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Turbocharged four-cylinders have become such a rage in the era of engine downsizing that it’s some time since they’ve been restricted to the likes of hot-hatches.
Manufacturers also continue to extract impressive outputs from small capacities – sufficient, in fact, for Jaguar to deem one suitable for its most evocative car, the F-Type.
Since its 2013 release, the Jaguar F-Type has been offered only with sonically delightful V6s or V8s. Those engines had also helped provide plenty of choice across coupe and convertible body styles, yet the introduction of the company’s Ingenium modular petrol four expands the F-Type variant list to a mind-boggling 32.
Your mind might be further boggled when you consider this is a car that in 2017 is set to account for about 150 sales. A more affordable model can only boost that figure, you imagine.
Jaguar Australia says it tried to get a starting price below $100,000 but couldn’t make the numbers work. The egregious Luxury Car Tax doesn’t help, though the British brand also opted against providing a manual gearbox option as it does with the V6.
Still, $107,017 for the coupe is a handy $14,195 saving over the previous V6 entry model, and importantly it undercuts the $115,300 Porsche 718 Cayman – itself now powered by a turbo four, of course, albeit of the flat rather than inline variety.
It’s a similar savings story for the F-Type convertible four-cylinder, priced from $125,712, though this time it’s the Porsche 718 Boxster that is more affordable, at $118,100.
(For market popularity comparison, the Cayman/Boxster twins sell in about double the numbers of the F-Type duo.)
For further context, we should also mention another natural rival, the Audi TTS, which has an even tinier price gap between its coupe and convertible models: $100,155 and $101,200.
There’s essentially just the one big exterior clue to pick the four-cylinder F-Type. Where the V8s get quad pipes, the V6s dual outlets, the four-banger gets a solitary – though large-sized – exhaust exit.
It takes on more responsibility than the engine for supplying the F-Type four’s audible fanfare. The sound is a touch bland on a light to medium throttle, but take the pedal to its maximum travel and your ears are treated to something more inspiring.
Lift off the throttle, and the exhaust also crackles away just as it does on the V6 and V8 models.
With 221kW, the turbo four is only 29kW shy of the base V6’s 250kW, while also claiming the highest specific output of any of the F-Type engines (110kW per litre).
That power peaks relatively early, however, at 5500rpm, and the engine doesn’t retain the same vigour up top as it offers in its mid-range, which benefits from 400Nm working across 1500-4500rpm.
The effortless in-gear shove makes it easy to acknowledge Jaguar’s 80-120km/h claim of 3.7 seconds. That’s not too shabby at all, comparing with 3.3 seconds for the 250kW V6, even if a base Cayman covers that speedo ground half a second quicker.
A 0-100km/h quote of 5.7 seconds also sounds about right. If that again compares favourably with the base V6 (5.3sec), it is a full second slower than its two direct rivals. While it’s true the TTS benefits from all-wheel drive, a Cayman shares the Jaguar’s rear-drive approach. (Note we’re comparing a PDK-equipped Cayman to match the eight-speed-auto Jag.)
Hindering the F-Type’s cause is a comparatively porky kerb weight. The four-cylinder coupe’s 1525kg, for example, is significantly heavier than the 1365kg of the Cayman auto.
Turbo lag, while not non-existent, is never a frustration, at least. There’s agreeable throttle response when pulling away or navigating the suburbs, and you can switch to Dynamic mode to sharpen it further (while adding some extra weight to the steering and engaging the active exhaust).
You’ll also use less fuel than any other F-Type, with 7.2 litres per 100km a 16 per cent improvement on the base V6.
Yet for sports car buyers, the biggest benefit of the four-cylinder is that it unburdens the F-Type’s front end by most the model’s 52kg weight saving.
The result is the liveliest turn-in of any F-Type – the kind of response that closes the gap to the Cayman/Boxster, and brings an extra degree of agility to what was already a highly accomplished chassis.
Jaguar engineers took advantage of the lighter engine to reduce the front and rear spring rates – by four and three per cent, respectively – and the F-Type’s ability to mesh suppleness and disciplined body control at speed on country roads impressed during our relatively brief launch drive.
This is all achieved with a single, passive suspension tune – no requirement to manually change damper modes as has become such the norm these days, and not even the use of the Adaptive Dynamics of the high-output V6 that automatically adjusts damping to suit the prevailing driving style.
The F-Type’s steering fits the bill, too – almost an expectation, such is the consistently good steering throughout the entire Jaguar range.
While there’s not the greatest communication, the steering’s weighting, precision, and immunity to kickback are all excellent traits.
And all this enjoyment is provided regardless of whether you prefer a fixed roof or one that folds away, such is the stiffness of the F-Type’s all-aluminium structure.
The two-seater cabin continues as arguably the best in the Jaguar portfolio. The centre stack and centre console continue to be shielded from the passenger side to create a genuine driver-cockpit feel, while the entire F-Type range now benefits from a new 8.0-inch Touch Pro touchscreen (a big improvement on the previous display) and tweaks to materials.
Add excellent tactility for all the buttons and toggles, and you have an interior that feels as though you’re in a car costing north of $100K. (Handy.)
Luggage space remains limited – long but shallow in the case of the liftback coupe, and deep but narrow in the case of the convertible.
The F-Type coupe and convertible models we tested were the R-Dynamic trim, which carries a $7800 premium.
For that, you get LED headlights and daytime running lights instead of xenons, Gloss Black exterior trim details, a centre console finished in ‘delta aluminium’, R-Dynamic treadplates, and the ability to manually open the Active Sports Exhaust’s valves via a console button where they open only automatically on the base model.
R-Dynamic grade also gets 19-inch alloy wheels (which were wrapped in grippy and fairly quiet Pirelli P-Zero rubber on our test car), where the entry four-cylinder features 18-inch alloys.
All F-Types now feature autonomous emergency braking and lane keep assist, with lane departure warning and driver condition monitoring available as options.
There are plenty of other options, inevitably – and the F-Type is another Jaguar product where you must pay extra for features that should be standard. They include dual-zone climate control, digital radio, automatic bootlid/tailgate, tyre pressure monitoring, heated seats (especially for the convertible), and keyless entry.
Almost all of those are inclusive on a Cayman/Boxster, which starts to nullify the F-Type four-cylinder’s price advantage. Buyers will determine what their must-have features are – and which engine they want.
Jaguar says it’s too early to say what percentage of F-Type sales the four-cylinder will account for.
But while older purists who grew up with straight-six and V12 E-Types might be horrified by the thought of its modern-day incarnation being powered by a humble four-pot, the smaller-engined F-Type is merely a reflection of this automotive age.
And it absolutely warrants its position in the line-up. The V6 and V8 variants may sound more thrilling, but the four-cylinder counter-punches with its more responsive front end and the opportunity it presents to own one of the world’s best-looking sports cars for not too much over six figures.