Motor Trend international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie recently road-tripped Jaguar’s spanking-new I-Pace long-range electric crossover 734 miles from London to Berlin to watch both the Formula E and supporting I-Pace eTrophy races. That trip afforded ample seat time with which to glean copious driving impressions, but he didn’t get a chance to do any flat-out lapping of the Berlin race course. So a few weeks later, Jaguar invited us to southern Portugal for a chance to really stretch this new e-cat’s legs on the Autodromo do Algarve outside Portimão.
Our Algarve Circuit experience starts with some recon laps in Jaguar F-Types powered by the new 2.0-liter 296-hp 295-lb-ft turbo four. This 3,600-pound sports car storms the hilly 2.9-mile 15-turn circuit as admirably as expected, but my ride-along driving instructor draws attention to my frequent need to paddle-shift the automatic to keep the combustion engine humming in its window of optimum performance. I also find myself timing my throttle application to account for the split second or so of delay that occurs while fuel is dispensed, turbos spool, the intake manifold pressurizes, and the full turbo thrust reaches the rear wheels.
All of that is dispensed with as I switch into the all-wheel-drive 394-hp 512-lb-ft single-speed electric I-Pace. Yes, it weighs a staggering 1,200 pounds more than the F-Type, but its weight-to-power ratio is virtually identical at just over 12 pounds per horsepower. (Each pound-foot of the I-Pace’s torque carries about 3 fewer pounds, however.) More important, there’s absolutely no delay between the minutest ankle twitch and readily detectable acceleration. The broad torque band negates the need for gears, which leaves your hands free to concentrate on steering. Of course, paddle-pulling might distract from the fact that precious little road feel survives the arduous journey from the broad, heavily loaded tire contact patches up past the electric-assist trolls on the steering rack to the wheel rim.
Putting aside for the moment its dearth of steering feel and surfeit of mass, the I-Pace has most of the driving dynamics fundamentals nailed—50:50 weight distribution, infinitely variable torque distribution fore and aft courtesy of Intelligent Driveline Dynamics, a center of gravity just about 21 inches off the deck (some 5 inches lower than an F-Pace’s), adaptively damped air suspension for improved roll control, and four fat 255/40R22 Pirelli P Zeros for grip.
Working together, these attributes conspire to virtually shrink and significantly lighten the I-Pace. It feels nimble and planted and it jets out of corners with uncanny ease. Although its Dynamic drive mode permits some controlled four-wheel drifting, I notice two occasions when overeager throttle application at corner exits generates enough wheel spin to awaken the nannies. Both times this provoked a “one-Mississippi” torque interruption that struck me as overreaction (the pause was long enough for me to wonder, “Did the battery just overheat and go into limp mode?”). Hopefully, the programmers can be persuaded to soften that intervention. Upgrading the super-trick axle-concentric motor/transaxle units with mechanical or electric limited-slip devices would surely be another way of curbing this problem (side-to-side torque distribution is handled by braking a spinning inside wheel, but we disapprove of using the brakes to go faster).
Although the high-regen setting allows most road driving to be done without touching the brake pedal, attacking Algarve gives the friction brakes a good workout. These 13.8-inch front and 12.8-inch rear vented steel discs never exhibit a hint of fade on the track, and the pedal demonstrates none of the slightly wonky transition from regen to friction braking one occasionally feels on public roads. The sliding calipers (two-piston front and single-piston rear) are clearly not designed for track work, but the pedal demonstrates perfectly acceptable bite and travel throughout our lapping sessions. Fixed calipers from AP Racing upgrade the eTrophy racers.
Will anybody track their I-Pace? Of course not. But any true Jaguar should be capable of doing so, and this one certainly is. It’s also comforting to know that this battery pack and inverter and these very motors plus the cooling system that keeps everything happy are being used in the eTrophy race cars, so we know they can handle the heat—unlike early Teslas, which entered a battery-protection limp-mode when we attempted to establish Laguna Seca lap times. So load up your I-Pace and tackle that Davis Dam grade in the dead of summer with confidence. You’ll be fine.
Nobody Will Off-Road Their I-Pace Either, but…
Just above the Algarve Circuit is a nice ridge of hills complete with a fordable stream, so our route to the circuit detours through, up, and over several carefully chosen obstacles tailored to suit our test cars, which are shod in 22-inch Continental PremiumContact 6 tires. We sample Jaguar’s All Surface Progress Control system—cruise control for off-roading—which maintains an impressively steady pace (controllable via the cruise-control set switch on the steering wheel) as we scale an impressively steep trail of loose gravel. The same system holds an equally steady speed on the downhill stretch, as well. We definitely appreciate the selectable camera system, which offers the choice of a stitched-together 360-degree helicopter view of our bow wake through the stream, while front, side, or rear camera views prove highly useful for spotting a wheel on a rock or monitoring the ground immediately in front of the vehicle at the crest of the hill when the hood blocks your view. Here again, you probably won’t, but you’ll rest easier (or feel more comfortable signing the purchase papers) knowing you can.
|2019 Jaguar I-Pace|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front- and rear-motor, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|MOTORS||2x 197-hp/256-lb-ft AC electric, 394 hp, 512 lb-ft comb|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,800 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||184.3 x 74.6 x 61.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA RANGE||240 mi (mfr est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|