For two decades we’ve been hearing about ‘Jaguar’s new E-type’; finally, here we are, ready to ride in the much talked about Jaguar F-type alongside the firm’s chassis guru Mike Cross.
Jaguar has brought a V6S prototype, the 375bhp supercharged 3.0-litre version that puts its distinctly healthy 339lb ft of torque through the eight-speed ‘Quickshift’ auto with paddles that Jaguar has developed with ZF, the ideal transmission for a car of this size, weight and potential.
The F-type door opens conveniently wide, but because this is a convertible you have to lift your right foot a little higher than usual over the bulky, strength-giving aluminium sill as you get in. The footwell is long and deep, and your hip point is just about level with the top of the sill, which means that you sit snug and low in the car. The main bulk of the fascia curves extravagantly away from you to the base of the screen.
There’s a large central binnacle, containing two air vents, that powers out of the top of the dashboard to provide extra heating or cooling when needed. Below that is a prominent touchscreen; lower down sit a row of three circular switches to control the climate, and below those a smart-looking row of modern-design toggle switches. The main driver’s instruments are a pair of big digital dials located under a glare-proof eyebrow. It’s all neat and leaves a pervading aura of quality, but there are no real surprises.
You sit low and the fascia is quite high, but you still plainly see the power bulge that runs down the central bonnet, and there’s a satisfying view of a muscular front wing to either side. The screen pillars are as thick as in any modern car, but their extreme rake and considerable distance from you means that they don’t intrude. The passenger experience is made better by the presence on the left of the high central console of a ‘holy cow' handle, which gives the passenger area a snug, tub-like feel.
There’s a handsome gearstick in the centre of the console, which selects your direction of travel and can be used as a rocking gear selector, but the reality is that you only use it to get off the mark. The steering column paddles best control the gearbox’s action and – given the power and torque – the car is lively in any of its modes.
Jaguar’s figures give the V6S a 0-60mph sprint time of 4.8sec and a 171mph top speed (with a CO2 output of 213g/km and a combined fuel economy of 31mpg thrown in) and nothing about my day with Cross induced me to disagree.
This V6 has a higher specific power than previous Jaguar engines, and a ‘modern’ engine note to go with it. It’s mechanically quiet, not least because there’s a big, sound-absorbing noise protector right across the top of the engine bay, but the exhaust has a prominent, surprisingly edgy rasp that curls up to your ears over the rear deck.
Toe the accelerator lightly (says Cross) and the car eases away with the aplomb of a limo. Do it more dramatically and you’re forced instantly, although never roughly, back into the upholstery.
Rear suspension squat is hardly a factor, even though your backside is only a couple of feet ahead of the rear contact patch. You can select a Dynamic mode for auto-shifting, which uses more revs, or actuate the paddles yourself but, according to Cross, most drivers opt mainly for the auto-shifting, using the paddles strictly when they feel like it.
As you’d expect from a smooth, supercharged engine, the V6 delivers easy torque right from the ground floor of its rev range, and could probably live its whole life below 3500rpm. On the other hand, the red line is at 6700rpm; this is a proper sports car and the power grows all the way to the rev-limiter.
I’m only the passenger here but I can see, just by watching Cross’s hands, that the transmission is silky and downchanges are beautifully smooth. There’s no question of the delays that used to affect set-ups like this.
Then there’s the chassis. Even on lumpy, rutted, unpredictable surfaces, taken quickly, its excellence impresses. The F-type makes a constant virtue of its near-perfect weight distribution by avoiding pitching completely. According to Cross, Jaguar’s suspension experts have also managed to configure the car so that it turns as if you, the occupant, are the centre of the movement, an ability that usually eludes even the best mid-engined car.
Tamed in all driving conditions by its adaptive dampers, the F-type V6’s ride is always firm, but the rigidity of its all-aluminium chassis and the surprising quietness about its suspension even over bumps (which the V6S ‘reads’ through standard 19-inch Pirelli P-Zeros) make this feel a tautly damped, flat-riding machine.
The F-type has the soul of a responsive, agile sports car. The surprise is how well it copes with the most untidy, aggressive bumps and never, ever running out of suspension travel.
The steering is the highest-geared system ever put in a Jaguar, and I can only read its characteristics through Cross’s hand actions, which is like trying to decide whether a scalpel is any good when wielded by the country’s best heart surgeon. But he says it hits new heights, and I’m taking that on trust (while busting to try it myself).
Autocar’s next F-type episode will be a proper test drive so stand by for stories and video tests in mid-April – at which stage I’ll be as interested as anyone to discover whether my hugely favourably initial impressions of Jaguar’s new sports car can move faithfully from one bucket seat to the other.
The full story of Steve Cropley’s F-type ride, plus Martin Brundle’s view from the driving seat, and a review of what F-Type alternatives are available on the used market, and at any budget, is available in this Wednesday’s Autocar magazine.