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Jaguar Takes Aim at Tesla Motors With a Stunning Electric SUV

By John Rosevear – Nov 15, 2016 at 9:06AM

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The Jaguar I-Pace Concept makes its German rivals look a step behind. It should give Tesla's Model X a fierce fight when it arrives in 2018.

Jaguar says that its I-Pace Concept is a "preview" of an all-electric model that will arrive in 2018. Image source: Jaguar Land Rover. 

British luxury brand Jaguar has taken the wraps off of what it calls a "preview" of its first battery-electric model -- and it's a stunner. The I-Pace Concept unveiled by Jaguar in Los Angeles on Monday night is a low-slung electric SUV that promises thrilling acceleration and handling along with well over 200 miles of range. 

Sound familiar? It's clearly inspired by Tesla Motors (TSLA -0.94%), but it also sounds like Jaguar's doing it the right way -- in contrast to some of its big German rivals. Read on. 

What it is: A preview of Jaguar's first all-electric model

First of all, we should be clear that the I-Pace a "concept," meaning that officially speaking, it's just a show car. But while some concepts are merely flights of futuristic fancy, others are close previews of upcoming production models. Jaguar said clearly that the I-Pace falls into the latter category: It's a preview of a model that will arrive in 2018. 

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover.

So what is it, exactly? Jaguar describes it as an SUV with sports-car capabilities. It's tall for a sports sedan but low slung for an SUV. It's arguably something different from both, something more like Tesla's Model X -- but arguably also something entirely new.

The specs are promising. Jaguar said that a 90 kilowatt-hour battery pack will give the production version of the I-Pace a range of over 500 km (311 miles) on the New European Driving Cycle and over 355 km (220 miles) under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's more stringent standards. 

Image source: Jaguar Land Rover.

That 90 kWh battery pack can be recharged to 80% in 90 minutes and 100% in just over two hours using 50-kilowatt DC Fast charging, Jaguar said. That's not quite up to Tesla's Supercharger standards, but it's probably good enough. (And it should improve as higher-wattage DC Fast chargers become available.) 

Performance should also be "good enough" for most. It's excellent by conventional standards: The I-Pace is a two-motor all-wheel-drive design, with a total of 400 horsepower and 516 pounds-feet of torque. Jaguar executive Ian Hoban said it will accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in "around four seconds." 

A unique look that takes advantage of the electric drivetrain

Jaguar is now owned by India's Tata Motors (TTM), but it's still very much a British automaker with a long and strong tradition. In keeping with that tradition, the I-Pace has dramatic styling, here penned by the company's vaunted design chief, Ian Callum -- but it doesn't look like any other Jaguar, or like Tesla's Model X, or like any other vehicle for that matter.

The I-Pace Concept has a strong "cab-forward" design that takes advantage of the electric drivetrain's configuration to do away with a traditional hood. The result is a roomy interior along with a low-slung appearance and sleek aerodynamics that will improve its range. It seats five (four adults, really) in two rows. 

The interior of the I-Pace Concept is probably not far from what will be in the production version. Image source: Jaguar Land Rover.

The concept's interior includes some futuristic show-car touches, but it's probably not too far from what Jaguar intends to produce. The low driving position, driver-focused dashboard, and extensive use of leather and wood trim are all classic Jaguar -- but rethought and updated.

Jaguar's EV seems more serious than its German rivals'

I think the I-Pace Concept is exactly the kind of thing that the established luxury brands should be doing right now. Jaguar clearly used the example of Tesla as a starting point, but its design is clearly rooted in its own brand heritage -- and it doesn't shy away from exploring the design and packaging opportunities offered by the electric drivetrain's configuration. 

It's very different from the approaches taken by two of Jaguar's rivals. The "e-tron quattro" electric SUV concept from Volkswagen's (VWAGY -2.72%) Audi brand mostly looks like Audi's other SUVs.

Audi's 2015 e-tron quattro concept previews an electric SUV that will come to market in early 2018. Image source: Audi.

The "Generation EQ" from Daimler's (MBGA.F -1.23%) Mercedes-Benz brand, unveiled last month, looks like... other Mercedes SUVs, except with a blue nose

The production version of the Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ Concept won't come to market until 2020. Image source: Mercedes-Benz.  

Jaguar's approach seems much more serious, and much more carefully thought-out. The production version of the I-Pace Concept might not quite match Tesla's specs on paper, but it's in the ballpark. That, combined with its styling and assuming Jaguar's usual excellent interior and handling, should be enough to draw plenty of buyer interest. 

Maybe more importantly, it's an electric vehicle that doesn't look like anything else -- but it does look like a Jaguar, one that looks likely to deliver a competitive driving experience with classic Jaguar flavor. I think it will be well received. 

John Rosevear has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla Motors. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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