LAGOS, PORTUGAL—In the 83 years since Sir William Lyons’ SS Sidecars Ltd. became Jaguar, the storied carmaker has never produced an electric vehicle. Until now. The 2019 Jaguar I-Pace, starting at $69,500, is a high-performance battery-powered contender with 240 miles of range.

I was able to take one on a cruise around the sun-kissed towns of southern Portugal, both on and off road, and on a race track, too. Smooth motorway drives were offset by detours through sleepy villages with narrow lanes perfect for testing the Jaguar’s sure-footedness.

The I-Pace SUV has a split personality. It is first and foremost a fast highway cruiser, reaching 60 miles per hour in just 4.5 seconds. It is supremely quiet and rattle free on the turnpike. But since Americans want crossovers, and Jaguar and Land Rover are partners, it also benefits from considerable off-road finesse.

Ride height is adjustable upward, and a cruise control function—combined with Adaptive Surface Response, known as AdSR, which detects and adjusts to different road surfaces—will propel it up steep rocky slopes while the driver just steers. The car’s 90-kilowatt-hour battery pack is mounted low under the car to maximize interior space and to deliver a low center of gravity, but that didn’t stop us from taking the I-Pace without incident through a fairly deep stream. The battery is waterproofed.

The basic facts are impressive, and Tesla is no doubt taking notice. The car’s pair of 197-horsepower permanent magnet electric motors, mounted on both axles, give it all-wheel drive and 394 horsepower combined, with 512 pound feet of torque. That’s stump-pulling power, and it’s felt as soon as you take the I-Pace on the road. EVs have great off-the-line ability anyway, and this one takes off like there’s twin turbocharging under the hood. Top speed is 124 mph.

The I-Pace is fairly weighty at 4,784 pounds, but that’s somewhat offset by the car’s excellent 0.29 drag coefficient.

There’s seating for five, and the “cab-forward” styling enabled by the absence of a gas engine means rear passengers have very good legroom. The interior is luxurious, with leather upholstery and wood detailing. A digital display with speedometer at left and EV information on the right is abetted by a wide screen for climate, navigation and the Meridian premium audio system. Top trim levels get wood accents; in the entry-level S it’s aluminum-weave carbon fiber.

There wasn’t much about the I-Pace to criticize, but the hemispherical rear window meant the view out the back wasn’t as comprehensive as it could be. The design also dictates high front window sills, which create a mild sitting-in-a-pillbox feel. But the interior is comfortable for long drives.

The high-end HSE ($80,500) and the $69,500 S are not hugely different, though the latter has smaller 18-inch wheels, and absent are features such as rear-seat climate control, premium leather interior, and some advanced safety features. Performance and range are the same, since there’s only one available drivetrain and battery pack. With 100-kilowatt DC public fast charging, the I-Pace can reach 80% battery capacity in 40 minutes. With a seven-kilowatt AC home wallbox, that same charge will take 10 hours.

Through an app on your phone, the I-Pace can electronically link with your home’s lights, thermostat, and garage door; the car will sense when you’re getting close to home and activate them all. Pre-heating the battery’s 432 nickel-manganese-cobalt pouch cells via the app will increase the car’s range by something like 30 miles. On-board artificial intelligence means that within two weeks the car will recognize you—and your seat adjustments, favorite radio stations, and preferred temperature—via the phone in your pocket. The car also knows how many people are onboard, and adjusts temperature settings accordingly.

At the local race track, I did circuits with both the I-Pace and the sporty F-Type. The SUV is heavier but has a horsepower advantage, and the net result was that they felt surprisingly similar (in roadholding and acceleration) at speeds of up to 115 mph.

Why an electric SUV from Jaguar, and why now? According to Jaguar spokesman Richard Agnew, the marketplace is speaking. The global EV market, at 1.3 million vehicles in 2017, has increased 58% since 2016. China, a top three market for the I-Pace, along with Europe and the U.S., is moving quickly to plug in and now has 150,000 charging stations.

Meanwhile, worldwide SUV sales stand to reach 24.3 million by 2020. Jaguar didn’t produce an SUV until 2016, but the I-Pace now joins a growing family that also includes the F-Pace and the smaller E-Pace.

As I learned during my recent spin through Portugal, it’s been worth the wait.


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