Premium

2019 Jaguar I-Pace review: Britain still builds the best electric car in the world – for now

5
Jaguar I-Pace
On British roads, the Jaguar I-Pace deserves its fearsome reputation. But for how long?

It isn’t easy being the best in the world. No sooner do you ascend to the top of the tree than you get a target painted on your back; you are the one to beat, and your rivals will throw everything at you to do so. 

That’s exactly where the Jaguar I-Pace, and indeed its maker, find themselves right now. The I-Pace has been on the receiving end of a slew of awards this year, most prestigious among them arguably being the European and World Car of the Year trophies. 

What’s more, since we drove it for the first time earlier this year, in limited First Edition guise and in the sunshine of the south of France, competition has arrived. Both Audi’s E-Tron and the Mercedes EQ C are spoiling for the I-Pace’s place at the top of the electric car tree, and bring with them a glut of technology and subtly different engineering and ideological approaches.

The time seems ripe, then, for a reassessment – this time, of the standard car most buyers will choose, and on UK roads. The entry-level I-Pace S gives you a decent but unexceptional specification, with dual-zone climate control, LED lights all round, automatic lights and wipers, sat-nav, smartphone mirroring and so on; upgrade to the SE, and you get electric leather seats with memory, adaptive cruise control and bigger wheels, while HSE adds adaptive headlights, heated and cooled seats, surround sound and more expensive leather. 

So how exactly should an electric Jaguar feel? Probably very much like this one, inside at least. Jaguar’s other interiors have been a little hit-and-miss of late, but the I-Pace’s is very pleasing indeed. 

The I-Pace is one of our very favourite electric cars Credit: Richard Parsons 

The low-rise dashboard swoops down into the glossy centre console, lined on each side by big, chunky, metallised buttons that replace the rotary gear selector you’d usually find. It’s all very familiar, yet more airy and somehow less staid than the rest of Jaguar’s range. Or, indeed, the Audentikit interior of the E-Tron.

In terms of quality and finish, meanwhile, it feels a cut above Tesla’s SUV contender, the Model X, though it lacks that car’s minimalist futurism, and the two normal-sized infotainment screens feel more… well, normal than Tesla’s vast dashboard-mounted telly. There are still a couple of rather flimsy-feeling switches, too, though they are by far the exception rather than the rule.

The I-Pace gets the same infotainment system you’ll find in most of its Jaguar and Land Rover stablemates; it’s easy on the eye and responds crisply, but can be a little fiddly to use. And while the second touchscreen is a poor substitute for actual buttons in terms of usability, causing you to have to look away from the road far too much to adjust, say, the climate control, the two physical dials mean it’s less odious than Audi’s effort. 

We think Jaguar's efforts at making a nice-looking EV are more convincing than those of Mercedes or Audi  Credit: Richard Parsons 

Space is generous, whether you’re up front or in the back, and there’s a capacious boot with a low floor, although the slightly high load lip means you can’t slide heavy items in like you can in some SUVs. It’s worth noting, too, that the sharply raked rear screen impacts on the boot’s vertical height and shape when the parcel shelf is removed – so if you’re planning on carrying tall bits of luggage – or large dogs – in your I-Pace, it might be worth checking they fit first. 

‘Yes, that’s all lovely,’ you’re thinking. ‘But what’s it like to drive? Does it deserve all those awards?’ Well, the short answer is: yes. Probably. As you’d expect, the I-Pace is pretty easy to drive; right pedal for go, left one for stop. Neither pedal’s action is quite as well-resolved as in some other electric cars, but the regenerative braking comes in relatively smoothly as you lift off and the push-on effect as it wears off at slower speeds is minimal. 

It’s quick, too; not quite as brain-scramblingly so as the quickest Teslas, but more than enough to leave your stomach behind if you pin the throttle. Do so, and you get a rather delightful soundtrack, to heighten your impression of the speed; think of it as a cross between a soft V8 warble and the Starship Enterprise gearing up to go to warp. It’s obviously artificial, but it does work, adding to the excitement of hard acceleration – and it brings to the I-Pace a sense of humour that’s quite endearing. 

The I-Pace is a nicer place to sit than most other cars, including the rest of the Jaguar range

Of course, this sort of behaviour has an effect on the range, but not as much as you’d think. In fact, the in-car range readout seems a trifle pessimistic; our car read 201 miles on a full charge, despite a WLTP range of 292 miles, and it consistently dropped by fewer miles than we’d covered. This, when you think about it, is probably no bad thing – more confidence-inspiring, certainly, than having the car overestimate the range, only to watch it plummet when you actually start driving.

For the most part, the suspension is pretty well-worked, smoothing out smaller imperfections around town and allowing smooth progress without any float or wallow at speed. That said, the ride isn’t perfect on these 20-inch wheels and passive dampers; every now and then you come across a rut or a pothole the I-Pace can’t deal with, which sends a bothersome thump through the chassis. While it rides better than the Tesla Model X, then, an Audi E-Tron is more composed. It also does a much better job of damping out wind and road noise at speed; neither becomes overly intrusive in the Jaguar, but you do notice both. 

Of course, the payoff for that slightly stiff-legged ride comes when you want to have some fun. The I-Pace is just about the most entertaining electric car there is to drive. First there’s the steering, which is a touch on the light side but still feels slick, precise and progressive. The nose bites beautifully, too, allowing you to place it really well on the way into a turn.

It's not a sports car per se, but the electric powertrain delivers a punchy dose of acceleration and the handling is well-sorted, too Credit: Richard Parsons 

The low centre of gravity means body lean isn’t really an issue but there is a touch more give in the chassis than you’ll find in a Tesla, and that’s to the Jaguar’s benefit. It means you can feel the car respond to the throttle, moving around on its suspension, which is something you don’t get in the Model X. 

The result is that while you don’t ultimately feel quite as bolted down to the road surface, you do feel far more involved in what’s going on – and that’s simply more entertaining. What’s more, it’ll come as less of a surprise when the grip runs out – though, frankly, there’s so much of the stuff that if it does so in dry conditions on a public road, you’re probably being a bit daft. 

Combine all this with the instant surge of thrust you get on the exit of each bend, and that slightly addictive powering-up soundtrack, and you get a car that’s genuinely exhilarating to pelt down a back road in. The I-Pace, in short, is a car of real character – and the good news, of course, is that that character is retained even if you pick the most basic model. 

Is it still the best electric car out here? Hmm. Kia’s E-Niro feels just as well-rounded, travels almost as far on one charge, and cost about half the price. Of course, the payoff for that is that you don’t get the same premium feel, nor the I-Pace’s sense of fun. The E-Niro’s also sold out for the foreseeable – and let’s be honest, most buyers in the market for the I-Pace are unlikely to be considering one as an alternative.

Against its more natural rivals, though, the Jaguar is still the one to have. OK, it isn’t perfect – a little less wind and road noise would be nice, the infotainment could be a touch simpler, and perhaps the ride could be softened off, though the impact of this on the handling might not be worth it. But ultimately, it’s less compromised than the competition that has come along since it was launched. It might be tough at the top, then – but that’s where the I-Pace remains. 

Jaguar I-Pace EV400 HSE – facts and specifications

TESTED Twin permanent magnet synchronous motors, 90kWh battery, single-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE £74,995/now

POWER/TORQUE 396bhp, 513 lb ft

TOP SPEED 124mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 4.8sec

FUEL ECONOMY 35.4kWh/100mi (WLTP Combined)

RANGE 292 miles (WLTP)

CO2 EMISSIONS 0g/km

VED £0 first year, £320/year for five years thereafter, then £0/year

VERDICT Still the best premium electric car there is. The I-Pace doesn’t only impress because it’s such a well-rounded product, but also because it’s the most involving and exciting mainstream electric car out there at the moment. It is, in short, exactly the way an electric Jaguar should be.

TELEGRAPH RATING Five stars out of five

*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 05/08/2019 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront. Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change. Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.

Jaguar I-Pace EV400 HSE – main rivals

Tesla Model X Standard Range, from £73,900

Larger and more spacious than the I-Pace, but the Model X doesn’t feel as entertaining to drive or as well-resolved, and those rear doors are gimmicky, too. However, that minimalist interior, its ability to update itself, and the Autopilot system all make it feel like the future.

Audi E-Tron, from £71,560

The ultra-conservative approach to electric car motoring, the E-Tron lacks the I-Pace’s wow factor, but it’s still a strong product, and one which will appeal if you just want your electric car to feel like a normal one. Incredibly comfortable and quiet on the motorway, too, though the payoff is slightly underwhelming handling.

Mercedes-Benz EQ C AMG Line Premium Plus, from £74,610

Soon to arrive on the market, and could challenge the I-Pace for supremacy in this sector. Swanky interior and smart, if slightly anodyne, looks bode well. We’ll let you know how it measures up when we get the chance to drive it. 

For tips and advice, visit our Advice section, or sign up to our newsletter here

Is the Jaguar I-Pace the best electric car in the world? Share your view in the comments section below and in the Telegraph Motoring Club Facebook group

A-Z Car Finder