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On-board Jaguar's 394bhp I-Pace

We head to the streets of LA in Jag's Tesla-rivalling electric prototype

The Jaguar I-Pace doesn’t arrive until 2018, right?

You’re right, the production I-Pace isn’t revealed until the Geneva motor show in March next year, with first deliveries starting in the second half of 2018. But a year since the concept car was launched at the LA show, a production prototype (one of over 200 produced so far) is back in Hollywood to do some filming with one of the early “hand raisers” who placed a deposit for Jaguar’s first EV.

Ok, that explains the wrap, what else was covered up?

The whole of the interior, save for a dash, was overlaid with black cloth. Frustrating, yes, but it did add a certain secret testing authenticity to proceedings. We’re told the test engineers have completed over 1.5million miles in various I-Pace prototypes across all environments, from the freezing cold Arctic test centre at Arjeplog to the baking Nevada desert, via countless wet roundabouts and B-roads in the Midlands. There’s also no air conditioning.

Right, so it’s warm and wrapped up like a Christmas present. Couldn’t learn much from sitting in it surely?

We’re not normally big fans of the disguised vehicle passenger ride, but given the interest and buzz around Jaguar’s first EV, we’re prepared to bend the rules on this occasion. It’s a fascinating project. Plus, Jaguar seems to be leaving its traditional German rivals behind in the dash to take the fight to Tesla, by offering a practical, five-seat EV with stunning design and a real-world range. It deserves our attention.

So, what did you learn?

Jaguar won’t confirm any final specs ahead of the launch next year, so let’s start with what we know from the concept. The I-Pace uses a 90kWh lithium-ion battery featuring prismatic pouched cells which deliver greater efficiency and faster charging.

This battery sits at the bottom of the I-Pace (as we’re familiar with in the Tesla) and delivers 394bhp and 516lb ft of torque through the all-wheel-drive system – made possible by placing one motor on the front axle, and another on the rear. The concept promised a range in excess of 310 miles and a 0-60mph dash in under 4.0 seconds. On a 50kW rapid DC charge, charging the battery to 80 per cent takes 90 minutes.

What’s it like from the passenger seat?

Interior disguise aside, the first thing that strikes you is how airy and spacious the I-Pace is. Measuring in at 1.8m wide, 1.56m tall and with a wheelbase of 4.6m, the interior space and visibility is a strong point. It’s properly practical too: seating for five, a decent-sized boot (530 litres, though 120 down on the F-Pace), plus an additional 36 litres of storage at the front.

My driver for the trip around downtown Los Angeles is one of Jag’s senior electric vehicle engineers, Simon Patel. Simon has spent countless hours finessing the I-Pace, and is clearly very proud of his creation. We set off into the downtown melee, the I-Pace easing away with the effortless silence we’ve become familiar with from an EV. Our route takes us out onto the challenging LA streets, littered with surface changes, cracks, undulations and manhole covers.

All Jaguars look best on big wheels, and the same goes for the I-Pace – our test car is running on 22s. A few years ago anything riding on 22-inch rims would have been a recipe for back-breaking progress, let alone something carrying the mass of a 300+ mile EV, but the I-Pace rides over the worst that LA can throw at it with a beautiful compliance and solidity.

As the traffic clears and speed builds you become more aware of the noise this new kind of Jaguar creates as the motors and gearbox spool harder. It’s a futuristic, high-pitched but technical sound. Simon is particularly proud of the detail that went into creating it. “We spent a lot of time on the gear micro geometry and manufacturing process,” he says, “the way we press the gears ensures it delivers exactly the right sound, or no sound at all… We’ve worked across the frequencies to engineer different characteristics, because it has to have some character.”

An EV that sounds good? Really?

To his credit the noise of the I-Pace does build interest and character as the pace picks up. While my generation is pre-programmed to love the offset, syncopated rhythm of a V8, like it or loathe it, the character of e-motors is going to be a battleground of engagement for generations to come.

Beyond the ride quality and noise – or lack of it – this is a Jaguar, and performance has to be one of its touch points. For a while now, Tesla has been breaking the Internet with its giant-slaying capabilities (and Top Gear magazine readers will know we’re currently running a P90D with Ludicrous mode) but as Simon clogs it, the I-Pace delivers searing pace that my patented “butt-dyno” puts easily on a par with the P90D, possibly even up with the P100D.

Then, as the car tips into the corner it stays poised and level, the low centre of gravity aiding the dynamics. The fluidity of the suspension setup actually makes it feel more resolved than the Californian opposition. Question is, will Jaguar have its own version of the Ludicrous mode? “This is a Jaguar, performance will be available all of the time,” is Simon’s response.

And what about the way Tesla products are constantly updated – is this something Jaguar is looking at? “We won’t confirm or deny that, but let’s just say it would be advantageous to do so.”

There’s been work on how the torque is split front and rear, too. Simon admits to having spent a fair bit of time at the test track trying various front and rear bias ratios. “There’s a part of the test track that I like going around and you can get it sliding.”

So it’ll drift?

“Yep,” he confirms. “During testing, we’d sit with one of the engineers on his laptop changing the front to rear bias and you can just change the pitch you’re drifting at. The control you have with EVs is just mind blowing.” He smiles broadly. “Generally we optimise everything for efficiency and normal driving and then we have our Intelligent Drive Dynamics, which sits in the Powertrain Control Module and overrides the efficiency and can shift the torque front or rear as required”.

On that happy sideways note, we head back to our start point with the majority of the onlookers reaching for their camera phones as we silently glide by.

While there’s still some last minute fettling to do before its full reveal at the Geneva show, it’s a strong, practical and stylish rival to Tesla in a market that they have largely created and dominated. The I-Pace appears to be a proper rival to Musk’s products and should have the team at the Gigafactory looking over their shoulders from early next year.

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