The Jaguar C, D, and E-types have defined Jaguar’s sporting heritage for decades, with the XKE models from the 1960s being perhaps the most high-profile example. Decades later, the impressions those cars made still linger fresh in the minds of motoring enthusiasts, but that said, Jaguar also hasn’t launched a true sports car in over half a century.
The car charged with bringing Jag back to the future is the 2014 F-Type. First impressions count, and the F-Type is staggering to behold. The details shine just as brightly, each a work of art in its own right that together compose a soon-to-be legendary whole.
It’s rare not to find myself nitpicking a car, no matter how gorgeous or fantastic it is to drive.
Myself and other jaded gearhead scribes recently gathered in Spain for a first look and drive of the new F-Type. Of course, we were skeptical Jaguar could hit it out of the park after decades out of the “real” sports car game. We wondered if it could drive half as well as it looks – even that would be an accomplishment. As it turns out, it doesn’t drive as good as it looks. Indeed, it drives much, much better.
Powering along hillsides and switchbacks on Spanish backroads that snaked through bucolic countryside worthy of any glossy travelogue, the convertible cat was a joy to pilot, top down, the snarling exhaust ringing in my ears. Just how exactly has Jaguar wrought this motoring near-miracle?
Start with the powerplant. Jaguar offers two engines – a V6 and a V8 – spanning over three F-Type models.
The entry level is simply called the “F-Type” and it’s powered by a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 producing 335 horsepower. The entry-level F-Type is not some neutered cat and will make a 0-60 run in 5.1 seconds on its way to a top speed of 161mph. If you go for this one, option it with the dual-mode exhaust. Without it, it exhaust sounds like its calling through a string and tin can telephone, distant and metallic and not in a good way.
Just above the base model is the F-Type S, which has the same 3.0-liter supercharged V6 but raises the power level to 375 horsepower. It will do a 4.8 0-60 and reach 171mph. This, believe it or not, is the sportiest car in the range. While the standard F-Type lacks the rear haunches to truly impress, the F-Type S, with its road-gripping claws and ferocious roar, will make you forget that anything else in the world exists but the speed and the sound of your Jag.
Maximum roar comes from the F-Type V8S, with a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 stuffed under the hood producing 488 horsepower. Count on 0 – 60 in 4.2 second and a maximum velocity of 186mph (300kmh). The V8 S is more compact GT car than anything else. It has the wild kick of an African safari blunderbuss but the heft of the elephant it’s aimed at. The V8 S encroaches on the XF-R where the F-Type S stands alone.
As I said before, we thought there could be no possible way that the F-Type could drive half as good as it looks. But the way Jaguar got nearly two tons of convertible to move through a set of corners is truly an accomplishment.
Perhaps my favorite part of the car, save the crackly sound of the dual-mode exhaust under a heavy foot, is the eight-speed automatic transmission. Jaguar, instead of opting for a dual-clutch like Porsche’s PDK, went for a regular auto with paddle shifters. Jaguar says this saved weight and – with the right programming – allowed for shifts just as quick and as sharp as dual-clutch units. Seems Jag hit the mark.
I did often manually control the shifts but I really didn’t have to. Much like the Cadillac ATS’ automatic, the F-Type seemed to read my mind and know when I wanted to shift and when I wanted more throttle.
In spite of its girth, the F-Type handles like a much lighter car. I have accused the Germans of selling their souls to make their dreadnaught-heavy cars handle better than they should, but this time, it seems the Brits have somehow offered the devil a better deal. Helping considerably with cornering comfort were the electronically adjustable side bolster in the seats. You could dial them in in what seemed a millimeter at a time, fitting them perfectly to your sides.
Jaguar has cleverly positioned the F-Type right between the Porsche Boxster and the 911, which it has pegged as its major competition. Though the F-Type is six-percent bigger than the 911, you won’t be able to tell on the inside. Owners hoping to haul their golf bag to the course in their shiny new Jag might want to think about strapping it into the front passenger seat. There’s barely enough room for a box of Slazengers in the trunk let alone the sticks to hit them with.
Jaguar admits the F-Type is not some track day weapon. I agree: it’s best suited to the open road. On the Circuito de Navarra race course, we found F-Type performed well on the track but the hydraulic steering gave us little feedback as to what was going on where the tires met the tarmack. Out on less-than-prefect roadways, with the steering working is concert with the black magic suspension and howling powerplant, the F-Type is more in it’s element as it straightens out curves and devours straight sections of pavement with little effort.
Some of my colleagues accused the F-Type of being too heavy. I disagree. The 50:50 weight distribution, the cramped quarters of the cabin, the pitch-perfect roar of exhaust, the extremely confident handling and the drop top made an extremely compelling sports car argument.
It’s rare not to find myself nitpicking a car, no matter how gorgeous or fantastic it is to drive. Aside from the confined cabin, I cannot find much fault with the F-Type. To me, it’s on par with the Apollo 11 in terms of history-changing events, at least in the automotive world.
Ripping through the mountains outside Pamplona with the top down and the dual-mode exhaust at full song, I found myself wondering if Jaguar has actually been capable of conjuring up such a driving wonder as the F-Type all along but had simply been holding out on us.
No matter, really. They’ve done it now. And that’s all that really matters.