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The Jaguar F-Type has given the big cat back its roar, but can the 2017 updates keep at bay its closest rivals including the masterful Porsche 911?

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In 2013, we tested the Jaguar F-Type roadster. We called that car a bona fide automotive landmark, and we liked it very much. But there was no mistaking the compromises.

Despite being blessed with the soundtrack and soul of a sports car, Jaguar had its rag-top ride and handle more like a scaled-down GT.

The Jaguar F-Type offers beefy old-school charm

At the time, it was felt that the dynamic identity had been specifically chosen to broaden the new model’s appeal across the pond – which was true.

But as time passes, it’s equally apparent that the manufacturer was keeping its powder dry for the permanently covered coupé, a car it confidently describes as the most capable production Jaguar ever.

Big words. But the initial response has backed them up. For 2017, the new Jaguar F-Type R stands as one of the best pound-for-pound performance cars .

Even in V6 form, there's a lot to like though; the F-Type V6 S has the potential to be even more significant, given that it undercuts the entry-level Porsche 911 Carrera by nearly £26k and is noticeably more powerful. Jaguar has also included a 2.0-litre petrol engine to the range, which may sound measly, but has been cleverly placed between the Porsche 718 Cayman and Cayman S, while there is growing reason to believe that Jaguar will also introduce a diesel F-Type as several test mules have been spotted.

With all the Gaydon done the unthinkable and upstaged Zuffenhausen? Let's find out.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Jaguar badging

The key to understanding this new coupé is its roof. It is the reason why Jaguar can claim unparalleled torsional rigidity for the Jaguar F-Type and, perhaps just as importantly, also why the car’s appearance has shifted from divertingly pretty to utterly arresting.

Clearly the F-Type’s most significant shadow remains the Jaguar E-Type, with the connection between the two made all the more real by the homage effect of the coupé’s new roofline.

The F-Type's a front-engined rear-driver, with an eight-speed ZF automatic doing the honours

To some eyes, the F-Type's swooping profile brings to mind that rarest of E-Types, the Low Drag Coupé, but Jaguar’s two-seater tradition goes back much further than that, of course.

Although best remembered as open-top models, there were fixed-head coupé vers  ions of the XK120, 140 and 150.

The swept-back ceiling of the F-Type coupé forms the third of what Jaguar terms ‘heartlines’ – the defining elements of its design, in other words.

The first two – essentially the curvaceous shoulder line and the gently swollen rear arches – are shared with the convertible, but the unbroken silhouette of that tapered cabin is exclusive to the coupé – and quite sublime in the metal.

By bridging the span between the front and rear pillars with aluminium alloy beams, Jaguar has reconciled the formerly open-top platform as a genuine monocoque and apparently improved stiffness to the tune of 80 percent in the process.

The entire structure is bonded and riveted rather than welded, and the side panels are single-piece aluminium pressings. Jaguar's expertise in such matters is unquestionable, but – as with the convertible – the implication of low mass is relative.

A V6 S we weighed tipped MIRA’s scales at 1755kg, predictably lighter than the V8 S roadster examined in 2013, yet some 375kg heavier than the last Porsche 911 Carrera we weighed.

The roadster we originally tested made up for this with 488bhp drawn from its 5.0-litre V8. The V6-engined coupés are a good way back from that, with the entry-level V6 producing 335bhp, 375bhp from the mid-range unit and topped off by the 394bhp version joining the range in 2017 (the same outputs as the convertible V6s). A supercharger ensures both develop decent torque – 339 and 332lb ft respectively – delivered via the same eight-speed ZF Quickshift automatic transmission.

Starting the range is a 2.0-litre petrol engine punching out 295bhp, which is the same as the Porsche 718 Cayman but less than a 2.3-litre EcoBoost Ford Mustang, will be recognisable through its single centre mounted exhaust. At the pricey end is a pair of supercharged 5.0-litre V8s producing 542bhp and 567bhp in the nose of the Jaguar F-Type R and SVR models.

As before, the starter model gets an open differential, while the V6 S uses a mechanical LSD to manage slip between the rear wheels. It was partly this feature – distinct from the e-diff used on the V8 – which made the mid-spec car our choice from the open-top range.

While you might imagine them to be the preserve of F-Type R buyers, Jaguar has made its Carbon-Ceramic Matrix (CCM) brakes an option on the V6 S. Ticking the box swaps the already large standard steel discs for a set made of a much harder-wearing mix of carbon and ceramic, measuring 398mm at the front and 380mm at the rear.

The size upgrade means opting for the bigger 20in Storm wheels, which is no bad thing as their larger rims’ colours — satin grey anthracite as standard or optional gloss black — make for a better contrast with the CCM set-up’s conspicuously large, yellow monoblock calipers.

Jaguar says the greater heat generated by the carbon-ceramic discs is dealt with not only by air intakes on the front bumper, but also by deflectors on the anti-roll bars designed to direct air towards the brakes. New heat-resistant valve caps are also fitted.

A pre-fill function (which places all four calipers under low brake pressure even when not engaged) is claimed to ensure a consistent pedal feel no matter whether they are being applied on a motorway or in a car park. The firm says the CCM system is the most powerful braking set-up ever fitted to a Jaguar road car.

That may be, but the most compelling reason we can see for adding £8900 to the asking price is the 21kg reduction in unsprung weight and its prospective enhancement of the coupe’s ride quality.

For 2018, Jaguar has given the F-Type a light refresh, with LED headlights and rear light clusters added, a reformed bumper set and an updated version of Jaguar's InControl Pro infotainment system, but tellingly nothing has been tweaked mechanically bar the addition of the petrol Ingenium engine to the range.

INTERIOR

Jaguar F-Type interior

The distinguishing feature of the Jaguar F-Type cabin is, of course, its fixed roof. Traditionally, that would mean casting the interior in shadow, but because the F-Type’s structure needs no assistance from overhead panelling, the optional sunroof fitted to our test car is as panoramic as it gets.

The natural light is particularly welcome given Jaguar’s preference for greyscale trim materials and the cocooning effect of the tapered rear screen, and it makes the car fantastically well lit compared to the roof-up murk of the rag-top. The glass comes at a £1250 premium, but we’d recommend it among your first ticks.

The 'weapons armed' slider for the Dynamic mode isn't to all tastes, but it is easy to find and use

Forward of the rear bulkhead, the F-Type is as it was, which means satisfying in some ways but underwhelming in others. The dash and centre console are subtly turned towards the driver, and there’s enough seat adjustment to feel like you’re piloting it from appropriately close to the deck.

The joystick gear selector and Dynamic mode switch are now established F-Type features, as are the bony, slightly oversized steering wheel and vanishing air vents. Unfortunately, the same could be said for the cheap steering column stalks and occasionally patchy trim – idiosyncrasies that don’t doom the coupé per se but keep it behind Porsche’s attention to detail.

One criticism Jaguar will cautiously consider resolved is boot space, where the convertible’s notoriously stingy 196 litres has swollen to a reportedly ample 315 litres.

But while the dimensions have increased considerably in length, the location of the rear axle means that genuine clutter-swallowing depth remains a problem. The coupé makes for a better weekend-away companion, but cross-continent holidays, one feels, are still going to be difficult.

The standard equipment levels vary with five trims/models to choose from - F-Type, R-Dynamic, 400 Sport, R and SVR. The entry-level models get 18in alloy wheels, an active sports exhaust, xenon headlights with LED day-running-lights, electrically adjustable sports seats, leather upholstery and Jaguar's 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav and a Meridian sound system.

Upgrade to the R-Dynamic models and the F-Type will be adorned with adaptive LED headlights, gloss black trim and a switchable active exhaust system and 19in alloy wheels, the more powerful 375bhp version rolls on 20s. There is also a limited slip differential, larger brake discs and adaptive dynamics included too. The limited edition 400 Sport models get a 394bhp V6 motor, and includes numerous exterior details including satin grey alloy wheels and bodywork, while inside there are numerous 400 Sport decals, aluminium paddle shifters and performance sports seats trimmed in yellow stitching.

The range-topping F-Type R gets Jaguar's snazzy all-wheel drive system, an electronic active differential, keyless entry and start, numerous touches of brushed aluminium and a premium leather upholstery, while the SVR includes 20in forged alloy wheels, a lightweight titanium exhaust system, heated steering wheel, a more aggressive bodykit, front parking sensors and suede headlining.

JLR’s infotainment system remains unaltered, and while our familiarity with it has by now helped to iron out some of its many kinks, it doesn’t alter its rather obvious outdatedness, despite the improved graphics and clarity for 2017. 

The decision to rely on touchscreen alone would be fine if the interface was sufficiently well organised to accommodate every feature, but it isn’t, and too much time is spent reminding yourself where everything is. The InControl Pro system is stuffed full of potential including sat nav, that lacks the detail of some of its rivals. DAB, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, 10GB of media storage, smartphone integration and Jaguar's Pro Services.

Even if you’re confident of the button-pushing required, the bit of screen you’ll be aiming at is often only slightly bigger than your fingertip.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Jaguar F-Type rear

You can tell a standard Jaguar F-Type V6 by the simplicity of its lines: twin central exhausts and a simple diffuser at the rear, no black side skirts and no sign of extra badging at the front.

Thumb the starter and the engine blips and settles to an even hum, with no sign of a burble. We’ll get overrun crackles later.

I'm not usually a fan of frivolous options, but I'd be tempted to stump up for the proper aluminium shift paddles

You miss out on the launch control and mechanical limited-slip differential of the Jaguar F-Type V6 S, and don’t get within a prayer of the R’s smart differential or its built-in brake-led torque-vectoring system, which tickles the car’s inside brakes in corners to kill understeer.

What you do get is a 335bhp supercharged V6 engine, an eight-speed gearbox with standard, sports or full manual modes, and normal traction and chassis stability controls, which are variable through a Dynamic mode, as with other Jaguars. Six-speed manuals of the 335bhp and 375bhp V6 F-Types are available but we would stick with the auto 'box.

It feels quick and capable, with a wide performance spread enhanced by the availability of so many gears, something that shows up particularly as you accelerate briskly off the line.

Perhaps because of the engine’s docility and your ease of controlling it, the performance is unthreatening but this car will still pull out a 0-60mph sprint in 5.1sec and top 160mph.

Step up a rung on the ladder and you'll find yourself in the more potent V6 S. It could almost have an inferiority complex, so rambunctious are the noises it can make.

The twin pipes of the V6 S’s standard active sports exhaust can be tempered slightly at the touch of a button, but even when ‘turned down’, the car makes a banshee howl at full throttle and crackles and spits as you back off from high revs.

You’ll probably cringe at times, but you can’t say it’s not a stirring accompaniment to a driving experience of real excitement.

The base engine’s peak torque, delivered between 3500rpm and 5000rpm where you do most of your driving, is only 7lb ft lower than that of the V6 S, rated nearly 40bhp stronger at the 6500rpm power peak, right at the top of the rev range.

This abundance of torque accounts for the fact that the S shaves only 0.3sec from the standard car’s 0-60mph time, and only 0.2sec from its 50-75mph acceleration (3.1sec against 3.3sec), although it does have an extra 10mph of top speed.

Practically speaking, the biggest difference that you’ll notice between the pair is the slightly thinner exhaust note of the cheaper car, which looks the better performance value, especially since it also saves fuel and CO2 emissions.

Would a good manual gearbox make the F-Type more absorbing? Now and again. But you wouldn’t swap the fast-acting eight-speed ZF auto for anything most of the time. It’s flexible and smooth and manages its many ratios very intelligently.

The F’s supercharged 3.0-litre V6 is a big-chested powerplant with a good balance of power and torque – or flat-out urgency and real-world tractability, if you prefer.

But it doesn’t feel so spectacular in a lasting sense and it doesn’t hold your attention or buzz with character like a Porsche flat six or a Mercedes-AMG V8. ‘Loud’ is a slightly poor substitute for ‘lovely’ in that respect.

And, while the F-Type is fast, it’s perhaps not quite as fast as it should be. A launch control mode enabled a V6 S we tested to produce perfect standing starts for our timing gear, yet, because of its mass, it still trails a less powerful and considerably less torquey but 300kg lighter Porsche 911 3.4 to both 60 and 100mph – in the latter case by more than a second. Which surely isn’t quite good enough.

Braking performance is great, though, aided by fine pedal feel and admirable resistance to fade during our track tests.

RIDE & HANDLING

Jaguar F-Type hard cornering

The Jaguar F-Type coupé walks a slightly different path between dynamism and ease of use than a lot of fast Jaguars with which we’ve become familiar, but it still meets both requirements effectively.

It delivers poise, thrill and interactivity above and beyond the ability of many rivals, but casts them over a backdrop of refinement, touring comfort and high-speed stability that fewer still can match.

The clever gearbox software allows you to select second gear for an upcoming corner before you've actually slowed enough for the transmission to engage it

This is a multi-talented car, in other words, but it isn’t the leggy, laid-back coupé that XK owners might prefer it to be. Instead, it has a much sharper sporting edge. Too much edge for some, probably.

Three driving programs are available: a normal one, one for slippery conditions and a Dynamic mode. We were surprised to find the ride in normal mode to be as firm as it is, particularly for a mid-range model.

Higher spring rates give the coupé a slightly reactive, jostling gait over a testing surface, rather than the more compliant low-frequency ‘breathing’ you might expect.

But you’ll only notice it over the worst back roads and, if you’re like us, consider it a price worth paying, given how immediate and effortless the F’s body control is, how dexterously it keeps its wheels on the ground over lumps and bumps, how planted it feels through fast corners and how much feel comes through the steering wheel. But make no mistake: this is a sports car first and a GT second.

It exhibits a tangible improvement on grip, directional response and handling precision relative to the F-Type roadster and has the advantage over all but a handful of the best driver’s cars on the planet on all three.

One thing the V6 and V6S don’t do quite as consummately as its bigger brother, the V8, is mix grip with rear axle slip on demand.

The F-Type V6 S coupé lapped MIRA’s handling circuit with a slight bias for stabilising understeer. Having figured the equivalent roadster in similar conditions, we expected an identical sense of balance and throttle-on adjustability, delivered atop higher cornering speeds. But that wasn’t quite what the coupé provided.

The car stopped hard and consistently well, turned in keenly, controlled its body perfectly and carried lots of speed. But it communicates the limits of grip by beginning to nudge wide of the apex — more so than we found with the roadster — and it doesn’t allow you to dial out that gentle understeer with power on the exit as readily as it might. In the latter regard, the torque vectoring set-up is of limited use.

In the wet, the combination of mass, front-biased weight, rear-drive power and wide tyres make it struggle a little for grip. The DSC system, though intrusive at times, works effectively, but TRAC mode seems a poor middle ground between on and off.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Jaguar F-type coupe

The Jaguar F-Type is considerably cheaper than a Porsche 911, which isn't a bad place for the Jaguar to find itself.

It’s a position that our sources suggest buyers will respond to in numbers, keeping residual values even higher than those of the Porsche – at least for the time being. For private buyers,  this car looks like excellent value for money.

The Jaguar F-Type V6 undercuts the equivalent Porsche 911 by £23k

The £9000 premium that Gaydon charges over the lesser V6, for the V6 S, sounds reasonable considering the extra power and performance offered by that model.

Throw in the active sports exhaust, adaptive dampers, launch control, high-performance brakes, limited-slip differential and full leather seats that the car gets as standard over and above the V6’s equipment level and it’s even harder to argue.

Fuel economy is competitive. Our touring test suggests the car will better 30mpg on a long, reasonably disciplined run.

Combined with a 72-litre tank (10 percent bigger than you’ll get in a 911), a 500-mile range for the car should be possible. That’s pretty exceptional.

The standard 19in alloys might make for a slightly better balance of grip than the 20s. Have the switchable exhaust (£350), the configurable Dynamic mode (£400) and the Meridian audio system (£1700). Avoid the powered tailgate.

 

VERDICT

4.5 star Jaguar F-Type

Jaguar has succeeded spectacularly with the Jaguar F-Type, and emphatically so with the coupé.

It shows that Jaguar can produce a car of true sporting specialism as well as any German manufacturer.

The F-Type's well priced and the driving experience is close to brilliant

It’s a machine of incredible allure – and, like the E-Type was, it’s great value.

But, in V6 and V6 S form, the F-Type falls short of exceptional. Just as we did with the roadster, we had hoped to find the definitive F-Type in the middle-sitting V6 S.

Imperfections noted on ride quality and limit handling, combined with slight reservations about the engine, suggest you should look to the range-topping Jaguar F-Type V8 R or even the F-Type SVR for that.

Leaving ‘definitive’ and ‘exceptional’ to one side, though, there is no question that the F-Type is another landmark in the 21st century recasting of the Jaguar brand.

It’s an inspired car, but it’s not encumbered by its maker’s sporting legend. It may not be perfect, but it is wonderful.

 

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Jaguar F-Type 2014-2019 First drives