You’ve read all the hype, seen all the pictures, but this is it – a drive of the hugely anticipated Jaguar F-Type.
It’s impossible to overestimate how big a deal this car is – not just for Jaguar but also the world of sports cars.
For a company already lauded for creating some of the most beautiful sports cars of all time, the Jaguar F-Type heralds the company’s return to the heady days of pure style and its first proper two-seat sports car since the legendary E-Type first rolled off the production line in 1961.
Jaguar established itself as an icon of 1960s motoring with a killer combination of singular looks, supercar performance and cut-throat pricing – qualities Jaguar wants to resurrect in the new F-Type.
The F-Type, then, is not only charged with strengthening the brand’s performance credentials and establishing a direct connection to the badge’s illustrious sporting heritage – which also includes the famous C-Type and D-Type sibings – but also transforming Jaguar from a poster child for Baby Boomers into an achievable reality for cashed-up Gen X and Y buyers.
Jaguar, in fact, hopes this younger set will soon be behind 90 per cent of F-Type purchases.
But while the F-Type may well be Jaguar’s sportiest car ever, the competition is fierce and dominated by three very different, but very capable rivals: the rear-engine Porsche 911, the mid-engine Audi R8 and the traditional front-engine Aston Martin Vantage - all exceptional cars with their own unique character and soul.
The pricing of the Jaguar F-Type, however, also places the base model in proximity to another Porsche – the Boxster. (And the Cayman once the still-to-be-officially-confirmed coupe F-Type emerges before the end of 2013.)
In response, Jaguar has launched the F-Type with three variants that are all supercharged, and all quick: the F-Type, F-Type S and the range-topping F-Type V8 S.
The foundation for the range is the $139,000 entry-level 250kW/450Nm 3.0-litre V6 – good for a 5.3 second sprint to 100km/h and a top speed of 260km/h.
The more powerful F-Type V6S starts from $171,400, but boosts power and torque to 280kW/460Nm respectively. It can launch from 0-100km/h in 4.9 seconds and has a maximum speed of 275km/h.
Generating 364kW of power and a tyre-shredding 625Nm of torque to the rear wheels, the $202,300 F-Type V8 S is the weapons-grade edition. Its supercharged 5.0-litre V8 will catapult the F-Type V8 S to 100km/h in just 4.3 seconds and on to a top speed that maxes-out at 300km/h.
Jaguar is therefore confident it has the firepower to go head-to-head with its formidable rivals. And after two days sampling the entire F-Type range on the mountain roads around Pamplona and the Circuito de Navarra in Northern Spain, we’re not about to argue.
Visually, the F-Type is beautifully proportioned albeit a lot more compact than we had first imagined. This isn’t a bad thing - it’s lower, wider and shorter than any other current Jaguar, but overall the F-Type is still 6 per cent larger than its 911 rival.
But those wanting a linear resurrection of the E-Type’s design will be disappointed; modern crash safety requirements prevent the notion of any such design from ever becoming a reality.
Instead, its designers have paid subtle homage to its spiritual ancestor in the ultra-thin LED tail lamps that wrap into the rear wheel arches and the two beautifully engineered centre-mounted chrome tailpipes, mounted inboard (these were sourced from the same Italian manufacturer that produces pipes for Ducati motorcycles) yet delivered without the slightest hint of novelty retro.
The supercharged V8 gets quad exhausts mounted outboard that don’t look nearly as special as the twin-pipe setup despite the variant’s top-shelf status.
The front end is notable for its one-piece clamshell bonnet featuring Jaguar’s signature power bulge and twin cooling vents.
The money shot comes from the rear three-quarters of its profile, where the F-Type shows off its beautifully detailed lines and low-slung tapered shape shamelessly. From the back, the design is so fresh that it looks more like a prototype concept than any fully-fledged production model.
Clever pop-out door handles mean that even getting in to the F-Type is an occasion.
The joystick-inspired gear lever is a deliberate move away from Jaguar’s standard rotary gear selector, signifying a purebred two-seat sports car.
It’s a simple, uncluttered cockpit where all the F-Type switchgear is understated and functional in its appearance. The switches are finished in soft-feel matte black with highlight accents in satin, chrome and dark aluminium.
We particularly like the optional copper-coloured gearshift paddles and starter button on out test car.
While the standard sports seats provide suitable comfort, the body-wrapping ‘Performance’ chairs are the way to go if you want extra side-bolster.
There’s an optional flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel that’s suitably thick-rimmed, or you can choose a suede-trimmed round version that looks the business but lacks sufficient cushioning to be comfortable.
The F-Type gets all the usual luxury kit as standard, including automatic climate control air conditioning, electric park brake, stop/start technology, Bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights and auto lights and wipers.
Additional equipment includes an eight-inch touch-screen with satellite navigation (woefully slow), Bluetooth phone and music streaming, front and rear parking sensors and a very tidy 10-speaker 380W Meridian sound system.
Initially it feels a little snug inside, but there’s no shortage of headroom (even with the fabric roof up) or elbowroom inside the F-Type, even for bigger drivers.
Storage is another matter. There’s virtually no usable space behind the seats and while the boot is also typically small for a sports car, at least there’s no space penalty with the roof down, so with careful packing we managed to squeeze in four compact bags.
So the all-new Jaguar F-Type is easy on the eye, but what does it go like?
Firstly, you should know there aren’t any duds in the F-Type range. All three variants are a treat to drive and all have loads of character.
We started our drive in the base model 3.0-litre V6 version. At a relatively hefty 1597 kilos, this is actually the lightest of the litter despite its all-aluminium chassis.
As a comparison, a Porsche Boxter with optional PDK transmission tips the scales at 1340kg, while the 911 Carrera S Cabriolet weighs in at around 1550kg.
Fine Spanish weather at the international launch demanded we drop the F-Type’s quick-deploying (up or down in just 12 seconds), Thinsulate-lined fabric roof so that the full breadth of its loud, rasping exhaust note could be properly appreciated.
Even when pulling away gently there’s a hint of what’s to come in the aural department – already it sounds special.
But don’t be fooled by the noise - the eight-speed auto means the F-Type can be quite a relaxed machine at dawdling pace, with seamless upshifts and none of the low-speed jitters of dual-clutch transmissions.
The F-Type does, however, do its best work in dynamic mode and with plenty of revs on the dial – especially on fast-flowing roads. Upshifts are firm and crisp and seem quick enough to rival dual-clutch boxes.
It’s properly quick across undulating terrain and sonic boom-loud from the mid-range. Jaguar has clearly created an inspiring engine note that’s unique to the F-Type V6 models.
It doesn’t take long before confidence builds and you’re piling on the pace, attacking the countless hairpins along with a barrage of rapid-fire, blipping downshifts. Add the F-Type’s on-cue thunder-like ‘crackle’ on lift-off and it’s a truly epic aural experience.
It’s very stiff (torsional rigidity is 10 per cent up on the XKR-S) so you won’t detect excess movement in the body even with the roof down and over bumpy surfaces.
The F-Type’s body control is near-faultless. It has a near perfect 50:50 weight distribution and an eagerness to attack bends with impressive agility.
There’s an uncanny level of traction too, despite an open-differential (the S gets a mechanical LSD) and a genuine connection with the road with this car.
The base F-Type doesn’t get Jaguar’s tricky Adaptive Dynamics system (standard on the upper two trims) but the standard suspension still keeps the body impressively flat through the bends.
The ride itself isn’t all that supple. It’s not jarring, but there’s an underlying firmness to the suspension that lets you know what the car is doing.
Poorly surfaced roads will cause the F-Type to move around a little under load, especially during cornering. It’s a shortcoming that is sorted out in the V6 ‘S’ model via standard adaptive dampers.
The steering is also accurate and is claimed to be the quickest steering rack ever on a Jaguar. Generally it’s nicely weighted, though we found it a tad too light in the standard ‘Drive’ mode.
Switching over to the ‘Dynamic’ mode not only increases steering weighting, but also gives you more aggressive settings for the throttle and gearbox.
More enjoyable still is moving the shift lever into the ‘Sport’ setting for that proper manual experience via the paddleshifters.
But a word of warning – this is a close-ratio transmission, so you’ll need to be on your game to get the most out of it during full-throttle acceleration from low speeds, otherwise the engine will be bouncing off the rev-limiter quicker than you can up-shift.
The F-Type V6 S is even more fun. It uses the same supercharged engine as the entry-level car, but as mentioned, power and torque are upped to 280kW/460Nm, respectively.
It also gets bigger brakes and larger 19-inch wheels.
For this, the F-Type V6 S commands a premium of $32,400 but bear in mind that apart from a lift in performance and a louder bark, it also gains some valuable extras like Adaptive Dynamics, a limited slip diff and an Active Sports Exhaust – the latter especially gratifying with an open cockpit.
On track, the V6 S is an impressively well-composed set-up, where the extra torque, deployable rear spoiler and 275km/h top speed proved more useful.
High-speed stability under heavy braking is excellent, so too is its ability to turn in sharply and get on the power early. Its twist-resistant chassis also meant that corner entry speeds are always confidently high.
It offers much of the same joy on mountain roads, only the adaptive dampers allow the F-Type to sit on the road with more poise, especially when pushed hard. Throttle response is instantaneous and there’s loads of grip at both ends.
Our test car was also fitted with the configurable Dynamic Mode, which lets you choose between Normal and Dynamic settings independently for the suspension, gearbox, throttle and steering. We eventually chose the hard-core settings for all but the engine as too many revs, too early in the hairpins proved slightly unsettling and actually retarded the F-Type’s progress.
Get it right, though, and the V6 S is capable of covering ground at a thoroughly quick pace with an exhaust note to match several members of the ‘supercar’ club.
So far, we think the V6 S hits the sweet spot in the F-Type range, but if you’re after a weapons-grade version of the F-Type, then try the V8 S.
This is an entirely different proposition to its F-Type’s V6 siblings and we’d already heard from various colleagues that it could be a bit of a handful.
Its 364kW 5.0-litre supercharged V8 is a monster. Generating a ground-pounding 625Nm of torque between 2500rpm-5500rpm means mid-range acceleration is devastating.
Jaguar claims 4.3 seconds for a 0-100km/h sprint, but the F-Type V8 S is one of those cars that feel noticeably quicker than the quoted factory figure. Top speed is listed as a thoroughly believable 300km/h.
The V8’s exhaust note is entirely different to that of the V6 models and unlike that of any other Jaguar including the XKR-S.
Just easing the throttle forward is enough to produce a deep burble reminiscent of an American muscle car. Push on and the burble quickly morphs into the sound of a genuine Italian exotic at full stretch rather than something built at Castle Bromwich.
The V8 engine adds 68 kilos to the base F-Type V6 package and while you can certainly feel the additional load at the front end on turn-in, it still reacts precisely to every input.
The F-Type V8 S swaps a mechanical limited slip diff for an electronic ‘Active’ differential to help get the power down, but you’ll need to tread carefully in the tighter corners, using a more measured approach to throttle delivery if you’re going to keep the rear wheels in check.
Its speciality though, is fast slalom runs across well-maintained mountain B-roads where superbikes usually like to play. It’s combination of explosive in-gear grunt and agile handling makes the Jaguar F-Type V8 S a formidable performance package bordering on supercar status.
The F-Type is a new kind of Jaguar that probably won’t appeal to the traditional Jaguar buyer. There’s far too much drama and excitement for that lot.
On the one hand it’s a beautifully designed and built Jaguar convertible and on the other it’s an ultra contemporary hard-core sports car with enough form and muscle to take on its European rivals.
It’s been a long wait, but 52 years after the iconic E-type was born, Jaguar is finally back in the sports car business with the birth of the F-Type and hopefully, another automotive icon.
The Jaguar F-Type will launch in Australia in August with all three model variants.
• Jaguar F-Type - $139,000
• Jaguar F-Type S - $171,400
• Jaguar F-Type V8 S - $202,300