Jaguar’s Electric I-Pace Concept Is One Fancy (and Zippy) SUV

When you’ve been making cars for nearly a century, you know you’ll have your ups and downs. Jaguar is in the middle of a very big up—and it’s taking advantage of the hot streak.

The British carmaker, enjoying a massive sales surge and basking in stellar reviews of its new F-Pace SUV, unveiled a sharply designed, fully electric concept SUV in West Hollywood today, ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Jaguar built its reputation on sports cars and luxury sedans, but these days, there’s no avoiding the electric SUV. Automakers need to meet every stricter carbon emission regulations; consumers go bananas for big cars. Putting the heavy batteries that can hurt performance in an elite sports car into an SUV instead, solves both problems.

That’s why the I-Pace will battle a growing cavalcade of electrified SUVs from Bentley, Porsche, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Audi, Maserati, and more.

Jaguar’s designers capitalized on the versatility of compact electric powertrains, using the space normally hogged by an engine and transmission to push the seats forward and the roof down. With a steep windshield of heavily curved glass and an extended wheelbase with shorter overhangs, the concept combines the proportions and look of a sports car with the interior space and visibility of an SUV.

If the virtual-reality demo, in which I “sat” in the front and rear seats proves accurate, it should be a fresh, airy interior experience. The future-facing design doesn’t draw from any one Jaguar ancestor, but it features a few classic notes—like prodigious wood and complex panel designs—to remind you where you are.

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Jaguar intends to launch the I-Pace as a production vehicle in 2018, carrying a liquid-cooled, 90-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, for a targeted range of 220 miles. The 36-module battery sits flat and low, to improve interior space and handling, thanks to a lower center of gravity. (Jaguar has recently joined the Formula E electric racing series, and says its R&D work there will help it on the production side.)

The dual front and rear electric motors sit between the wheels, to maximize both ground clearance and interior space. Together, they’ll produce 400 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, hurling the undoubtedly heavy SUV up to 60 mph in just four seconds.

Of course, as the I-Pace moves to production, it will likely drop its more fanciful design elements. The 12-inch virtual instrument cluster and 10-inch center screen will likely survive. The massive 23-inch wheels and micro-LED lights embedded in the panoramic glass sunroof probably won’t reach the assembly line.

But the team is confident its sleek aerodynamics will persist, from the flush, drag-reducing door handles and the side skirts that channel air more efficiently around the wheels to the steeply sloped rear window and the rear diffuser that generates cleaner airflow at the rear—all are achievable mechanisms for the I-Pace’s high efficiency.

The more the designers can keep, the better. The I-Pace is running straight into a lot of competition.

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