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The Jaguar I-Pace is ’a real and legitimate competitor’ to the Tesla Model X, according to a J.D. Power analyst.

Nick Dimbleby

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They’re coming after Tesla like guided missiles.

While the Model 3 competes in the relatively crowded $30,000-$60,000 all-electric zone with the Chevrolet Bolt, VW e-Golf, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and others, Tesla has enjoyed relative exclusivity in the premium SUV segment with the Model X.

Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and VW will be introducing their own all-electric driving machines in this category within the next 24 months.

But the Jaguar I-Pace is the first to strike.

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“This is a real and legitimate competitor, the first one really to cross paths with the Model X, so its impact will be very significant,” says analyst Robert Karwel of J.D. Power, in Toronto. “And I think it represents the first of many competitors to come. Jaguar in a sense got here first as a competitor, so this vehicle will make a big impact on them, too. Not in sales numbers yet, but in reputation and ambition.”

The I-Pace has off-road capability and a 480 kilometre range.

Nick Dimbleby/Handout

The I-Pace, an SUV crossover with smart styling, can carry five passengers, venture off-road, travel 480 kilometres on a single charge (European testing) and zing from standstill to 100 km/h in less than five seconds, reaching a 200 km/h top-speed.

“It’s got a lot going for it,” Karwel explains:

-- “It is from an established and storied brand …

-- has sufficient distribution points within Canada …

-- is designed from the ground up as an EV only …

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-- looks good and is well proportioned …

-- has all-wheel drive, and …

-- is wrapped in a utility body.”

While such attributes are “prerequisites for growth these days,” Karwel cautions that all-electric vehicles remain a tiny fraction of the marketplace in Canada. And yet, as increasing ranges ease anxiety and as consumers become aware of the reflexive driving dynamics of top-flight EVs, the future seems to be here now.

“There are infrastructure issues, and that takes time,”says Paul Cummings, chief executive of the Grand Touring Automobiles dealership in Toronto. “But you can see how it is all coming together.” Recharging facilities are the biggest issues. The I-Pace recharges to 80-per-cent battery capacity in 20 minutes with a supercharger, but that, of course, requires a supercharger being available.

Jaguar’s twin engines are reportedly slightly more efficient than Tesla’s, owing to the use of rare-earth magnets and shaft engineering.

Nick Dimbleby

In the morning and early afternoon in Portugal’s Algarve last week, we drove the all-wheel-drive I-Pace on a single charge through twisting roads, up a steep dirt hill, over narrow gravel pathways skirting valleys below, on standard highways and, most extremely, around the Portimao FIA-certified racetrack.

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Through it all, we hardly touched the brake pedal. That’s because when the right foot came away from the accelerator, regenerative braking kicked in to collect and feed the energy back to the 90-Kwh, lithium-ion battery. Firm — technically, up to 0.4G of force — yet smooth, the system acted like a continuously variable transmission on steroids, descending quickly from 90 km/h to 30 to zero when entering Portugal’s endless array of roundabouts.

There are three driving modes: eco, comfort and dynamic. The responsiveness in dynamic is both thrilling and deceiving, the latter because you don’t hear an engine roar. It’s like operating Forza Motorsport 4 or some-such video game with the sound turned off. Jag people described the sound as “whoosh.” In fact, knowing the thrust-from-standstill could freak out certain drivers, Jaguar engineered a “creep” function to let it move warily from a stop without applying pressure to the accelerator, acting just like a gasoline-powered car.

The suspension rises with the touch of a button enabling the vehicle, for instance, to handle water streams up to 500 mm in depth. To demonstrate its off-road capability, Jaguar had us climb a steep dirt path better suited to goats. The optional all-surface progress control (ASPC) proved to be basically cruise control for hills. Set a speed and away it goes. All you need to do is steer (some day, probably not even that, as Google’s Waymo has committed to buy up to 20,000 I-Paces to test autonomous driving tech). The 22-inch summer performance tires (20-inch is standard) spun briefly, then the car reinstated control without human interference.The tech, transferred from Land Rover, handles all road conditions at speeds between 3.6 km/h and 30 km/h. In short, it’ll get up those gnarly cabin roads.

Rising suspension allows the I-Pace to handle water streams up to 500 mm in depth.

Nick Dimbleby/Handout

The starting price in Canada when the vehicle is made available in late summer or early fall is $86,500, up there in the early-adopter zone. As with big-screen TVs back when, the price may come down with time and perhaps with competition when the German auto makers follow the British-designed, Magna-manufactured I-Pace.

Consider in the meantime that Tesla makes three versions of the Model X. The I-Pace arguably matches up most closely with the middle version, the 100D: 100 kWh battery (I-Pace: 90 kWh), 475-kilometre range (480), zero-to-100 acceleration in 4.9 seconds (4.8). The 100D starts at $123,800 in Canada, or $37,300 more than the I-Pace. The base Model X, the 75D, gets 381 kilometres of range, seats five (with options, unlike the I-Pace, to change configuration to six or seven) and accelerates from zero to 100 in 5.2 seconds. It starts at $102,300.

The battery is everything of course, when factoring longevity. Jaguar’s twin engines are reportedly slightly more efficient owing to the use of rare-earth magnets and shaft engineering. Tesla combines aluminum with cobalt and nickel in its battery, while Jaguar uses magnesium with cobalt and nickel. Tesla offers an “infinite” warranty but it only covers defects in the battery. The key difference is that Jaguar insures against degradation – within eight years or 160,000 kilometres, if the battery falls under 70-per-cent capacity, Jag will restore it to at least that level with servicing that may include module replacement.

When conceiving the company’s first electric vehicle, first and foremost was to integrate classic Jaguar attributes, says engineer Simon Patel, “driver input responsiveness, precise and well-balanced handling.” Weight distribution front and rear is 50-50 and the body structure is made of 94-per-cent aluminum, making for the stiffest Jag to date. The twin electric motors are installed at each axle. Torque is delivered to all four wheels.

Simon Tovey, lead exterior designer for the I-Pace, says the goal was to “try and reinterpret the past with new ideas, but I have to say the new ideas were about being purely functional.” Aerodynamics ruled in order to create a 0.29 drag co-efficient. The classic long swooping hood of the E-Type is replaced by a short nose, as there is no engine underneath the “bonnet.” The Jag grille was retained though not necessarily needed – air goes over it, under the hood and over the roof. There are also side intakes. Familiar features include strong haunches and the XJ’s hockey stick window.

There is generous leg and head room in both the front and back.

Nick Dimbleby

Inside, a clean, simple design is accented by luxurious touches such as leather seats and dashboard stitching. Minus the gas engine, designers pushed the driver forward, leaving generous leg and head room in the front and back. One quibble: It’s difficult to see over the dash. Cabin is quiet though not super-quiet; you can hear tires over road. The navigation system worked near-flawlessly. A panoramic sunroof absorbs UV rays, a comfortable feature for those wary of skin cancer.

The panoramic sunroof absorbs UV rays.

Nick Dimbleby

“With Jaguar, there’s so much depth, but now they’ve become relevant to a new generation with the I-Pace,” says Cummings, whose dealership includes seven high-premium brands including Jaguar Land Rover. “Jaguar was an older person’s car. We saw that with our buyers. Now you’ve got a powerful brand with all that technology. Downtown Toronto, you might have to squeeze into a parking spot, but with this vehicle, you don’t have to be worried about two SUVs beside you because its size is perfect. It suits the lifestyle – and it’s green.”

The tech is fully engineered to meet the desires of urban millennials and their descendants with three 12-volt sockets and six USB ports. By asking Alexa, they’ll know whether the battery charge is sufficient to reach the workplace. There’s 4G WiFi, Tesla-matching over-the-air software updates, a remote app to preheat or cool the cabin when the car is plugged-in, preset to charge the vehicle when hydro rates are most beneficial; and a link to control your home’s heating, lights and doors directly from the car.

In the back, there’s room for a hockey bag or two. With the second-row seats folded flat, storage increases from 656 litres to 1,453 litres. There are also hidden trays under the rear seats for laptops and tablets.

Whether to haul kids to practice, commute emission-free, or head for the cottage, the I-Pace combines flexibility with performance. The price, while hefty, undermines Tesla and moreover, with an established dealer network, delivery may actually be on time.

The day is dawning. The I-Pace is a serious contender to relieve the range anxiety of the home-to-cottage set. Return Calgary-Kicking Horse, Vancouver-Whistler, Toronto-Muskoka and Montreal-to-Eastern Townships jaunts are becoming reachable in a premium EV, without recharge.

The starting price in Canada when the vehicle is made available in late summer or early fall is $86,500.

Handout

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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