A mere three years after I got a ride in a prototype of the early Google self-driving cars, Elon Musk launched Tesla’s autopilot. I’d experienced something like autopilot already, but to see it in a production car was thrilling. I walked into the local Tesla center and ordered a Model S that day. I took delivery in early December, and turned autopilot on as soon as I got on the highway leaving the factory in Fremont. The future had arrived!
My feelings for Tesla over the following three years are… complicated. I admire what the company has been able to do. I’ve taken the factory tour a few times over the years, and it’s staggering to witness the conversion of the old NUMMI factory into a modern marvel of engineering and automation. I loved knowing that my purchase of a Tesla was accelerating an industry’s conversion from internal combustion engines to more environmentally friendly options. I was thrilled to know that my car was built just miles from my house. The nature of the way the car was constructed – heavy battery low to the ground, a single gear motor ensuring tons of torque from the minute you hit the accelerator – meant it was terribly fun to drive. As fun as it was, it was also the safest production car on the road. Win-win.
And yet. Bugs that existed in the infotainment system when I took delivery persisted. For years. The build quality of a car valued at more than what my first apartment cost was uninspiring. There was that time that my car wouldn’t boot. Still drove, but the center panel was unresponsive. Took them almost two weeks to fix it (by replacing the center tablet, because they didn’t know what was wrong and couldn’t reset it.) Or the fender bender I’d had which took almost 2 months to repair – because they had no inventory of replacement parts, and they’d converted the entire factory to pumping out as many Model 3s as they could. I just needed a headlamp. A headlamp that took over a month to produce, because they had none available. (!)
Which brings me back to auto-pilot. I used it almost every day for the first two years I had the car. But as the company struggled to meet its Model 3 targets, I read several articles about the pressures being exerted on the company by leadership. Whistleblowers called attention to questionable safety decisions made repeatedly inside of the same factory I’d toured. There was the Apple engineer in his 30s who died when autopilot malfunctioned – on Highway 101, less than a mile from my office. The same team responsible for software that was buggy – I never knew if that podcast I was listening to when I turned the car off would be waiting for me when I turned it back on, or if the infotainment system would randomly select another for me – was the team responsible for the software that drove my car. Safety accidents caused concerns at the factory. I started to wonder whether I would keep the Model S when my lease was up.
That’s when I heard about the I-Pace. I’d never considered buying a Jaguar. But it was going to be an electric car, it looked decidedly different, and early reviews suggested it was going to be a competent alternative to a category Tesla had had all to itself for years.
My local dealer got a prototype over Labor Day, so I took it for a quick drive. I didn’t have enough time to put it through its paces, but it sure seemed to fit the bill. Last week, the vehicle I’d ordered (the HSE model) arrived on a boat, and I took delivery a few days later. If you’re looking for a professional review, here are a handful that I liked:
Several friends have asked for my thoughts, so here goes:
Build quality. This car is exceptionally well-built. The fit and finish are uniformly excellent. Where the Telsa’s interior always felt a tad spartan, the I-Pace is clearly a luxury vehicle.
Driver assistance. I remain surprised by what the Tesla chose not to include, given how technology-forward the car has always been. My I-Pace includes blind spot alerts in both rear view mirrors, along with audible alerts if you signal a turn into a lane where a vehicle is already present. Visibility in the car is generally good, but having additional alerts to help avoid an accident is a big win. The heads-up display is OK, not great. (The HUD in my wife’s Lincoln Navigator offers much more relevant info, for instance.) But it’s nice to have the vehicle’s speed displayed, call info, etc. without having to take your eyes off the road.
Cruise Control. Though the I-Pace makes no claims to compete with Tesla’s Autopilot, I was pleasantly surprised to find it offers both adaptive cruise control (set a speed, it will adjust as cars in front of you slow down, keeping speed with them) as well as steering assist (it will read the lane markings and control the steering to keep the vehicle in the middle of the lane). I’ve used it a few times, and don’t yet know if I’ll use it as regularly as I’d used Autopilot. Seems to work well, and it will yell at you if you take your hands off the wheel for more than a few seconds. Given my overall ambivalence to the current state of the art for cars (more or less) driving themselves, I think I’ll generally be the one driving.
|The green steering wheel means it’s in steering assist mode; the green lines indicate that it’s tracking the lane markers to stay inside the lane. The orange indicator indicates that it’s staying a set distance from the vehicle in front of you.|
Android Auto. Yes, I’ve worked at Alphabet for 12 years, so I’m a tad biased when it comes to phone OS. That said, I had my first exposure to Android Auto last year when I rented an Audi A4 from Silvercar. The resulting experience in the car was so transformative that I declared I’d never buy a car that didn’t support Android Auto. Having native access to Waze, Google Maps, Spotify, my phone / contacts, Google Assistant… it’s light years better than anything I’d previously experienced. Jaguar thankfully supports both Android Auto and Apple’s Car Play, which is great, because…
Infotainment System. The I-Pace has two different screens. The primary screen is a wide, short screen, with a second, smaller screen below. I’d read a number of reviews that mentioned general frustration with this system, and they weren’t wrong. It can often take several seconds from tapping on the screen for the screen to respond to your touch. I rely almost exclusively on Android Auto while driving, so I’ve only interacted with the screen when parked. Which is good, because any amount of interaction w/the screen while driving would likely drive me batty. (One of the forums mentioned that the OS for this is Embedded Windows – not sure if that’s accurate or not, but if true, it’s actually cause for cautious optimism: the Jaguar can be updated over-the-air (OTA) – and software performance can be tuned and improved. Fingers crossed.)
(Side note: relying on Android Auto for navigation means that the car’s built-in nav system – which can incorporate battery range, and ID charging stations along the way – is bypassed entirely. Among other things, it means I don’t get the turn-by-turn indications in the HUD that I’d get if I relied on the Jaguar’s native navigation system. I get why they don’t talk to each other – but it’s a quirk of running two OSes in parallel vs. a tighter integration.)
One nice feature of the built-in nav system? A dynamic representation of where on the map your car can get to given the current battery charge. It’s slick:
Also: it turns out, having buttons and knobs in the dash is quite a bit more useful than having a giant iPad control every feature in the vehicle. The Jag’s layout is for the most part intuitive, and not having to swipe through lots of menus to get to a specific control is great.
Height adjustment. I thought this might be a gimmick – the car has three height settings: “Access height” lowers the car for entry/exit so you’re closer to the ground, “Normal”, and “Off-road”. While I haven’t had the good fortune to take this car off-road yet, the numerous online reviews suggest that it’s a legit off-road contender. (Here’s Top Gear’s take.) Put the car in off-road mode, and it raises the car over 2 inches higher. On the highway, the car automatically lowers itself by a half inch to improve its drag coefficient. (Tesla’s with the optional air suspension also lower the vehicle at speed, and can raise/lower the car, for instance when approaching a driveway with a steep initial incline.)
Driving. This is a driver’s car. I’m sure part of my reaction is a general new/shiny honeymoon phase, but it is genuinely exciting to drive. By default, the car starts in “Comfort” mode, which smooths acceleration and defaults to a lighter steering / suspension mode. But you can put the car in “Dynamic” mode – resulting in faster acceleration, tighter steering, firmer suspension. You’ll use more of the battery, but you’ll have more fun. Several family members have reported that the ride as a passenger is more pleasant – I think this is due to a few factors: first, it’s just more comfortable due to more headroom and legroom in the cabin. Second, the I-Pace has an air suspension that my Model S did not (it was an option, I didn’t add it). Overall, my passengers prefer riding along in the I-Pace, for whatever that’s worth.
(Speaking of being a driver’s car: when you put the car in Dynamic mode, you unlock an app on the main screen called Dynamic-I. Dynamic-I yields a lap timer (!), a G-force gauge (!!), and a real-time graph of your throttle and brake usage. I’ve not taken the car to a track, so I have no real use for the lap timer or throttle/brake graph. But comparing to the figures in this post, it looks like the I-Pace gets a nearly identical number to the AWD Model S when accelerating 0-60mph.)
If you have range anxiety, you have a third mode: “Eco”, which will optimize for extracting every last mile out of your charge. You’ll lose some of the car’s performance abilities, but you’ll drive longer.
The seats are the most comfortable seats I’ve ever had – the driver support is light years beyond what I’d had in my Model S. They are infinitely adjustable – leg support, lumbar support, lower back side support, etc. – once I found the setting that felt ideal, I never looked back.
Range. There’s been quite a bit of chatter online about whether the I-Pace’s range holds up. They’d originally claimed a range >240 miles on a full charge; the EPA rates it at 234 miles, and owners are reporting a fair bit of variability, with some being disappointed by sub-200 mile rides. Here’s what I can say: when I took delivery of my Model S in 2015, it said that my battery (at 90% charge; Tesla doesn’t recommend charging to 100%) had 250+ miles of range. Over a few years, that degraded a tad to ~238 miles. In reality, my actual range was more like 160-180 miles. First, you never drive to empty. Second, different driving conditions – esp. local roads with lots of stops and starts – often diminished total range. That said, I could always charge at home, and the Supercharger network was never far from wherever I was. So I never really cared about range.
For the I-Pace, after just a few hundred miles of driving, I’m inclined to think it’ll be something similar. When fully charged, it tells me my range is ~260 miles (it’s adjusting for your driving behavior as well as the driving mode you’re in), and apparently I’m an efficient driver so far. But I fully expect that number to decline as it gets more data and as the battery capacity degrades a tad.
Frunk. Like w/my Model S, you can pop the hood. Unlike with the Model S, you can’t actually store stuff in there. The storage space in the I-Pace’s frunk is hilariously small. You could fit a few books in there, maybe even a small briefcase. But beyond that? The trunk or the cabin are your only choices.
Charging. So this is where Tesla has a HUGE advantage. There are over 10,000 superchargers worldwide. Living in the Bay Area in California, there’s a supercharging station in my home town, there’s a supercharging station at the Tesla center one town away, there are a dozen within a 20 mile radius. They charge fast – like, really fast – and they’re convenient. (As a bonus, my Model S was entitled to free supercharging, something which they’ve phased out. A full recharge for a new car will run $20-25.)
Per Jaguar’s recommendation, I installed a Chargepoint Home charger. For the first few days, it charged my I-Pace without incident. (It’s a 32A charger, and adds 24 miles of range per hour.) I wanted to condition the battery by running it low before recharging it, so I didn’t charge for several days. Went to charge it the other night, and discovered that the Chargepoint Home had malfunctioned. (They’re shipping me a new one, it will be here next week.)
No worries, the Chargepoint map showed a DC fast charger nearby – great! Drove there yesterday, only to learn that there are two incompatible DC fast-charging implementations: CHAdeMO (doesn’t work with the I-Pace) and CCS/SAE (works). (Side note: who came up with these acronyms?!) Remembering the dealer telling me I could swing by and use their charger whenever I wanted, I drove to the dealer (~10 miles away). Showed up, and learned that their charger had been offline since last night. Plan C: I’d seen a news report that Electrify America had just installed the two fastest chargers in the U.S. a few miles from my house. Off I went.
My experience at Electrify America’s station was comically awful. Their power cords are too short – I had to move my car to within two inches of the metal poles in the parking spot for the cord to reach my charging port. Then they declined my first card, then my second (both are in good standing). Finally took a third card, and charged my car for 5 minutes before declaring “charging error”. I tried a second charger, and couldn’t get it to approve any card… and gave up. (There’s an I-Pace owners group on Facebook that I’ve joined; after my experience, I found a thread there that documented an identical experience by another I-Pace owner four weeks ago. John shared those concerns publicly here.)
I’ve since discovered PlugShare – both an app and website – which looks promising as a way to only see charging stations that work with my car, and get a sense for just how quickly they’ll be able to charge. A Level 2 station will add roughly 20-25 miles of range per hour, which is ~10% of what a supercharger will give you. I believe a fast charging station will add 100-120 miles of range per hour, but haven’t yet been able to confirm that. The emptier your battery, the faster it charges; as it fills, it slows. This screencap of my Model S charging on a supercharger last year was representative:
|322 mi/hour? That’s… fast.|
In short: the reliability, ubiquity, and consistency of the supercharger network is a big, big advantage for Tesla. I’m hopeful that my Chargepoint Home malfunction was a fluke – if so, charging at home will be easy and dependable, and for the vast majority of my trips, I’ll be fine. But for longer trips, I’d have to do quite a bit more planning than I’d ever had to do with the Tesla.
This doesn’t mean I regret my purchase – I definitely don’t! But it’s to Tesla’s credit that they removed one of the big obstacles to electric car ownership and totally nailed the user experience from discovery to delivery to payment processing. Implementation matters, and the non-Tesla commercial charging experience right now is a patchwork of incompatible formats and let’s-see-if-this-works payment processing. It’ll work (eventually), but it takes patience. For non-Tesla electric cars to really go past the tipping point, we’re going to need a similarly robust and reliable charging infrastructure – and if yesterday’s experience is any indication, we’re not there yet.
That sound. The first few reviews I’d read were pretty dismissive of Jaguar’s decision to pipe in a computer-generated digital equivalent of engine noise as you accelerate. (More on this from The Verge.) I thought I’d hate it – after all, one of the benefits of an electric car is the absence of engine noise and the overall quiet ride. But in my first week I’ve found that I quite like the audible cue of acceleration. Maybe it’ll seem like a gimmick in time, but somehow it feels normal and even a bit fun. (Note: the sound is different if you’re in Dynamic mode. In either mode, the noise gets more muscular the faster you go.)
Conclusion: I adore my I-Pace. It doesn’t look quite like anything else on the road, it drives like a dream, and the interior is more comfortable, roomier, and laid out in an intuitive way. Other Tesla owners who’ve grown wary of time devoted to stupid easter eggs instead of fixing long-standing bugs (a whoopee cushion? seriously?! ) but who are bought into electric car ownership will find the I-Pace to be a worthy alternative. And those who haven’t yet made the leap into an electric vehicle should be warned: one test drive of this car will make it hard for any other vehicle to match up.
- Miles driven since last charge: The Tesla trip odometer provided this info by default, and it’s a nice way to have eyes on your actual range for a given charge. I haven’t figured out if this is presented anywhere, but it’d be nice to be able to access it.
- Reprogram the voice button: The steering wheel has a voice command button that seems to only activate Jaguar’s voice commands. I’d love to be able to redirect this button to activate the Google Assistant (or for Apple users, Siri). I’ve seen this in other manufacturers, and it’s a big usability win. Ordinarily just saying “Hey Google” while driving would be enough, but it turns out you kind of have to store the phone in the center console, where the mic can’t hear you. Why? Because…
- GPS in the car seems to only work if the phone is actually in the closed center console. If the phone is out and accessible, the phone’s GPS receiver struggles to triangulate on the GPS satellites; if it’s in the center console, it’s much more reliable. Other owners have reported similar behavior – guessing it’s tied to the construction of the panoramic glass roof… whatever it is, it means my phone is out of reach and unlikely to hear me. Fortunately, if I trigger the Google Assistant from Android Auto’s touchscreen, it uses the car’s built-in microphones, and it works fine.
- The second screen is great for displaying media info (or controlling the phone) when the primary screen is showing Android Auto/CarPlay. Really wish it’d show the artist/song title instead of just the channel name.
- Related: why doesn’t Android Auto use the Pixel’s song identification system to surface “Now playing” info and display that on screen? (I’ve filed that feature request internally.)
- Another Android Auto wishlist item: really wish any of the electric charging apps (EVgo, Chargepoint, PlugShare, etc.) were categorized as Maps apps in Android Auto so I could easily select them to pull up a list of charging stations nearby and see what their charging capacities are.
- The Jaguar Android app isn’t the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but it mostly gets the job done. That said: naming the app “Remote” is… not the best decision. When your app drawer is alphabetized by default, you’d expect to find it listed under “J” for “Jaguar”, or “I” for “I-Pace”. Definitely not expected that it’d be under “R” for “Remote”.
- When I took delivery of the car, OTA updates were disabled. I think this was an oversight on the part of the dealer – but I was surprised, when poking through the car settings menu, to see “Updates” set to “Off”. OTA updates are one of the many advantages to modern cars – I don’t want to have to take the car to a dealer to get the latest software – this is the sort of thing that should be on by default.
- There are a ton of features in the car that are buried and unlikely to be discovered by most drivers. An email highlighting a new feature or family of features sent on a regular basis would be a great post-purchase way of ensuring that most of the really useful features are enabled and used. (At a minimum, if I were a PM at Jaguar, I’d be running some analytics across the installbase to see how many users are editing the defaults. Sure, many of the early buyers are likely to be early adopters… but I’m a week in, I’m a huge tinkerer, and I’m still finding stuff I haven’t seen before.)