The Jaguar I-Pace hardly looks out of place sitting centre-stage at London’s high-ceilinged, sparsely furnished Design Museum, which seems a strange thing to say about a five-seat SUV in the wake of an acclaimed temporary exhibition that saw the most spectacular Ferraris of all time gathered at the Kensington venue.
But it’s not just any premium SUV, as its designers are all too keen to point out.
Although it’s well over a year and a half since Coventry’s electric pioneer first broke cover, it’s still being touted as the beginning of a design revolution that will soon bring us a Porsche Taycan-rivalling XJ, before being extended to a line of radical saloon, performance and high-riding models. We’ve seen glimpses of what’s to come in the form of the aborted C-X75 sports car and the recently revealed Gran Turismo virtual concept, but, following the departure of legendary designer Ian Callum and the opening of JLR’s £600m technology centre, talk is turning to where the company will find inspiration for its upcoming production EVs.
Happily, Jaguar’s top sketchers believe electric vehicles could give automotive designers more freedom than ever before. Although the F-Type and C-X75 won critical acclaim for their subtly striking lines and purposeful stances, they were still sketched according to the fundamental principles of sports car design. As their side profiles clearly show, the ‘horse and cart’, and ‘horse in cart’ shapes lie at their foundation, and Callum’s team of stylists were constrained by the aerodynamic, ergonomic and legislative principles that come with that.
The I-Pace, however, was “a chance to start afresh,'' according to chief creative exterior designer Dominic Najafi, who adds that its conception was about “being open-minded and saying: ‘what does electrification give us?’”
A lot, as it turns out. Alister Whelan, Jaguar’s chief interior designer, calls the I-Pace “a blueprint for the future”. “It’s already been out for 18 months,” he says, “so if we’ve created it now, the future could be even more exciting for us.” He adds: “We just need to be careful that we appeal to all our customers and give them choice, but the electric platform and what we’ve started with the I-Pace could open up lots of potentials.”
Let’s not forget that Gaydon beat its Stuttgart, Ingolstadt and Munich rivals to the punch with a stylish electric SUV at a time when its standing in the hotly contested premium segment was under intense scrutiny. A premium electric SUV that’s consistently proved its dynamic and practical worth in Autocar’s road trips, reviews and group tests, no less. So it seems only fitting that the I-Pace has yet to find its way off the red carpet; it wasn’t just Jaguar’s first step into a new segment, it was our first taste of a model category that’s likely to become the industry’s most popular and influential in the coming years.
The designers are keen to stress that, although the I-Pace is very much “still a Jaguar”, it forms part of a bold strategy, Najafi says, to “make everything as progressive as possible”. There’s hints of past models there, for sure, but the I-Pace’s stylists’ overarching brief was not: “make it look like a C-X75 SUV”.