There was a quiet moment at the virtual-reality unveiling of Jaguar’s first electric vehicle, the I-Pace, in which the future seemed hopeful, exciting, even full of possibility.
The Jaguar I-Pace concept, despite its goofy name, is stunning. And before you write it off as just another concept, Jaguar says the I-Pace will be in showrooms in 2018, with a production-ready model debuting late next year. The company will soon start taking preliminary orders on its website.
With two electric motors producing a combined 400 horsepower, Jaguar claims the I-Pace will do 0-100 km/h in around 4.0 seconds and travel 350 kilometres on a single charge of its 90 kWh battery. Using the European NEDC testing standard, Jaguar says the car could have up to 500 kilometres of range.
Ian Hoban, Jaguar’s vehicle line director for I-Pace, said he’s confident the production model would “at least” meet these target specs.
Simultaneously in Los Angeles and London, people donned clunky HTC virtual-reality headsets to see the new Jaguar. Through the goggles, a steering wheel appeared, so real you instinctively wanted to reach out to touch it. Then the dashboard materialized, a simple white surface with wood inlays and a frameless touchscreen display. The glovebox opened with a swipe of a finger across its surface. Before you know it, you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of a Jaguar that doesn’t yet exist, marvelling at the glass roof and beautiful cabin.
Moments later, Ian Callum, Jaguar’s chief designer, appeared on stage in the flesh with the I-Pace to prove it does indeed exist. He assured everyone that the final version arriving in 2018 will be similar to this one.
“The exterior’s going to be pretty close,” he said. “Some of the interior touches might be a little indulgent at the moment, but it won’t be too far away.”
When it arrives, the I-Pace will enter a suddenly crowded electric-luxury-car market, competing against the Mercedes Generation EQ, Porsche Mission-E, BMW iNext, Tesla Model X and others. The Jaguar, however, doesn’t look like any of them.
Callum and his design team have gone further than anyone else in taking advantage of the new layout possibilities afforded by pure electric propulsion. With no need to leave space for a big gasoline engine and transmission under the hood, they pushed the cabin forward to create more passenger space from a smaller footprint while keeping a low, sporty silhouette.
“The whole idea of a cab-forward car is really quite exotic because it stems from supercars,” Callum said. “SUVs traditionally have been quite conservative. So it was an opportunity to do something different.”
From the front, it looks like a taller versions of Jaguar’s lovely but ill-fated C-X75 supercar concept, while the fastback rear features shades of the F-Pace SUV.
Much of the design has been dictated by aerodynamics. The car can lower itself on its air suspension to reduce wind resistance. Such a slippery shape can greatly reduce energy consumption when driving at highway speeds.
Having an electric motor at each axle should provide fine-grained control of the all-wheel drive system. It’ll also help put all 516 lb-ft of torque to the road without burning too much rubber. Combined with the low centre of gravity afforded by the battery pack mounted under the seats, it should be fun to drive.
Hoban said all the virtual work is done, and real-world testing is ongoing using prototypes.
Jaguar, like a growing number of major auto makers, sees the end of this decade as the right time to roll out completely electric vehicles. Battery technology is nearing a point where it can rival the internal combustion engine in terms of price and range.
“We know, from the research, that it was very well received,” said Finbar McFall, global marketing director for Jaguar Land Rover. The company did focus groups and customer research. “In the early days, we were testing the market just from an electrification point of view – are people ready for this? – and then later, more specifically about this concept car. That helped give us confidence that now was the right time for this vehicle.”
The I-Pace’s combination of performance and high-design makes an electric future appealing. At a time when America has elected a president who is a climate change skeptic – a man who wrote “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese,” and who has proposed dismantling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – the future of the electric car could once again be thrown into uncertainty. But seeing the I-Pace through those virtual-reality goggles, and reading its impressive specifications, gives hope that electric vehicles might simply be so good, so smart, so exciting and desirable, that they could thrive under any American president. We shall see.
Watch Callum talk about the design and the car:
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.