Waymo’s self-driving car service is supposed to kick off by the end of this year, but before the robot cars start taking riders around, you can experience or even own some of the cars Waymo’s using in its growing autonomous fleet.
Back in March, Waymo announced that 20,000 of Jaguar’s all-electric I-Pace crossovers would be used for its self-driving taxi service. Now the British car maker’s first electric vehicle is here — deliveries in the U.S. start next month.
The car was on display and available for rides Wednesday just south of San Francisco for the first leg of the Jaguar Electrifies experience. After this week the car goes on to Miami, Los Angeles, and finally New York.
The first thing I noticed when entering the San Mateo Event Center where I was introduced to the I-Pace was that the dual-electric motor vehicle looks a lot smaller in person. I was momentarily confused since I had always thought of it as an SUV. This looked so compact.
Technical design director Wolfgang Ziebart gave a small media group the low-down on designing an everyday use car that isn’t a race car or a collector’s item.
“The target was not to convert an existing car into an electric car,” he said. Jaguar is already doing that with its classic E-Type. This is its own thing with a 240-mile battery range that’s comparable to Tesla and Chevy Bolt ranges, a long wheel base, 90 kWh lithium-ion battery, and fast-charging compatibility. It can get to about 80 percent charged in 40 minutes with public fast chargers, like at free Volta charging stations.
The design, with a front grill reminiscent of traditional Jaguars but serving only an aesthetic purpose (there’s no radiator, it’s an electric battery and motor in there), is “very much something you instantly recognize as an electric car,” Ziebart said.
Once inside the driver’s seat for a test ride, the spaciousness was apparent. The five-seater has a sunroof that’s breathtaking and one of the most noticeable things when you step into the car. It’s similar to the Tesla S sunroof, but with an even more open feel. The infotainment console wasn’t obtrusive or obscenely large on my right side.
My usual ride requires a key in the ignition, but this turned on with a push of a button and I pushed a large “D” button to drive forward — no gear shifts here.
An electric interior.
Image: Jaguar land rover
I then took off with a professional race car driver as my co-pilot. I must’ve frustrated him at my cautious pace driving around suburban San Mateo, but finally at his urging I put the pedal to the metal and zipped up a large boulevard — and it was so quiet. The car even slowed me down as I lifted my foot off the accelerator when I was in “high” battery-replenishing mode. This single-pedal driving is part of the I-Pace’s regenerative braking, which is similar to other car systems’ energy-saving methods. I didn’t take it up to its top speed of 124 mph. Nor did I test its 0 to 60 mph timing (it’s 4.5 seconds), for me it was more 0 to 35 mph.
Jaguar is the latest luxury auto maker to put an all-electric car on the road. Jaguar wasn’t coy about its competitors — it knows that both the Tesla Model X and S and the upcoming Mercedes EQC and Audi e-tron electric options are dipping into the pool of early electric adopters. But it’s confident that it’s Waymo partnership and somewhat-affordable pricing (comparatively to other luxury electric options) will make it a known quantity within the electric car trend.
The car starts at $69,500 but the more elaborate packages come in at $85,900. None of that is exactly affordable, but Tesla’s SUV starts at about $80,000 and the newly unveiled all-electric Audi is $74,800, so it’s coming in a bit under. The all-electric Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt start at about $30,000 and $37,000, respectively — just saying.
Back at the event center, Ziebart said Waymo doesn’t have to modify the car very much to add its roof rack with sensors, scanners, and other materials. For the interior experience, the current design also fits well with what Waymo wants, he said. I noticed a “head-up display” was projected on the windshield in front of the steering wheel, telling me key info like my speed. I could see features like that working well with an autonomous system that needs to share info with passengers without a human driver around.
Ziebart added that for Waymo, the most important thing about tapping Jaguar was finding an electric car.
“When it comes to self-driving cars, they will be electric,” he assured.