While a four-cylinder Jaguar F-Type will likely invite mixed reactions from the gallery, don't think for one moment that it isn't a proper sports car from the leaping cat.
When Jaguar first announced it was going to build a watered-down four-cylinder version of its F-Type, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The notion of Jaguar’s hard-core hot-rod, dressed so distinctly as it is, with its natural-born, fire-spitting 5.0-litre supercharged V8 unceremoniously pulled in favour of a fat-free four-pot, just isn’t cricket, is it?
Well, it turns out, we could be quite wrong about all this. It still looks like an F-Type, except for the centrally-mounted single exhaust pipe, not unlike earlier versions of the Porsche Boxster/Cayman – the success of which, no doubt proved to be a contributing factor in Jaguar’s downsizing decision.
And it’s not just any old four-cylinder mill under the F-Type’s trademark clamshell bonnet. Rather, it’s one of JLR’s fresh-out-of-the-box 2.0-litre Ingenium turbo units, only this one’s got 221kW and 400Nm of torque from just 1500rpm.
It’s matched to an eight-speed Quickshift auto with paddle-shifters, and can haul this rear-wheel drive Jag from standstill to 100km/h in just 5.7 seconds. It’s also priced from $107,012 plus on roads.
By way of comparison, the entry-level supercharged V6, with matching automatic transmission gets 250kW and 450Nm – good for a 5.3 second sprint time, but priced from $126,212.
For those who prefer open-air motoring, there’s a convertible version, though at $125,712, it adds almost $19,000 to the four’s price tag.
The timing is good, too, with Jaguar using its newest F-Type to introduce a range of visual enhancements in-line with the model’s mid-life update. Though, if you’re like me, you’ll need a keen eye to spot them.
Along with the single pipe out back, there are re-designed bumpers, new lightweight 18-inch alloys and full LED headlamps. Inside, you get slimline sports pews, Touch Pro infotainment system and new chrome and aluminium trim bits.
Designers have also added a frameless rear-vision mirror, which adds to the overall refinement and premium feel of the cabin.
By today’s standards, though, the centrally-mounted touchscreen looks small and outdated, as does the analogue instrument binnacle, though we can’t fault the craftsmanship or the ergonomics.
The low-slung driving position and beautifully sculptured sports seats put you deep into the car, not unlike a Porsche 911. And with so many performance car manufacturers switching to flat-bottom steering wheels, it’s refreshing to be able wrap your hands around a traditional round type. Especially one that’s so beautifully tactile.
One of the bugbears of F-Type has always been the shoebox-size storage space, at least in the cabin. That of course, hasn’t changed. Mind, you can still find space for phones, wallets and water bottles. Larger items, like our two cabin bags, are easily swallowed in the rear cargo area, under the hatch.
It might be the most powerful four-cylinder motor Jaguar has ever built, but I still had no idea what to expect, as I slid down into the tan leather bucket, adjusted the trio of mirrors, and fired it up.
Ours was the R-Dynamic version, which gets larger 19-inch alloys (up from 18s) and a switchable active exhaust system, which we immediately took advantage of with a full-throttle exit from the car park.
I keep it pinned, but there’s none of that glorious V8 thunder or V6 snarl to get the heart racing. That's all gone. Instead, there’s a satisfying bark from the exhaust – more robust than any hot hatch and just enough of it piped into the cabin.
It sounds natural enough, so it’s disappointing to eventually learn it’s been artificially enriched by acoustic engineers via the car’s audio speakers. But keep driving, and you’ll soon forget about that and start enjoying the theatrics of this thing.
Naturally, there’s more noise the higher up the rev range you push, and push you can. It won’t bite like the V8, and you can drive it at the limit – all the time. The long, sweeping corners in these parts can be taken flat, even on the downhill sections, such is the newfound poise of this small displacement F-Type.
It’s all starting to make sense. Swapping out the bigger engines for a lightweight four, means 52kg less heft over the front axle, and that friends, is your invitation to go harder and have more fun.
Underneath, there’s some sophisticated plumbing around the twin-scroll turbocharger, to which the exhaust manifold is carefully matched. This design ensures the turbine wheel responds more quickly and boost pressure is delivered pretty-much instantaneously.
In layman’s terms, there’s bugger-all lag whenever you punch it, something you tend to do a lot in this car. In fact, so linear is the power delivery, it almost feels like you’ve got a naturally aspirated engine under the bonnet.
You’ll want to wind it up though, to get the most out of it. Mind, it’s not exactly slow out of the blocks, but mid-range surge is what this junior Jag enjoys most.
And while the brakes aren’t particularly noteworthy in size or brand, they provide remarkably adept stopping power, thanks to the up-front weight savings of the turbo-four.
For more noise, including the F-Type’s trademark crackle and pop, best to flick the toggle switch with the chequered flag graphic to Dynamic. It also ramps up throttle response, changes the shift mapping and heightens steering response.
Right from the outset, the car feels better balanced than its more powerful siblings. You find yourself nailing apexes with all the precision of a GT racer. This is an F-Type that feels light on its feet and able to be driven at ten-tenths, without a single moment of fear or hesitation – a B-road marvel, if you will.
There’s a tonne of grip, too, from these 19-inch Pirellis, so much so you tend to keep looking for more and more exit speed, yet still the tyres keep on gripping.
So far, there are no adaptive dampers on offer in the entry-level F-Type, but the chassis feels rock solid under the highest loads we can master in the short time we have with the car. There’s no pitch or roll, everything is beautifully tied down – sublime, even.
More impressive, still, is the ride comfort. I’ve always felt the F-Type was compromised in this area, with a ride too firm and too busy over poorly maintained surfaces.
But this is different. All manner of bumps and blemishes are expertly extinguished by the 2.0-litre car’s fixed dampers. It’s a revelation, it truly is, and the result of a meticulously tuned chassis with reduced spring rates all round to account for the lighter motor.
Never mind the four-cylinder engine up front, this is still a proper Jaguar F-Type. In fact, for many, including this tester, the cheapest F-Type may well be the most rewarding version of the bunch, at least, if you’re looking for a daily driver.
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