(Pocket-lint) - It was back in 2018 when Jaguar debuted its great future hope - the i-Pace all-electric SUV. As the first of the mainstream premium brands to take the fight to Tesla - specifically as an alternative to the Model X - Jag didn't just hobble into the fight, it came swinging the punches.
Which is all rather exciting, but it adds to Jag's pressures. However, with its subtle i-Pace refresh (we're driving the early 2021 plate here), there's improved charging, improved tech, and the winning formula that kicked off the series is only stronger. Does it remain the king among premium mid-size all-electric SUVs?
Feast on some tech specs
First up, it's worth a quick run through the spec sheet. The i-Pace is a full electric vehicle (EV) - there's no supplementary petrol motor here, it's all batteries. It comes with a 90kWh rating - whichever spec of trim you choose - that provides a range of up to 290 miles per charge (that's the WTLP official figure).
The i-Pace's batteries feed all four wheels through a pair of electric motors, one on each axle, which produce a total of 400 horsepower and 696 Newton-meters of torque. It'll cover the benchmark 0-60mph sprint in 4.5 seconds. Which tells you Jaguar isn't messing around - although the updated Tesla Model X is quicker off the mark, at 3.8 seconds - made all the more impressive considering it weighs 2.1 tonnes.
A bit of an animal
So what's the i Pace like to drive in the real world? In a word: brilliant. It's fast, exceptionally smooth, easy to drive and highly responsive.
Press the ignition button and it all starts with silence. That's unnerving at first - although it's increasingly becoming the norm, for those who've tried out plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) or electric vehicles (EVs) - but you'll soon get used to zipping along without the roar of a petrol or diesel motor.
We don't think you'll miss the thrum or the rise and fall of revs as much as you might think either. The car still makes some electrical noise - to the extent that horses really don't like it, as we unfortunately found out on country roads when one was sent into a Chun-Li-style spinning bird kick - and if you hit the Dynamic button it'll make some fake engine noise - which, frankly, we firmly dislike. Embrace the electric noise (unless you're a horse), eh?
With strong aero credentials, the i-Pace is quiet at speed. Road and wind roar are particularly well suppressed - some debris can kick up into the chassis and make excess sound though - and the aura it creates in the cabin is every bit worthy of a Jaguar. It feels rarefied and graceful on the move.
But it can also be a bit of an animal. Acceleration is savage. Is 0-60mpg in 4.5 seconds classed as fast, any more, when various hot hatches can run these types of figures? It is when there are two electric motors producing full torque from 0rpm, meaning the i-Pace absolutely hurls itself off the line from a dead stop. And then just keeps on going.
Take the big wheels to the race track
Helping the sporty feel is the keen and responsive steering, a body behaving as though it weighs nowhere near 2.1 tonnes, and a firm but comfortable ride. Our test i-Pace launch came with 19-inch wheels, but step up in the range and it's all 20-inch - nice for the sake of the looks, but likely add a little firmness to the ride.
Like other EVs, Jaguar has set-up the i-Pace braking system to help you harvest as much energy as you can, through regenerative braking. Rather than applying pad to disc and creating waste heat, energy is recovered and turned into energy for the battery.
This means that if you look far down the road while driving, and think ahead, you start to find you don't really need to use the brake pedal much at all. Simply lift off the accelerator and the i-Pace slows down. There's a 'crawl' option within the settings, which you can switch off, to help enable this one-pedal driving style even more.
It can take a little getting used to, especially for the uninitiated. But it tastes like the future - and is something the Polestar 2, as one example, does far more aggressively still. Should you really not like the sensation then you can delve into the setup menu and turn off the heavy regeneration mode. But, seriously, don't do that.
Overall, the i-Pace drives like a true Jaguar, with the odd hint of Land Rover and BMW thrown in. It's a deeply appealing drive.
A clean sheet of paper - something special
The i-Pace design is clever and intriguing. It speaks a subtle SUV language, with a slightly raised driving position, yet it's not too bulky. It has Jaguar cues - the grille, the lamps, the way that details are handled - yet it takes the brand in a very new and ultimately positive direction.
That cab-forward proportion is very new. The chopped-off tail - a product of aerodynamic requirements - with its square edges and cut-back section, is different too. There are several neat details, such as the inner grille which rolls into the section of the car and becomes a scoop through which air is channelled up the bonnet and right over the roof. Oh, and those Velar-derived door handles, which shuttle out to greet you when you unlock the car, are very cool too.
Step inside, and for what's not a huge car, there's plenty of space both front and back. There's a floating lower centre console that's complete with a fantastic pair of jewel-like climate control knobs. You use these for cabin temperature, fan speed and seat heating (and cooling, if you have it specified).
Hallelujah for some physical dial controls, eh? We prefer that over all functions being buried deep within a touchscreen menu (yes, we are talking about you, Tesla Model 3). Having everything touchscreen might sound more futuristic, but it's not always the best approach when eye-on-the-road driving should come first. Besides, Jag's updated tech in the 2021 i-Pace is rather accomplished.
Step inside Pandora's box
Around all this tech, there's useful and well-thought design and storage for real-life use. Six USB ports, five 12V sockets, a slot at the base of the console for your phone, a 10-litre centre bin, and slots underneath the rear seat for stashing and hiding things like tablets and laptops.
The front seats are thin (the backs are from an F-Type) but comfortable and figure-hugging. The rears will take three people at a pinch, and despite the roofline there's headspace for people who are over six-foot tall. The seat is set low, though, so despite decent legroom your under-thigh support in the back seat is quite compromised.
Gear selection is controlled by push buttons on the centre console, the indicators and wipers are conventional, while the updated screens of the Pivi Pro infotainment system - a 12.3-inch high-definition virtual instrument cluster, along with 10-inch and 5-inch upper and lower touchscreens - make for an easy-to-use and familiar system.
However, as with most EVs, there's much more on offer in the i-Pace to help you optimise for its electrifications. You get a smartphone app for remote control - preheating, locking, starting charging, and so forth.
On-board assist technology is as you'd expect. Autonomous city braking, lane departure warning, 360-degree parking cameras and self-parking - that kind of thing. And the i-Pace has queue assist, allowing the car to steer itself as well as accelerate/brake in a traffic jam.
But Jaguar has added a few, critical and well-judged EV-specific elements into the in-car interface. A power/charge swing-o-meter in the instrument cluster replaces the rev counter of petrol cars, so you can see when recovering energy. And a 'My EV' menu in the centre display features a lovely hologram of an i-Pace to show its charge status and range.
There's also an economy guidance chart (entitled Energy Impact) that shows the impact of various systems - heated seats and aircon, for example - impacting the potential range. It talks to the navigation system, too, as to predict as accurately as possible you how much charge you'll have at your destination, and where you need to charge.
In its new-fangled updated form, there's also now Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration - believe it or not this lacked back in 2018 - and it's integrated really well. It doesn't need to take over the whole interface, which is refreshing - a bit like it does in the Ford Mustang Mach-E - and gives you a best-of-both worlds feel for your personal phone-based setup and those aforementioned economic visual cues.
All i-Pace trim levels have the same battery pack, pair of electric motors (giving it four-wheel drive), and the same charging system. So whichever version you choose, your experience of this will be the same. The quoted range of 290 miles is based on the European standard WLTP drive cycle.
What does that mean in reality if you go out and buy one? Well, we lived with the i-Pace for a full week, where it started at 96 per cent charge with 690 miles on the clock, and finished up at 840 miles with 22 per cent charge remaining. That, with a quick bit of maths, is 150 miles achieved with a spare 50 miles or so in the 'tank' - so around 35 fewer than the on-board computer's expected 235 miles.
But, realistically speaking, you can drive the i-Pace in whichever manner you please - half of our drive time was smashing it around motorways and not thinking economically - and still easily hit beyond the 200 miles mark no problem.
Be a little more delicate and 240 won't be a bother. The 290 quote, however, we think is only really going to be achieved in Eco mode, with no air conditioning, not smashing the throttle, and probably only in the warmer summer months.
Jaguar is quick to point out that over each 300 mile cycle the car learns not only how you drive but where and in what conditions it's being driven, to build up a much more accurate range prediction. It's always adjusting, to give a best possible figure in front of your eyes - which is great.
A full charge at home, if you install a 11kW wallbox charger, is accomplished in 8 hours and 36 minutes - which is a 4 hour improvement over the 12 hours and 36 minutes of the older 7kW charger from the 2018 model.
Meanwhile, out in the world of faster public charging points, a 50kW fast charger can provide an 80 percent battery charge in 85 minutes. While the Motorway Rapid (100kW) chargers can manage 80 percent in 40 minutes. Which really starts to make very long journeys in the i-Pace a viable proposition.
Pity that, unlike Tesla, Jag doesn't have a network of Superchargers it can guide you to when the time does come to charge. That's just about the only downside of the i-Pace compared to the competition.
The Jaguar i-Pace was the first mid-size all-electric SUV from an established premium automaker. In 2018 we called it a triumph. And that sentiment hasn't changed - indeed, it's only gotten better.
It's a joy to drive, presents an arresting and appealing design, all while employing logical, helpful technology - including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto that's integrated in a really wonderful way.
It does all this without resorting to show-off doors or jaw-dropping huge screens. The i-Pace is clearly not a product of Silicon Valley's move-fast-and-break-things approach to innovation, either.
The i-Pace's feels like an aspirational car for regular people. And that, among other things, is what makes it a true Jaguar. It's not techy for tech's sake. Or elitist. Yes, at a starting price of £64k it might not be the car to bring electric mobility to the masses - but of the similar-price rivals from Audi, Mercedes and Tesla, it's a winning formula.
Tesla Model X
The Tesla is bigger, bulkier, and more expensive. But if you're considering an i-Pace it'll probably be on your radar. The Tesla can do faster and brings greater drama than the Jag – the falcon doors and huge centre screen mean that, in many ways, it feels techier – especially as there's Autopilot to consider too. But the Jag is more complete, much more nimble and feels better made.
Audi e-tron Sportback
All the quality you expect from Audi, with comfort and sophistication, plus power and performance on the road. The e-tron Sportback is a great car to drive and live with, it has reasonable range, but it's not the most efficient electric car on the road - and that's its real sticking point. Which you might prefer the way it looks, the Jag still has the upper hand in our book.
Ford Mustang Mach-E
An electric Mustang? Really? Whether you think it's a real 'Stang or not in this SUV crossover format might be besides the point. But Ford has gone all-out with its first all-electric vehicle, embracing new technologies in a manner that's often mighty impressive. It's cheaper than the i-Pace, too, which is where it'll likely pull most of its success from - and you're not compromising on range as a result.
The marque's first serious full-fat all-electric SUV is an obvious rival to Jaguar, and the start of a whole electric EQ sub-brand. Thing is, it's just not as well-packaged or designed as the i-Pace. So think of it more as a very strong statement of intent for now - maybe the range will bring something truly more competitive to the fore in the future.