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Is the I-Pace an SUV? Is it a sedan? A coupé? Sports car? According to Ian Callum, Jaguar’s design director, “it doesn’t matter.”

He’s probably right. Usually is. The lines between different types of car are blurring even to expert eyes, let alone those who actually go out and spend money on cars, and who couldn’t care less about arbitrary segments.

The only thing they’ll have to know about the I-Pace is that it’s a battery electric vehicle (BEV), and the first premium, long-range, practical, pure-electric vehicle from an old-school car maker, if that doesn’t sound overly specific. What I mean is that it joins the Tesla Model series and a host of plug-in hybrids as the long-range, poshbadge electric choice and has felt like a long time coming.

It’s curious how the established industry chose to launch EVs with semi-affordable prices and short ranges first, as if aimed at those with the least money and the least ability to charge at home.

Anyway, now, here we are: a £60k-plus EV with a 300-mile range or thereabouts and 394bhp, from a company with more experience than Tesla at making cars in large volumes.

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It had no particular experience of making EVs, though, hence it recruited Wolfgang Ziebart, a proper boffin type of bloke, formerly of BMW, then Continental (electronics, not tyres), Infineon (a semiconductor/ control systems company) and Artega (remember the electric Artega GT sports car? No, thought not). Really enthusiastic; quite intense; clearly incredibly clever; Doc Emmett Brown demeanour. You’d really like him.

Anyway, Ziebart knows his way around this sort of thing. “The goal was simple,” he says now of the I-Pace. “To design the best electric car on the planet.” And, Marty, take it to 1955. Okay, not that.

The basics of a BEV aren’t that hard to get your head around, either. The simplest and cheapest powered wheeled vehicles on the planet are BEVs and most internally combusted engine cars have plenty of electric motors in them, too. There must be dozens in a Range Rover. It’s in the details where it gets complicated.

For the I-Pace, then, Ziebart tells me, the basics are the kind of ‘skateboard’ architecture that you’ll find underpinning almost every EV. The batteries lie between the two axles and Jaguar has specified two electric motors, the same each end, of its own design.

There are more than 10 patents on the motor, and it’s a permanent magnet type, with the DC-AC inverter attached to it, because you want the AC cabling to be as short as possible, because that’s more efficient; although the difference between an inefficient and a really efficient electric motor is only something like 90-95%, but it all counts. Next time around, Jaguar wants to put the inverters into the motor itself.

Anyway, one of the reasons there are two motors rather than one is so Jaguar could put the wheels where it wanted. Apparently, with only one set of driven wheels, the rear wheels would have had to be further forward in the body if the car was going to drive halfway normally.

This way, there’s four-wheel drive and a 50/50 weight distribution, and a wheel out at each corner, to Callum’s pleasure. “The I-Pace was driven, outside the realms of the chassis, by design,” he says. “And because it’s an SUV, we can have big wheels,” he says, smiling, “which delighted me greatly.”

Inside the I-Pace cabin

It’s a relatively compact five-seater. At 4682mm, the car is only 10mm longer than an XE, and yet the 2990mm wheelbase is 30mm longer than an XF’s, which the car is also 15mm wider than.

The front wheels are suspended by double wishbones, the rear by an integral link. You can have coil springs with passive or adaptive dampers, or – the only set-up we’ve tried so far – air springs with adaptive damping.

Between the axles, surrounded by a predominantly aluminium body structure (torsionally stiffer and with more aluminium content than any other Jaguar), sit 90kWh worth of lithium ion battery cells, enough for a 298-mile range on the new European WLTP drive cycle.

How fast you’ll actually get through them and how fast you’ll charge them depends on how heavy your foot is, the kind of driving you do and what charger you have access to.

Anyway, because of the relative simplicity – of the mechanicals, if not the intricacies of the hardware and the control systems to deploy it – there’s a lot of interior room in the I-Pace, given its medium outward size. Those in the back will have the kind of knee room, if not quite as much head room, as they’ll be used to in a genuine executive car.

Those in the front have plenty of head room, too, mind, and are surrounded by an interior layout that is recognisably Jaguar, with only a few novel twists. It’s not like being in, say, one of BMW’s i cars, which likes to throw new materials at you to make you feel like you’re sitting in the future. (You can even have wood trim, for heaven’s sake.)

The I-Pace’s seats are big, comfortable, faux leather at no cost or leather for a couple of grand – it’s remarkably easy, as with most premium cars, to add £10k, £20k to the basic price very quickly – and there are all-digital instruments and a new infotainment layout.

At the top is a touchscreen that deals with the navigation, audio, telephone and quite a lot of options. Below deals with the less required stuff, part touchscreen, part dials, and there are a few other switches because, unlike Tesla, Jag would rather not deal with everything via one big touchscreen.

I see the sense in that – but, then, I also see how quickly the mapping, and directions to chargers, for example, work on the Model 3, whose big touchscreen’s controls are seriously impressive. Somewhere between all these systems, there’s one perfect one.

It’s all designed, though, as the outside is, with verve and elegance. Interior fit and finish are strong, and the mechanical layout means there’s a lot of oddments storage. It has also given Callum’s team some flexibility on the outside.

The cab is further forward than an internally combusted car’s, the car looks agile and it retains a big grille, even though it doesn’t need all of it for the three independent cooling systems (motors, battery, interior).

The top bit flows air through a gap and onto the bonnet, maintaining easy, laminar flow to the body – whose black sides break up the bulk and which you’ll see on future Jaguar SUVs – to the back, which is, from a design standpoint perhaps, the least striking bit of the car. But to have a Cd of 0.29, it’s a necessity. “It’s high. It’s square,” says Callum. “I said to the design team: ‘Accept the physics. Make it work.’”

It encloses a spacious, 656-litre boot, mind, and there’s a 27-litre compartment at the front, too.

Understanding the I-Pace trim levels

At launch, the I-Pace arrives with a 90kWh battery and 395bhp all-wheel drive powertrain, with a choice of three trim levels. Entry-level S trim includes 18in alloy wheels, LED headlights, a manual tailgate, heated door mirrors, sports seats, Meridian sound system, Navigation Pro infotainment system, rear parking camera and cruise control.

Step-up SE spec trim includes premium LED lights and signature daytime running lights, a powered tailgate, auto-dimming folding door mirrors and leather seats.

The top-end HSE models include unique 20in alloys, matrix LED headlights, Windsor leather sports seats, Meridian Surround Sound system and the driver assist pack as standard, which includes adaptive cruise control and 360° parking cameras.

A First Edition model will also be on sale for the first year of production, with exclusive Photon Red paint, 20in alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, heated windscreen and front fog lights, as well as Jaguar's Adaptive Dynamics and Adaptive Surface Response driving modes, plus active air suspension. Inside, four-zone climate control, 18-way adjustable heated and cooled seats, a head-up display, configurable ambient lighting and a heated steering wheel come as standard.

What is the I-Pace like on the road?

More vehicle-ish than a Tesla, in that there’s a key and a start button, and a handbrake on the dashboard although you’ll probably never use it.

Push D, swing the medium-weight steering (about 2.5 turns between locks) and either pull away using the creep function, which makes it feel like one of those old-fashioned automatic combustion-engined vehicle thingies or, if you’d rather – and I would – turn that off and pull away using the throttle.

It’s smooth. It’s quiet. It’s the kind of thing that would be perfect for a Rolls-Royce. Or the next-generation Jaguar XJ, not coincidentally.

You can turn the sensitivity of the throttle up or down a bit, and you can change how much regenerative braking you get. On the higher setting, there’s so much of it that, Jaguar reckons, you can dispense with 98% of all actual brake use, and you get used to it quickly. It’s why the brakes can be small. (Perhaps why a Tesla Model 3 didn’t perform very well in emergency brake tests by a US magazine the other week. The I-Pace seemed fine but we’ll stick the datalogger on it in the UK.)

Throttle response is set about halfway between how razor sharp it could be, and what we’re used to from an internally combusted car, so that you don’t kangaroo along like you would in a Ferrari F12 TdF with a sticky accelerator.

It’s quite compelling but, well, not unlike most other EVs, from that perspective. As the industry and the capabilities of the cars themselves get more interesting, will the way they drive get more similar? I suppose that’s going to be the challenge.

In normal mooching, the rear motor does the accelerating, so you don’t get any steering corruption or front-wheel scrabble, and the front one does the regeneration under deceleration because that’s where the weight shifts.

After a mile or two, it becomes a doddle to drive using only one pedal, all the way to a stop. That encourages you to drive smoothly and efficiently, but don’t for a minute think the I-Pace is slow. Lumme, it’s not.

Because power is seamless, peak torque of 513lb ft is from zero rpm and the motors spin to 13,000rpm (with a single-speed 9:1 reduction gear), overtaking urge is brilliant, and as you ask a lot of the chassis, it can shuffle its power – half of all available – to any wheel it wants.

Is the I-Pace the shape of things to come for Jaguar?

We’ve tried this car in ridiculous places: through a riverbed, because it can wade 500mm; and up a steep gravel hill, where an electric four-wheel drive system shows huge potential, because it can stop and go at will and put as much or little torque as it wants to any corner.

And on a race circuit, where trailing the brakes (or, more realistically, a combo of the brakes and the front motor) means the car rotates nicely into a corner. Then when you come back on the power, it’s metered out pleasingly. The weight keeps it from being a real driver’s car, but it’s impressive.

It’s impressive on the road, too, where it’s very quiet, although you can turn up or down the enhanced ‘whoosh’ noise it makes under acceleration.

Drawbacks? There’s the ride, inevitably. There’s great weight distribution and a low centre of mass, but the perennial EV problem is that there’s so bloody much of it. This is a 2208kg car before you stick any options on it. The low centre of gravity means roll control is good, but you’re aware of body movements, and the will to control it means it’s sometimes unsettled.

Inevitable, perhaps, but a shame, as ever, because elsewhere it’s seriously refined and relaxed. And from a company that deals in real chassis deftness with its big saloons, you miss that.

Still, there’s not much else to dislike, except the big caveat common to all BEVs: if they don’t fit into your life, this one won’t, either. But if they do, make no mistake: you’re looking at the best of them.

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