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Jaguar I-Pace – secrets of the Pixel Pansies

Why Jaguar's first production electric car was so different to design.

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The Jaguar I-Pace is not only the brand’s first all-electric production car, but also a car that takes a completely new design direction.

Now as the long-awaited EV starts to appear on UK roads, exactly how new a direction was taken has been revealed to The Car Expert by someone who once would have been a ‘Felt-tip Fairy’. Today, however, Jon Sandys happily accepts the title of ‘Pixel Pansy’.

“Jaguar designers have often by our wonderful colleagues in engineering been referred to as Felt-Tip Fairies,” says Sandys, interior design manager on the I-Pace programme.

“Today there is not a felt-tip in sight in the studio. Everything is now done digitally using Wacom tablets, so we are no longer Felt-tip Fairies – we are Pixel Pansies.”

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Jaguar I-Pace The Car Expert

Sandys has been at Jaguar eight years, and the second car he worked on after arriving was the brand’s first SUV, the F-Pace. He describes this as a learning experience for the design team, as they acclimatised to SUV proportions; “We said ‘how can we still make sure this is a Jaguar? How can it still have all the really important Jaguar elements – sporty, elegant, exotic, fun to drive, all that sort of thing?’”

The F-Pace became Jaguar’s best-selling car, until replaced in that role by its newer sibling the E-Pace. And when it came to thinking about Jaguar’s new electric car, the Pace family was considered where it needed to be, Sandys pointing out that this was still the fastest-growing segment while the proportions of an SUV suit a full battery-electric vehicle.

Jaguar C-X75 | The Car Expert
The mid-engined layout of the Jaguar C-X75 concept supercar inspired the designers creating the I-Pace.

According to Sandys the I-Pace began life pretty much every other Jaguar, as sketches in the design studio. “It was a designer doing some drawings trying to play with the new proportions, how the powertrain, the package would give space back to the customer.”

Styling inspiration came from an earlier concept that Jaguar had created with the Advanced Engineering division of the Williams Formula One racing team – the C-X75. “This was a very exciting car for Jaguar, arguably the most exciting car we have done since the XJ220,” Sandys recalls.

The C-X75 did not become a production model but it did move beyond a concept, with a number of real working versions built and the car even finding its way into the James Bond film Spectre. “It still lives on spiritually and this has remained a pin-up car for all of us – in the studios, there are pictures of it all over the walls.”

This concept also served to develop the body profile that is entirely relevant to the i-Pace; “It has that cab-forward, mid-engine proportion, except that there is no conventional engine.”

From the start, the I-Pace was designed to be a battery-electric vehicle. That gave the design team rather more freedom than they would have had accommodating all types of powertrains.

“We could have electrified the F-Pace and made that a more diverse car but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as exciting. Get rid of the engine and you remove a 350kg lump of metal from the front of the car – instead, you have a couple of 80kg electric motors, one on each axle taking up so much less space that you have to give back to the occupants.”

As a result, the I-Pace compares to a Jaguar XE saloon in overall length but has the wheelbase of the much larger XJ. “We can create a Tardis car with this, which we wouldn’t have been able to do if we were accommodating mixed powertrains.”

Jaguar I-Pace The Car Expert

The I-Pace first broke cover in November 2016, as a concept, and as Sandys expected sparked fevered speculation. “When you unveil a concept car, magazines always do drawings trying to predict the production version – they did this with our car and they tried to normalise it. ‘The bonnet scoop will never make production, the 22-inch wheels are a designer’s dream that won’t make it and neither will the flush door handles as they will be too expensive….’

“Every one of those elements made production – as a team of designers at Jaguar we can create fantastic-looking concept cars but then we can put them on the road, with very, very little change. The roofline went up by 1cm, but that was it.”

Pointing out individual styling elements of the I-Pace, Sandys highlights the grille as very important. “One of the most frequently asked questions is why this car has a grille – (electric rivals) the Tesla Model S or Model X do not have a conventional grille.”

Jaguar I-Pace front | The Car Expert

Image plays a major part in this. “We want it to still look like a Jaguar – to be recognisable in the mirror when following you, and the trapezoidal grille is part of that family face.

“A grille also helps with the aero, the scoop allows air to kick up over the windscreen and over the roof line, helping to reduce the frontal area and keep the drag coefficient low. And the grille has a function to cool the batteries – an effective way to preserve electric range is to insulate the batteries as they are very susceptible to the thermal environment.”

Again he highlights the cab-forward look of the car. “Note how short the front is – the overhangs are really tight, right to the corners trying to give as much space back to the cabin as possible.

Jaguar I-Pace The Car Expert

“We’ve also tried to keep that coupe roof line – (company founder) Sir William Lyons said all Jaguars should look fast even when standing still, and we still follow that principle today.”

Describing the rear three-quarter lines gives Sandys an opportunity to go into more detail of the importance of aerodynamics to the I-Pace, and to recall the work of Malcolm Sayer, regarded by many as the original Jaguar designer. “He came from an aircraft background and was renowned for bringing such technology into the cars – he shaped the D-Type and E-Type, cars that had curvaceous, fuselage-like, very slippery bodies.”

It’s a philosophy that still applies today and particularly to the I-Pace. “While these cars are more slab-sided and square, managing airflow is very important with regard to the electric range, helping to deal with the modern issues of range anxiety. You want the car to go as far as it can on a single charge.”

Jaguar I-Pace The Car Expert

The spoiler mounted at the top of the rear screen aids this airflow. “Designers love wings, we love to draw out the length of our roof just to get the speed of the car in profile. But it also functions to direct air down over the rear window – it acts like a wash effect, you don’t need a rear window wiper because the air does that job for you.”

The spoiler boasts distinctive end-plates, fairing it into the rear side pillar, but Sandys reveals the reason for these is not just cosmetic. “We added the little ‘cat ears’ because while they looked good, without them the car was making a whistling sound, which was fun but not what customers would want.”

He emphasises that all of this work, from the grille to the squared-off back, providing a clean and non drag-inducing detachment point for air travelling along the wide of the car, was carried out in a design studio. “We had CFD (computational fluid dynamics) models on a computer, and wind-tunnel testing, but it all came back to the clay models we had in the studio and making different iterations – in finalising the front grille we must have produced about 20 iterations of that element.”

Sandys is unsurprisingly particularly proud of the car’s interior, having led the team that created it. He describes it as making the most of the package and employing “a few little tricks” to do so.

“An electric car has no traditional transmission tunnel, which frees up a lot of space. You create space under the centre console. There is no manual gearshift or mechanical linkages – you don’t change gear in this car because there are no gears, you just select a drive mode, forwards, neutral or reverse. These are selected by push buttons and these are really slim.”

The general theme of the interior was to create simplicity in the architecture. The car has a head-up display to help the driver keep their eyes on the road, while many of the controls rely on touchscreens. But it is in the smallest elements that Sandys believes the design focus of the I-Pace is firmly demonstrated – such basic elements as a speaker grille.

Jaguar I-Pace interior | door speaker | The Car Expert
A speaker grille – more than 900 holes, no two are the same in design.

“The speaker front is in real metal, you would likely give it one glance and move on. But I spent countless hours trying to design it. All it has to do is let sound waves pass through it, but somehow we designed it so that while it looks to be a parallelogram, no two sides are parallel.

“This was all well and good but the design director insisted that all of the holes had to line up on all four sides. Meanwhile, the audio team insisted on a consistent open area for the sounds, while the manufacturing team said there couldn’t be more than 0.8mm of metal between each hole and that had to be consistent.

Sandys believes he designed something like 40 versions of the grille before admitting defeat. “I went to an engineering team in the depths of our Coventry site, they wrote some special computer code called Knowledgeware, and pretty much got it right it right first time.

“The speaker grille is about the size of the palm of a hand with about 900 holes in it – and no two holes are of the same design…” One little triumph of the Pixel Pansies…

Jaguar I-Pace feature | The Car Expert


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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.