A PROPER JAGUAR SPORTSCARJaguar's F-TYPE is the sports car that fans of the brand have been waiting for since the Seventies. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second ReviewThe F-TYPE. It's not only a sportscar - it's a Jaguar sportscar: the difference is important. Don't expect a racetrack refugee - but don't expect a luxury GT either, the kind of car sporting fans of the brand have had to be satisfied with for decades. Think instead of what an Austin Healey or a Triumph TR6 might be like re-interpreted for the modern era, a roadster designed very much for the road. A machine you can't help but want to drive. And drive hard.
BackgroundHere's a car over half a century in the making. It's been that long since we've seen a proper Jaguar sportscar, a successor to the iconic C, D and E-Type models that defined this market in the Fifties and Sixties. In those days, the Coventry company was a brand known for true drivers' cars, rather than the luxurious GT models more familiar from the modern era. Think of peoples' perception of Porsche today: back then, you bought a Jag for that kind of thing.
Might you do so again today? Well here's the machine that aims to persuade those in any doubt - the F-TYPE. Is it everything you'd expect of a proper British sportscar? And even if it can be, is that really what's required in the modern era to take on cars of the calibre of Porsche's Boxster and 911 models?
Jaguar seems confident - and makes no bones about the way that it's prioritised and targeted these two sporting benchmarks, pitching and pricing this F-TYPE into a small market niche that lies precisely between them. Torn between a top sportscar and a supercar? This, we're told, is the perfect combination. Let's put it to the test.
Driving ExperienceA true sportscar - a real sportscar - should pump the blood around a little faster long before the pedal hits the metal. This one does. It looks poised and ready, even when it's standing still. 'Drive me', it seems to say as you approach and the door handle springs out to greet you. 'Start me' it seems to shout once you're enveloped in the figure-hugging sports seats and angled towards the little copper-coloured starter button. 'Rev me', it seems to insist as you fire the engine and a spectacular set of aural fireworks begin.
You're going to want to lower the fabric roof to better hear them of course - a process that can be accomplished in just 12s at speeds of up to 30mph - but once you do, you won't be disappointed. Personally, I usually like my automotive sound effects to come from the engine rather than, as here, the tailpipes at the back but even I have to admit that this car hums an addictive tune, provided you've got Jaguar's clever Active Exhaust system fitted and activated.
At the wheel of an F-TYPE equipped in this way, I can't think of any more effective way of annoying my neighbours. At least you won't be hanging around long enough for them to serve you with an ASBO notice: even in the entry-level 340PS V6 model thanks to 450NM of torque, sixty from rest is just 5.1s away en route to 161mph. That's if you're careful with your throttle foot. Further up the range where a Dynamic Launch Mode is standard, you won't have to be, the electronics firing you up the road in addictive fashion. And doing so very quickly indeed. With a tweak to the software of this 3.0-litre unit, 380PS is possible, creating an engine that in the mid-range V6S model powers to sixty in just 4.8s on the way to 171mph. Fast enough for anyone, you would have thought, though not for the folk who'll settle for nothing but the 495PS V8 version, offering a thumping 625Nm of torque and good for sixty in 4.2s on the way to 186mph.
Design and BuildIt's said that every piece of design should tell a story. That was certainly true of Jaguar's last proper sports roadster, the E-Type, once described by Enzo Ferrari as the world's most beautiful car. So what would the great man have made of its successor? The shape is certainly interesting, a complex tale of the past mixed with hope for the future. A shape that clearly underlines Jaguar's determination to go its own way and offer something different.
The roof, as you've probably already gathered from the clean, compact shape, isn't the kind of heavy metal folding deal you'll find in rival Mercedes sportscars: that would have upset the low centre of gravity and near 50:50 weight distribution the engineers prioritised so much with the light weight aluminium architecture of this design. So it's a multi-layered fabric affair with a thick Thinsulate lining that raises or lowers in just 12s and doesn't need a panel or a tonneau cover to smooth it over when stowed.
The door sills aren't excessively wide or deep, so you can climb in quite gracefully and lower yourself into a focused, enveloping cockpit that sits you 20mm lower than you would be in an XK and curves itself around your body. It's certainly very firmly driver-orientated, the two front occupants separated by a prominent grab handle which sweeps down from the top of the centre console and wraps around behind a proper joystick-shaped SportShift gear selector.
Market and ModelSome were surprised when the pricing of this F-TYPE was first announced. But that's because they were expecting it to be a rival to cars like Porsche's Boxster, the Mercedes SLK and the BMW Z4. It isn't, as a glance at this Jaguar model's V6 and V8 power outputs will quickly confirm. Instead, the Coventry brand has identified a narrow niche in the £60,000 to £80,000 bracket that fits this car neatly between Porsche's Boxster and 911, at the same time as nudging it uncomfortably close to the kind of larger, slower Jaguar XK Convertible that costs only around 5% more than a comparable F-TYPE.
If, having considered all of this, you conclude that it is an F-TYPE that you really, really want, then you'll be needing to know exactly what's included for your not insubstantial outlay. And the answer is quite a lot. I must admit, I'd expected at least £60,000 to buy me things like rain sensing wipers, keyless entry, heated seats and a wind deflector. But, to be fair, as well as the automatic gearbox and the electric roof, you do get 18" alloy wheels, sports suspension, Bi-function HID Xenon headlamps, sports seats with electric height and recline adjustment, a leather-trimmed paddleshift steering wheel, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility and a 6-speaker 180W sound system with DAB digital radio and USB, Aux-in and iPod connectivity.
To this, the only item I'd insist you add is the switchable Active Sports Exhaust - and it's not cheap at over £1,600. Another reason perhaps to switch to the 'S' models that include it as standard. Beyond that? Well, I'd be tempted by the Meridian stereo upgrade offering a choice of 10 or 12-speaker systems, the latter developing as much as 770W of sound. Enough to drown out the exhaust? Probably not. Safety-wise, there's a Smart airbags system, the usual electronic assistance for traction and braking and an Electronic Stability Control system with a 'Trac' mode that loosens the reins but cuts in 'in extremis'.
Cost of OwnershipThanks to lightweight engineering and a start/stop system, the 340PS V6 model manages 31.4mpg on the combined cycle and 209g/km of CO2: that's close to the returns you'll get from an Audi TT RS Roadster Plus S tronic and way better than something like a Nissan 370Z Roadster, but I do have to point out that in terms of the comparison more are likely to be making, a PDK-equipped Boxster S delivers 35.3mpg and 188g/km.
You can appreciate a little better the efforts of the Jaguar engineers by looking at the figures returned by the mid-range 380PS V6S model, which returns 31mpg and 213g/km. That's pretty much what you'd get from a Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet PDK and miles better than the 25.2mpg and 264g/km you'd get from a V8-engined Jaguar XK Convertible with exactly the same 380PS output. In fact, even the top V8S F-TYPE with 495PS can better that, this variant returning 25.5mpg and 259g/km despite performance that's able to edge up towards 200mph. Having said all of that, if you manage to get anywhere near Jaguar's quoted figures in regular real world motoring, you probably shouldn't have bought an F-TYPE in the first place.
If you want to make yourself feel good about the costs of running the V8 model, then the fact that it'll cost around 30% less to run than, say. Aston Martin's V8 Vantage Roadster or Maserati's GranCabrio 4.7 V8 may be enough to salve your green conscience. And that top model will cost you no more to insure than this base version: all F-TYPE models are rated at a top-of-the-shop group 50. The bigger issue will probably be residual values and there may not be a whole lot to choose between Porsche and the Jaguar here. It'll depend on this car sustaining the initial buzz of interest its launch created.
SummaryI'm more aware of Jaguar heritage than most, spending my spare time racing an original 1953 C-TYPE and with this test, relishing an opportunity to relive an era when the Coventry cat really had some claws. Having driven this car, it pleases me immensely to be able to report the return of that time at the wheel of a machine that steers, handles, stops, goes - and sounds - exactly as a Jaguar should. Don't knock it because it's not a Boxster or a 911: the F-TYPE was never intended to be like anything else. This model is different, powerful, sensual, ultra-precise - a car that feels alive.
I don't think it'll suit many who associate performance motoring from this brand with XJS or XK models. Buckle such people up behind the wheel and they're liable to be a little taken aback. No matter. Jaguar needed to find a younger, more demanding, hungrier audience for its sportscars. It needed to convince people like me that here and now in this market at this time in history, it could be great again. Mission accomplished.