Why the Jaguar I-Pace Is -- and Isn't -- a Tesla Rival

British luxury automaker Jaguar Cars announced that the U.S. version of its brand-new all-electric I-Pace crossover will start at $69,500 (before incentives) when it arrives here in the second half of 2018.

With the I-Pace, Jaguar becomes the first global automaker to enter the "premium electric vehicles" space created by Silicon Valley upstart Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA). But is the I-Pace a direct challenger to Tesla's Model X -- or is it something a little different?

What Jaguar said about the U.S. version of the I-Pace

Jaguar, a subsidiary of India's Tata Motors (NYSE: TTM), officially unveiled the production version of the I-Pace last week. The I-Pace is a five-passenger luxury crossover SUV powered entirely by batteries. Today's announcement adds details specific to the U.S. version:

  • As mentioned above, it'll be priced starting at $69,500 before federal and local government incentives.
  • At least for now, the I-Pace will be offered with only one battery option: a 90 kilowatt-hour (kWh) unit.
  • Jaguar expects the I-Pace to have an EPA-estimated range of 240 miles in U.S. trim.
  • It'll go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds and have a top speed of 124 miles per hour.
  • The I-Pace can be charged with the Combined Charging System (CCS) "DC Fast" chargers; a 100 kilowatt charger will charge the I-Pace from empty to 80% in about 40 minutes.
  • U.S. Jaguar dealers can place customer orders for the I-Pace now.

The I-Pace will be built at Magna International's Magna-Steyr contract-manufacturing facility in Graz, Austria. It'll begin arriving at U.S. dealers in the second half of 2018.

How the I-Pace compares with Tesla's Model X

While Jaguar hasn't been shy about talking up comparisons to Tesla, the I-Pace isn't quite a Model X challenger. For starters, the I-Pace is a size smaller than the Tesla: Its overall length is 14 inches shorter, it's almost 7 inches narrower (with mirrors folded on both), and its low-slung roofline is 4.7 inches lower than the Model X's.

Both come standard with seating for five, but the Model X can be ordered with a third row of seats that allows for up to seven passengers. Tesla claims an overall cargo capacity of 66 cubic feet for the Model X, while Jaguar says the I-Pace can hold 40.58 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.

Most significantly, the I-Pace is also less expensive than the Model X, at least when comparing base trim to base trim. The I-Pace's starting price is exactly $10,000 less than that of the least expensive Model X variant, the 75D.

The range numbers are very close, but the Jaguar will win a stoplight drag race. The Model X 75D has a rated range of 237 miles and will do 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.9 seconds, lagging the I-Pace by 3 miles (which isn't significant) and 0.4 seconds (which might be).

(Tesla fans will surely want to remind me that the Model X is available with a lot more performance in hot P100D trim. But we should note that the P100D starts at $140,000, which is twice the staring price of the I-Pace.)

Both the Jaguar and the Tesla are dual-motor all-wheel-drive designs. The Tesla is available in three trim levels, with increasing amounts of range and/or performance. Jaguar plans to offer the I-Pace in three levels of trim, but for now at least, all will have the same battery pack and performance.

So, is the I-Pace a competitor to the Model X?

Yes and no. On one hand, if you want an upscale electric SUV, these are the only choices right now, and they're similar enough that there will probably be many buyers who could happily live with either.

Jaguar hasn't been shy about making the comparison. But it did acknowledge on Tuesday that the I-Pace is really something a bit different, saying the I-Pace "establishes a new mid-size premium battery electric vehicle (BEV) segment."

That seems about right. But whatever it is, the I-Pace looks set to give Tesla its first big challenge -- and it looks like a very serious contender.

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John Rosevear has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.