 62mph in 4.0sec may even be a pretty con­ser­va­tive tar­get.

The steer­ing is heavy and its ride noisy and firm, but that’s the con­cept car fac­tor in ev­i­dence again. Show cars al­ways ride like trol­ley jacks – espe­cially when they’re on 23in al­loy wheels. You can hear the fric­tion in the car’s driv­e­line. Its steer­ing and brake pedal feel as though they’ve had no tun­ing at all.

But this part of the I-pace’s driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence isn’t at all rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what we might ex­pect of the fin­ished car and all it proves is how much ef­fort goes into fin­ish­ing Jaguar’s mod­ern cars. The I-pace uses the same dou­ble-wish­bone and in­te­gral-link sus­pen­sion set-up as the XE, XF and F-pace, and all of those cars han­dle well enough to top their re­spec­tive classes for keener driv­ers. That, com­bined with the favourably low cen­tre of grav­ity that a floor-mounted bat­tery will pro­vide, is rea­son enough to ex­pect great things from the fin­ished pro­duc­tion car.

Un­til then, Jaguar devo­tees can look for­ward to the fa­mil­iar drip-feed of tech­ni­cal tit­bits over the next 12 months, as the I-pace’s en­gi­neers get closer and closer to fi­nal­is­ing its spec­i­fi­ca­tion. A mo­tor show de­but for the pro­duc­tion car is ex­pected some time in 2018, with the ear­li­est de­liv­er­ies ex­pected dur­ing the same year. It’ll be an am­bi­tious sched­ule to keep to, and who knows whether it will give us a car that’ll sell in its hun­dreds, thou­sands or tens of thou­sands. But it’ll cer­tainly give us a real car – that much, it seems, can be de­pended on – and one whose prospect is now as en­tic­ing, to this tester, as it is in­ter­est­ing.

The I-pace re­sponds in­stantly to the mer­est prod of ac­cel­er­a­tor

Air vent aids bat­tery and mo­tor cool­ing

Pro­duc­tion ver­sion will be pro­pelled by two motors, one on each axle; a com­bined 395bhp and 516lb ft of torque are promised

I-pace’s dash­board curves around the driver; low scut­tle grants good vis­i­bil­ity

The I-pace’s de­sign is recog­nis­able as a Jaguar while be­ing quite un­like any Jaguar be­fore it

Min­i­mal­ist cabin is a pre­view of Jaguars to come; it’s airier than an F-pace’s

Con­cept car was de­signed si­mul­ta­ne­ously with the pro­duc­tion ver­sion

Pro­duc­tion-spec I-pace, pic­tured here, car­ries over con­cept’s bold de­sign

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