Jaguar’s elec­tric I-PACE storms onto Tesla’s turf

Sleek yet an­gu­lar SUV proves a joy to drive

USA TODAY International Edition - - MONEY - Marco della Cava

SAN FRAN­CISCO – The bar­bar­ians are at Tesla’s gate. And this one is cloaked in a Union Jack.

Jaguar’s new 2019 I-PACE, which hits show­rooms in Novem­ber, is not just the first all-elec­tric ve­hi­cle from the Bri­tish car maker – it’s the first gen­uine chal­lenger to Tesla’s reign as hip pur­veyor of lux­ury, bat­tery-pow­ered ve­hi­cles.

Sand­wiched con­ve­niently in be­tween the en­try-level Tesla Model 3 (which typ­i­cally runs con­sumers about $55,000 out the door) and the vaunted Model S and X (about $100,000), our fully loaded I-PACE test car rang in at $88,265 re­plete with ev­ery­thing from but­tery leather seat­ing to plen­ti­ful tech­no­log­i­cal wiz­ardry.

There is quite some irony in Jaguar be­ing the first to rat­tle Tesla’s cage con­sid­er­ing that early Jag cars were out­fit­ted with Lu­cas elec­tron­ics and light­ing, which gave out so of­ten founder Joe Lu­cas was dubbed the Prince of Dark­ness.

But those tech-chal­lenged days are over. Jaguar’s spotty track record over the decades, in­clud­ing one stint un­der Ford’s cor­po­rate um­brella, has mer­ci­fully come to an end, due in large part to in­fu­sions of cap­i­tal from Tata Mo­tors, the In­dian au­to­mo­tive gi­ant that bought the Jaguar Land Rover group in 2008.

“Driv­ing this car is crit­i­cal be­cause with all the stereo­types out there about elec­tric cars, it’s key to see that they’re re­ally ex­cit­ing ve­hi­cles,” said Kim McCullough, vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing for Jaguar Land Rover North Amer­ica. “The idea with our mar­ket­ing push is to get peo­ple to say, ‘Wow, this could be my only car.’ ”

And it well could be. Within lim­its. What strikes you im­me­di­ately when sur­vey­ing the I-PACE is how dif­fer­ent it is from its main com­peti­tor, Tesla. Sure, un­lock the car and the smooth door han­dles pop out to greet you, just like on the Tesla Model S. But that fea­ture aside, Jaguar en­gi­neers and de­sign­ers clearly wanted to make their of­fer­ing stand apart.

That means no gi­ant TV-sized cen­ter con­sole screen but rather more discreet in­fo­tain­ment touch screens that are also com­mon in the com­pany’s Land Rover mod­els. The qual­ity of the leather sur­faces and the gen­eral fit and fin­ish of the I-PACE edge more to­ward the Model S than Model 3 ter­ri­tory – per­haps fit­ting, as it’s mid­way be­tween the two price points. That means crea­ture com­forts such as Wind­sor Leather 14-way heated and cooled seats, a suede­like lin­ing over­head and cabin light­ing you can tweak to your in­te­rior de­signer heart’s con­tent.

Our ve­hi­cle, the top-line HSE EV400 – which starts at $80,000, while the SE ($75,000) and S ($70,000) sim­ply of­fer fewer stan­dard fea­tures and smaller wheels – had as stan­dard a typ­i­cal driver-as­sist tech­nol­ogy suite that al­lows the car to cen­ter it­self be­tween lanes and emer­gency brake when needed.

An­other lux­ury perk, which runs $940, is a fighter-pi­lot-style heads-up dis­play that projects your speed and the area’s speed limit in the glass ahead of the driver. But the key point is that the elec­tric power plant re­mains the same for the full I-PACE model range – a 90 kilowatt-hour bat­tery pack boast­ing 394 horse­power that rock­ets the torque­crazed tiger to 60 mph in 4.5 sec­onds.

Jaguar says fast-charg­ing the I-PACE on a 100-kilowatt charger to 80 per­cent of its 240-mile range takes 40 min­utes and roughly twice that on the more stan­dard 50-kilowatt charg­ers.

So what’s it like to drive? In a word, ex­hil­a­rat­ing. That’s due to the typ­i­cally rock­et­like ac­cel­er­a­tion, noise­less at that, of all elec­tric cars.

In­side, front and rear pas­sen­gers alike have plenty of room in this an­gu­lar SUV, thanks to the bat­ter­ies be­ing un­der­foot. The rear hatch of­fers enough space for most parental or week­end sports gear needs.

Out­side, the car is sure to po­lar­ize. While Tesla quite suc­cess­fully has adopted a more stan­dard sedan de­sign for its Model 3 and S, Jaguar has opted to give the I-PACE a cut­ting-edge con­cept-car-type feel.

You’ll do a dou­ble take, then search the nose for a clue as to what it is and find that snarling big cat. For some au­to­mo­bile en­thu­si­asts, Jaguar’s long rac­ing and road car her­itage will mean more than Tesla’s techie up­start ca­chet.

No ques­tion that Musk has sin­gle­hand­edly has made elec­tric cars cool. But he now is deal­ing with a host of per­sonal and pro­fes­sional headaches while the value of the com­pany’s stock sinks.

So Jaguar is first into the EV arena to do bat­tle with a wounded ti­tan. Let the games be­gin.

The I-PACE aims to stand out with ar­rest­ing col­ors such as this Cae­sium Blue, the color of our $89,000 test ve­hi­cle. JAGUAR LAND ROVER

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