So the private jet touches down in Pamplona in north-eastern Spain and you’re quickly ushered out of the little arrivals area and through a side door into the sunshine, and there’s a Firesand Orange Jaguar F-Type sitting waiting for you, warmed through and ready for you to drive. Finally. Because it feels like we’ve known about Jaguar’s all-new F-Type sports car for a long time now. In fact, the first use of the F-Type name – implying a successor to the E-Type, Jaguar’s greatest car – came on the cover of CAR magazine exactly 40 years ago. A smaller, two-seat Jaguar sports car has long been expected, and the company has been teasing us with this one for two years now, starting with the CX-16 concept car that previewed it two years ago.
That was followed by the announcement at last year’s New York auto show that it would get the F-Type name and Jaguar’s ‘leaking’ of spy shots of disguised F-Type prototypes, helpfully bearing the F-Type name down the side. The production car was launched at a celebrity party at the Musee Rodin the night before the Paris motor show last September. I was there for all of that. But it was only earlier this month that Jaguar finally let the first journalists drive it, and I could head for some mountain roads in Spain and find out what all car enthusiasts are desperate to know: how well it drives, and how it compares to that iconic E-Type.
The F-Type requires you to set aside most of what you think about how a Jaguar ought to feel and perform.
The answer? Pretty well, in both cases, but the F-Type requires you to set aside most of what you think about how a Jaguar ought to feel and perform. Firstly, some context. The F-Type is not Jaguar’s Boxster. There are 335bhp V6 and 375bhp V6S versions, and a 488bhp V8S; the V6S will be the biggest seller at around half, and is a similar price as an entry-level Porsche 911. It’s also close in price to Jaguar’s four-seat, V8-powered XK: instead of a clear price gap between the two, they overlap significantly. The new 911 is a great driver’s car but also a little more grown-up and aloof than in the past. These two factors together explain why Jaguar has made such a radical departure with the new F-Type: to distinguish it from its sibling and its rival, it has cast its new roadster as a rasping, snorting muscle car.
This is apparent from the moment you push the starter button, the air vents rise up from the dash and the engine barks into life. The F-Type is very loud, valves opening in the exhaust over 3000rpm to produce maximum volume, and the whole system tuned to deliver a rifle-shot bang when you change up a gear, and pop and crackle when you lift off the throttle. The V8 in particular sounds like an unsilenced race car. But the F-Type has the performance to back its loud claims; the V6 and V6S are both too fast for modern roads but the V8S is borderline beserk, reaching 60mph in 4.2sec, needing just 2.5sec to leap from 50 to 75mph and requiring an electronic limiter to hold it to its 186mph top speed.
Each twitch of your big toe sends the big cat bolting forwards.
And the odd thing is that it feels faster still. The soundtrack helps, of course, as does the fact that Jaguar has engineered every millimetre of slack out of the drivetrain so that each twitch of your big toe sends the big cat bolting forwards. And the new eight-speed Quickshift automatic transmission plays its part too. It learns your driving style, and is clever enough to spot specific driving situations such as cornering and overtaking and changes its shift pattern to match. But its inclination seems always to be to make the shifts shorter and let the revs climb higher; it goads you to go quicker.
The body is all-aluminium, and the stiff, stable platform it provides benefits both ride and handling. The ride in particular is excellent – this is still a Jaguar, after all. The steering is the most direct ever fitted to a Jaguar and is quick without being nervous. A ‘dynamic mode’ accessed with a flick of a switch on the central console alters so many of the car’s systems – suspension, steering, gearbox, engine and exhaust – that the effect is like a bodybuilder hunching his shoulders and tensing his muscles; the whole feel of the car is altered and more aggressive. And you need it; even in dynamic mode the F-Type’s thrust is such that it still leans a little too heavily in bends, exposing a lack of side support in the seats too. And you’ll need to switch back to the standard setting to get that calm ride on motorways and choppy surfaces.
This is Jaguar design chief Ian Callum’s finest moment.
The looks? You can decide for yourself, but wait until you’ve seen it in the flesh and in motion; now that we have we’re more convinced than ever that this is Jaguar design chief Ian Callum’s finest moment. The rear end is particularly striking. The fabric hood retracts in 12 seconds at speeds up to 30mph and the cockpit is beautifully made; in a nod to the E-Type there’s a big grab-handle on the central console for the passenger.
It would be easy to be seduced by the looks and sound of the Jaguar F-Type, but beneath them lies a sports car with the dynamic merits to take on the illustrious rivals its high price pitches it against. But for many the looks and noise and that name will be enough. Which one to have? Few will bother with the V6. Other, more earnest road testers will tell you to have the V6S for its combination of higher power and sweeter handling balance from the smaller, lighter engine. But it just wouldn’t be very Prodigal to have a V6 when there’s a V8: and what a V8 it is. It is so much faster and louder and so much easier to pivot into each corner with a thump of the throttle that you’d always be a little disappointed with yourself for choosing anything else.
Jaguar: The F Word
Jaguar’s new sporting roadster is obscenely good, as Ben Oliver discovers, exclusively for The Prodigal Guide.
Photo credit: All photos courtesy of Jaguar.
Our motoring correspondent has somehow managed to engineer a 'career' in which he actually makes money from fast cars, rather than being bankrupted by them, like The Fool. An award-winning writer on all things automotive, he's published in the Mail on Sunday, the Daily Telegraph and CAR magazine in the UK, and newspapers and car magazines in all the other major markets. And The Prodigal Guide, of course. Given that he has no discernable talent other than the ability to drive cars and use English, this is a result. He invests most of the proceeds in '60s and '70s sports watches, old cars, cigars, wine, poker and fain daining. The rest he just wastes.
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