Jaguar I-Pace has everybody buzzing

GENEVA — Though it was no surprise — and there"s nothing a motor show loves more than a surprise — the production version of Jaguar"s I-Pace still came off as consensus choice for most significant debut.

The reason? It"s Europe"s first no-kidding-around Tesla fighter — the first of a wave — and it did NOT come from one of the German giants.

Buzz for the sports car-styled crossover — which comes to the U.S. in the second half of this year — has been building since the concept version stole the Los Angeles show in 2016. Readers of a British car mag voted it the most anticipated new car of 2018 by a ratio of 6-to-1 over its nearest rival.

So Geneva was set up to be anti-climactic for the I-Pace, yet there was more than enough buzz to contend with. Jaguar design chief Ian Callum exulted over the attention — especially from designers at rival companies.

"It"s quite satisfying, not to be smug about it," said Callum as he tinkered with his prepared remarks before Jag"s press conference here. "But there"s an element of respect."

Among those paying their respects was the man Jaguar Land Rover execs, engineers and designers perhaps most want to please: Ratan Tata himself. The 80-year-old Indian industrialist, and former chairman of JLR owner Tata Group, strolled through the Jaguar Land Rover stand with a small entourage and acknowledged his new EV.

"Do you like the I-Pace?" he asked a reporter. "I think it is the future of electrification."

Callum: Attention is “satisfying.”

Even two visiting dignitaries from the states — National Automobile Dealers Association President Peter Welch and 2018 NADA Chairman Wes Lutz — were spotted crawling through the crossover.

"It"s a design breakthrough," said Lutz, a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles dealer.

How did Jaguar benchmark the I-Pace?

"Well, I"ve spent a lot of time driving Teslas," said Ian Hoban, I-Pace vehicle line director. "I enjoy driving Teslas."

Indeed, he said he likes chasing "the guys in the states," as he calls Elon Musk"s company.

"I think Tesla forms people"s opinions about what is acceptable on charging, range and on performance," he said. "It"s very exciting and I look very positively on what they"ve done in terms of being disruptive. As an engineer, you like nothing more than someone saying, "Look what I can do." You say, "Right. OK, let"s see what I can do now." "

Chasing Tesla is one thing, but Hoban did not want to chase BMW, Mercedes and Porsche.

Porsche will launch its Mission E four-door fastback next year and showed a variant, the full-electric Mission E Cross Turismo study, in Geneva.

"It was very important for us to launch the car ahead of the established competition, largely the Germans," said Hoban. "That was a rallying call for us. We wanted to demonstrate that within Jaguar we had the technical capability in the U.K. to deliver this car."

The L.A. concept was essentially the production car, Hoban said, "within a millimeter here and a millimeter there, a little bit of gingerbread, as I call it, on the wing and some detail on the front bumper, 23-inch wheels on the concept and only 22 inches on the production car."

The packaging has won a lot of praise. The battery-based platform allowed Jag to push the wheels out as far as possible with shorter front and rear overhangs, allowing the designers more liberty and creating plenty of space inside.

"The car is within a millimeter of a Porsche Macan in overall length," said Hoban, "but it"s got interior space greater than a Cayenne."

In the U.S., it will carry a base price tag of $70,495, including shipping. Because the lithium ion battery pack in the I-Pace is rated at 90 kilowatt-hours, the I-Pace qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit as well as local and state credits. JLR began accepting orders for I-Pace on March 1.

Tesla"s Model X is priced at $80,700, including shipping, and also is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

The I-Pace"s battery pack can be 80 percent charged in just 40 minutes with a 100-kilowatt DC charger.

Richard Truett contributed to this report.