We’ve reached an intriguing time in the automobile’s timeline: SUVs have become the most sought out vehicle type and all-electric vehicles have begun to hit their stride. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Tesla Model X ($83,000) was the talk of the town since the California-based company had previously established itself as a strong player in the EV market with the successful Model S sedan. Like Apple, Tesla’s products have very passionate critics on both ends of the spectrum, so the question for a long time has been who will its inevitable challengers be? It seems that Jaguar Land Rover has been the first to step up with the Jaguar I-Pace ($69,500).
While it’s a war on multiple fronts, it seems luxury automakers are going to be the ones who will produce the most threatening contenders. Audi, for instance, has just recently revealed its first all-electric SUV, the $75,000 E-Tron. This arrives in the middle of next year, but Jaguar’s I-Pace is already starting to make its way onto public roads. It isn’t a passive dipping of the toe into the segment just for the sake of it, either, as Jaguar has put its name behind many EV-promoting efforts such as fielding its own Formula E team. The I-Pace itself will even star in its own all-electric spec racing series.
Superficially, the I-Pace immediately stands out against Teslas Model S and X in a few ways. First off, though not trying to compete with the Model X in terms of capacity, the five-seater I-Pace is smaller in person than I expected. What it lacks in stature though, it makes up for with elegant looks. One of my biggest gripes about Tesla vehicles is that their minimalist designs are perhaps too clean. Since most components of an internal combustion vehicle aren’t present, so there’s no need to design around them and Tesla has, in my mind, kept things too stark.
The I-Pace, on the other hand, has a great deal of Jaguar DNA flowing in its shape. Jaguar designer Ian Callum’s pen is strong here, and there’s a clear through-line between this car and his other works, like the Jaguar F-Pace, though I feel like there’s even a hint of Jaguar C-X75 in its overall form.
Same goes for the interior. Through the normally-hinged doors, the I-Pace looks like more thought has been put into making the interior a luxury space. Both the I-Pace and the Model X make use of the extra space left behind by unnecessary components, but the Tesla seems to make better use of it. Interestingly, though, both cars have been designed with incredible forward visibility that’s complemented with either a massive panoramic sunroof or a continuous, upward-flowing windshield. Both, however, have poor and near-useless rear visibility.
In comparison to Jaguar’s dual touchscreen infotainment system, the Model X pulls very far ahead.
The Tesla features what is essentially one huge 17-inch tablet, which sounds incredibly distracting but is, in fact, responsive, customizable and easy to use. It utilizes the same mobile-device gestures we’ve grown accustomed to. It can split itself visually to display functions like maps, media and system readouts – I ended up using the lower half as a full-time backup camera.
In the I-Pace, the dual-screen interface is a hindrance to the entire experience. A carryover from other JLR vehicles like the Range Rover SVR, the infotainment system is laggy, frustrating to use on the fly and unintuitive, and ends up being much more distracting than Tesla’s.
Tesla’s tech advantage only gets stronger from there, since the company benefits from a start-up-like approach to the industry. Beyond the commonly known autonomous Autopilot feature, there are many features in the Model X that should’ve been sorted out ages ago by a traditional automaker. Automatic parallel parking systems in other cars are multi-step gimmicks buried in menus, but in the Tesla, the process is seamless: when I began to park, the Model X recognized what I was doing and offered to take over. To the I-Pace’s credit, it has a host of very good safety features like lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and a series of cameras, but they’re not special in their own right. It’s more carryover tech and it can’t compare to what Tesla offers.
As far as battery capacity, the Jaguar I-Pace lauds a 90kh pack and 234 miles of range. Tesla’s Model X has a range of 237 to 295 miles depending on which battery – 75 kWh or 100 kWh – is chosen. Both are more than enough for daily commutes and heavy driving. Both have high-speed charging capabilities and are susceptible to a drop in range when certain systems like climate control are in play. Tesla famously boasts its own proprietary charging network, which the Jaguar cannot utilize.
The I-Pace, charges at my house, though, and that makes all the difference. I am not in the tax bracket to permanently bring home an I-Pace or Tesla. (Though both benefit from significant tax credits, lowering their overall price by thousands.) I live in an old house with standard 120-volt outlets. To those looking to adopt a luxury EV into their lives, the addition of a level 2, 240-volt charging station to the garage isn’t a deal-breaker.
I have to work with what I have, and the Model X was incompatible with my wiring. I knew it would be a slow drip, but I figured that, like my time with the Chevrolet Bolt (another thorn in Tesla’s side), overnight charging would make up a large chunk of the miles driven that day, if not replenish them all. This wasn’t the case – I had to plot out trips to not-really-nearby Tesla charging stations, which did nothing for my inherent range anxiety. Like the Bolt, though, the Jaguar slowly but surely filled its battery up throughout the evening, and having that ability takes a lot of pressure off.
So Jaguar I-Pace buyers don’t necessarily need to go through the hassle of installing a charging station into their house; it’s just a convenient option. It’s more versatile in this regard. I could very well upgrade my garage to suit both cars, but if I’m out in the wild with the I-Pace – at a friend’s house, at a business, or stuck in a rural town – there are ways to mitigate my dire situation if I’m caught short on juice.
It should be clear that Jaguar knows how to make a performance car. The years of experience JLR has garnered making cars that elevate the driver experience above all else comes through in the I-Pace. Powered by two electric motors ginning up 394 horsepower, the I-Pace handles all that electric grunt by utilizing a single-speed automatic and an all-wheel-drive platform. Torque-vectoring, an electronic air suspension with variable ride height and dynamic driving modes can supply sporty driving, comfortable cruising and even out lousy terrain.
The result is superb if a little jarring handling through corners. Power comes and goes instantaneously, so small driving style adjustments are needed, but you get used to it. Lifting off the throttle and “engine braking” at a corner entrance, for example, feels natural with practice. Since the floor is the battery, the center of gravity in both vehicles is low, but I had more confidence in utilizing it in the I-Pace than the Tesla due to how the rest of its handling characteristics behaved.
Torque delivery is instantaneous; there’s no doubt in my mind that the I-Pace can launch from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds as Jaguar claims. Still, I anticipated even stronger acceleration. This is perhaps because the Tesla P100D has brain-scrambling acceleration. which has spoiled me.
Fundamentally, both cars’ strengths and weaknesses originate in how their respective companies operate. JLR’s experience in traditional automaking has made the I-Pace a well designed, stylish car that has broad appeal, regardless of its all-electric underpinnings. It is, however, weighed down by the usual infotainment technology that has consistently felt outpaced by other basic consumer electronics. Tesla, however, approaches this area from a fresh perspective, making it just as important and well executed as the rest of the car. But Tesla’s using the same tech everyone else is, so there’s no reason others can’t do as well.
Is the I-Pace a “Tesla Killer”? Short answer is no, but what it threatens to do is bring normalcy to a niche segment. Tesla can dominate in this niche, but out in the open, larger traditional automakers can make good cars that people feel natural shopping for, buying a car they like without the burden of feeling like they’re being handed the torch of innovation to carry forward. It’s not a movement to them, it’s consumerism.
Some cynics will point at the news and say Tesla itself will be the mythic Tesla Killer, and that’s a stigma the Jaguar I-Pace is probably better without. It’s a cool-looking, sporty, all-electric SUV that may not have all the tricks the Model X comes packed with, but it also doesn’t come with any of the drama.