What is it?:
This is the new Jaguar F-type sports car, here in its mid-range V6 S flavour. It’s the launch of the year, this, the sportiest Jaguar since the XJ220. And the F really is a sports car, they’ve told me, at some length. It ain’t like any other Jaguar, they say. You’ll notice “within 50 metres, not 50 kilometres,” says Ian Hoban, the F-type’s line manager.
What makes it so different to a ‘normal’ Jaguar, then? The F-type, like the XK, is built from aluminium alloys and both are front-engined, rear-driven roadsters with two seats (excusing the XK's token rears). But the F-type’s shell is 30 per cent stiffer, torsionally, than an XK’s. It’s shorter by a foot, wider by a thumb-width and lower by 120mm as its driver sits.
Among its rivals Jaguar counts not the Mercedes-Benz SL, but the Porsche 911 cabriolet, Audi R8 Spyder and Aston Martin V8 Vantage roadster. Only, Jaguar says, the F is about 25 per cent cheaper than those. It has a graph to prove it. A graph on which Porsche’s Boxster, mind you, is notable by its absence at a lower price still, but that’s a question for another time.
It looks like Jaguar has indeed identified a little gap between the Boxster and 911 where you wouldn’t have believed one existed. No F-type variant epitomises that identity more than our test car: a mid-table, 3.0-litre supercharged F-type V6 S, which brings with it 375bhp and 339lb ft.
Like all F-types, the V6 S’s motor is longitudinally mounted under the front and mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Not a dual-clutch unit, mind, but a traditional auto, albeit one with a torque converter that locks up so early that it spends all its time above crawl speeds directly linked to the rear wheels, slush free.
What is unlike other F-types is that the V6 S gets a conventional mechanical limited slip differential. The base V6 does without a locking diff, while the Jaguar F-type V8 S has an electronic locking one. The 15kg weight penalty the V8’s ‘e-diff’ brings would spoil what Jaguar claims is the V6 S's 50 per cent front, 50 per cent rear weight distribution. It also claims 0-60mph in 4.8sec and a top speed of 171mph for this version, which sounds plenty quick enough to me. The price is £67,500, which sounds plenty too.
All in all, though, it’s a reassuringly heady, old-school, burly mechanical set-up whose promise is further enhanced by double wishbones all round and hydraulic, rather than electric, assistance for the power steering, and to hell with the economy and emissions (which, for the record, are claimed at 31.0mpg combined and 213g/km for the V6 S).
The last time Jaguar launched a car like this, though, its steering was of course unassisted. Think E-type, or perhaps Austin Healey, Triumph TR6 – maybe even TVR. That’s the kind of vibe that the F-type emanates.
Except, of course, that it combines all that with a touch of 21st century luxury. This is a well appointed and well trimmed car, with an interesting cabin and some pleasing materials and neat touches.
I could live without the rising centre air vents (they only pop out when there’s more serious cooling or heating to be done) if it meant I could have a higher quality feel to the gearshift paddles on the steering wheel, but generally, you have to admit, it’s a pretty well finished cockpit. It’s not that sensible, though; Jaguar even calls the F-type a 1+1 because of the way the cockpit’s feel is divided into two, with the driver getting the more ‘technical’ surfaces.
The truth is that if you wanted to carry anything more than a couple of squashy bags, you’d end up using the passenger space, too. This isn’t a terribly practical car. It might be cheaper than a 911, but the Porsche has +2 rear seats, and their benefit isn’t negligible.
What's it like?:
The Jaguar F-type feels suitably sportif. The driving position is straight and low, with pedals set up so that left or right-foot braking are both easy. The steering wheel is widely adjustable (although I wouldn’t mind it coming closer to the driver), and, with the equipment fitted to our test car, has a heated leather rim. I quite like that.
It’s only around 10deg C in northern Spain as we continue on some terrific roads and the F-type, roof down, is a touch blustery. Not unacceptably, but definitely it’s more sports car in here than tousle-free grand tourer.
Still, so far I’ve discovered the ride is pretty good, or at least it is as far as I can tell on these roads, which lack the harshness and brittleness of some of Wales’s worst, but that’s to be expected. They’re smooth enough that you can use the F-type’s Dynamic mode all the time, which brings firmer calibration to the dampers to tighten body control, as well as adding weight to the steering and sharpening the throttle and gearbox response.
And it’s that steering which was the first indication that this Jaguar is something different. And yes, something special.
It’s true: I noticed it within 50 metres (50cm, probably). The steering retains the oiliness and slickness that’s traditional with a Jaguar rack, but it has the fastest ratio ever fitted to a Jaguar. At 2.5 turns lock-to-lock it isn’t hyperactive, but it gives the 1614kg roadster a sense of immediacy and purpose.
It is different to other Jaguars, and in no bad way. The underlying DNA is still there, it seems, in that loping ride and the smoothness of the gearbox, but it has been stretched outwards. From today, a Jaguar can stand for something different.
Nothing displays that quite like the V6 S’s engine, I think. There are some terrific roads around here. Quiet, wide, hilly. The sort of place you can accelerate for a few seconds between hairpins before backing off again.
The V6 isn’t the smoothest motor on the block – it revs to around 7000 and makes its peak output at 6500rpm – but I haven’t run into the limiter by mistake, nor am I likely to. Because it’s supercharged the response is true and immediate, but if you’re looking for a sonourous, high-revving unit, a Porsche is the place. There’s character enough at lower revs, though. With the S’s active exhaust bypass valves in their angry position, there are some real fireworks on the overrun.
So far, then, so impressive. So why my hesitancy about this car?
One: it’s no more practical than a Boxster but looks, at its base price, quite a lot lumpier.
Two: it rides, it glides. It’s an excellent motorway companion, in fact, running beautifully straight and secure at speed. But sometimes, on twistier roads, I think I fear the body control is a little loose. This is a heavier car than some of those around it and there’s a touch of slack in the body movements over crests, but it’s not unacceptable. It’s predictable, slight, manageable.
Top-spec Mercedes SLKs and BMW Z4s? Forget ‘em. They don’t have anything like the capacity in their ride of this car.
The steering is incisive, and there’s a touch of road feel. It’s not loaded with it, but there’s enough. The brakes are a little over-servoed at the very top of their travel, but afterwards are very progressive.
And the balance is spot-on. On the way in there’s a touch of understeer, and on the way out there’s a touch of oversteer. Turning the stability control off is one prolonged poke of the switch away, and when provoked the F-type will provide yet more oversteer on demand.
Should I buy one?:
Jaguar had previously said this car “wasn’t a drift machine”. But at heart, that part of its DNA that’s common to all Jaguars, is still there: the long wheelbase, the balance, and a group of engineers who sometimes just really like doing that sort of thing.
I know it can seem a bit daft, but when chassis engineers take the time to ensure that a car goes into and comes out of a slide with the elegance of this (Lotus's engineers take the time, too), it says good things about their whole approach to dynamics. Every detail is nailed, and the car is better as a result.
And it is better. Better than I’d credited before some reflection. In some ways the F-type is a simple roadster, but there’s genuine dynamic ability beneath it, which is just as well given where Jaguar has priced it.
In its base form, it costs £10,000 more than an identically powered BMW Z4 before you get jiggy with options on either. Further up the range it’s less of an issue, but no question it’s priced with confidence. Justifiably? I think so. In fact, think there is only one manufacturer Jaguar has to worry about.
Trouble is, it’s from Stuttgart, and it makes not one but two compelling models.
Jaguar F-type V6 S
Price £67,500; 0-60mph 4.8sec; Top speed 171mph (limited); Economy 31.0mpg; CO2 213g/km; Kerb weight 1614kg; Engine V6, 2995cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 375bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 339lb ft at 3500-5000rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic