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The Jaguar F-Type convertible provides direct competition to the 718 Boxster and the 911 Cabriolet, but can the big cat take a bite out of its Porsche rivals?

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We’ve driven the Jaguar F-Type Convertible and Coupé in entry-level V6, a sharper and more expensive V6 S and, arguably best of all, in its top-flight R and SVR specifications and the overall consensus is that it’s extremely good, going on excellent. Which is a genuinely nice piece of news for us to deliver.

Jaguar hasn’t so much bet the farm on it, but Jag’s entire reputation as a sports car maker on the success of the rear wheel-drive F-Type (although all-wheel drive versions are available). So to find out that the fruits of its labours have been worth it – and then some – is more than enough reason to celebrate. 

The entry-level F-Type is at least as rewarding as a Boxster

But the best news of all is this: all those doubts we once harboured about the F-Type’s asking price being a touch too high have, at a stroke, been eliminated. This car is expensive, yes, but it’s also worth it because it delivers. And in the end, not a lot else matters.

The entry-level Jaguar F-Type convertible with the new 2.0-litre Ingenium petrol engine costs £55,385 and manages, through a combination of strong performance and achingly well judged driving dynamics, to provide stiff competition for the newly turbocharged Porsche Boxster. The mid-range supercharged 3.0-litre V6 that develops a rousing 335bhp and a standard eight-speed Quickshift gearbox (although a six-speed manual is available), amazingly slots itself into the narrowest of gaps between the 718 Boxster and the 911. It feels more grown up than a Boxster but also more approachable financially than a Porsche 911. And it steers and rides more sweetly than either of them. 

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There’s nothing basic about the entry level F-Type. Even though it is the entry point to a range that will attract up to 85 percent of its customers from outside the Jaguar brand.

The Jaguar F-type V6 S delivers more power – 375bhp – and a fair bit more performance to go with it. The 0-60mph time falls from 5.2sec to an impressive 4.9sec. 

Its steering, chassis, suspension and brakes have been tuned to deliver sharper responses than the entry-level car. At the same time the exhaust note can be heightened via a new Dynamic Drive system that allows drivers to tweak steering feel, throttle response, gear change speeds and exhaust noise at the press of a touchscreen button. This may or may not appeal to Jaguar’s customers depending largely on how old they are, and how they feel about such technology in the first place. Either way, there’s also a mechanical limited-slip differential fitted to the £69,800 V6 S which, perhaps more than anything else, proves just how keen Jaguar is to separate the characters of its five F-Types.

The entry level car is a frentic high revving four-cylinder, the V6 delivers a rousing note with sweet handling, the V6 S is a more focused, harder edged version of the same. Then there is the sharper 400 Sport, which uses the same V6 unit churning out 394bhp. And at the top there is a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine powering both the R and the SVR F-Types and producing 542bhp and 567bhp respectively.

Be in no doubt, the Jaguar F-Type R and SVR are monsterous cars. Jaguar says it will do 0-100mph in 8.8sec and reach a restricted top speed of 186mph, which is fast with a capital 'F', while the SVR in convertible form will power onto 195mph before hitting the limiter. But in reality it feels even faster than that on the road, and has a delicious flamboyance to its handling, steering and ride to match. This is a hairy-chested sports car of the old-school variety, and we fell in love with it completely for that.

In simple terms it’s light for such a relatively big sports car, and that means it’s more agile than you’d expect. And faster, more economical, less polluting, better responding and so on.

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The F-Type is, by most measures, a brilliant sports car. But which is best? Which model should you turn your back on a Porsche dealership for? Read on to find out.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Jaguar F-Type Convertible xenon headlight

Design first, then, because you can’t mention the Jaguar F-Type without mentioning its design, or its design director, Ian Callum, whose CV makes a handy checksheet of cars that still look good today: Volvo C70, Ford Puma, Aston Martin DB7 and Vanquish, and every Jaguar conceived during the past decade. 

The F-Type follows Jaguar’s familiar recent themes: an economy of lines and taut surfaces, the latter an area in which Jaguar has worked hard to get the best from its aluminium skin. Radiuses of some crease lines are down to 8mm – much sharper than you’ll typically see from this lightweight but hard-to-press metal.

The F-Type’s roof mechanism is impressive. It doesn’t have a panel to cover it when stowed; instead, the top section of the roof itself keeps everything looking neat and tidy

The resulting shape meets, in our eyes, unanimous approval. Seemingly, the question isn’t “Do you like it?” but “How much do you like it?” A typical answer is “Quite a lot”. 

That aluminium skin clothes an all-aluminium alloy monocoque, with all of that material’s relative advantages and disadvantages. Evidently, one of the important ones is that it sends a message: aluminium is an alluring metal. They make planes and space rockets out of it, after all.

But while some car makers use it widely in some chassis areas and in other areas not at all as part of a multi-metal structure, Jaguar’s monogamous relationship with the material, which has a high specific strength but a relatively low density, does it few favours when it comes to packaging. It also does not necessarily bring with it the weight advantages Jaguar would have you believe.

Jaguar claims the F-Type weighs a respectable 1597kg, 1614 and 1665kg for the V6, V6 S and R respectively, but when we weighed an R at MIRA, it tipped the scales at some 1810kg. Why is it that heavy? Because its mechanical spec makes it so.

Consider that the car we weighed is a 4.4m-long, 1.9m-wide convertible with a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine under its bonnet, an eight-speed automatic gearbox and an active differential at the rear, with all-round double wishbones and the V8’s uprated brakes, and 1810kg doesn’t sound so terrible – as long as you put the ‘lightweight aluminium’ claims to one side.

Our numbers means that the R is 5kg lighter than a Mercedes-Benz SL 500, but 35kg heavier than a Nissan GT-R and 100kg more than a Mercedes-AMG SLS coupé.

The F-Type will inevitably work out heavier still than a Porsche 911, which is narrower and has a smaller drivetrain than the Jaguar. But while it’s not a like-for-like comparison on paper, the fact is that a 911 is the F-Type’s nearest showroom rival. A current 911 Carrera (non-S and a coupé) weighs just 1380kg on MIRA’s scales. Given the all-up weight, it’s clear the Jaguar will need some underbonnet fireworks if it’s to perform with a 911 in a straight line. And as luck would have it...

INTERIOR

Jaguar F-Type dashboard

You don’t sit on or in the Jaguar F-Type; instead, you climb aboard and peer over the dash like a remora fish looking past a shark’s jaw.

The sensation that you’ve been countersunk into the high-sided cabin is essential to the car’s striven-for intimacy (and is helped by having a bulkhead behind the seat backrest), and even if the surfaces don’t quite fall towards the driver as intended, there’s no denying the snug purposefulness.

Separate heater dials for passenger and driver are fitted, but dual-zone climate control is an option. Without it, expect squabbles about air temperature

We’ve alluded to the age of Jaguar’s switchgear recently, so the interior’s renewal is as welcome as it is significant. The gear selector dial has gone, replaced by a joystick-size, trigger-fired obelisk of a shifter. It’s satisfying to use but not so comfortable to hold – functional, then, not a rest for your left hand. 

Around it, the rest of the excellent cabin follows suit, tending towards a more athletic brand of sporting luxury than has previously been encountered in a modern Jaguar.

The steering wheel rim has simultaneously shrunk in diameter and increased in girth, acquiring an optional flat bottom on the way.

The two-tone dials are pointedly analogue and noticeably bolder, while the button to access Jaguar’s familiar Dynamic mode is now a slider switch that must be armed like a missile array, and is picked out (along with the gearshift paddles and engine start button) in a metallic orange finish. 

Most functions are mastered via a centre console meant to be solely the preserve of the driver. The passenger’s side is clearly demarcated by a prominent grab handle and slightly different trim finishes: there can be no mistaking that this is a cabin meant for the driver, and for driving. 

The cockpit isn’t without one or two quality question marks – the dials flex a little on their mountings, the indicator stalks feel cheap and some of the materials aren’t finished in a manner consistent with the F-Type’s pricing – but the overall impression is one of stylish, luxurious and convincing substance. The meagreness of the 196-litre boot is still an issue, though. It’s big enough for a couple of soft bags, but that doesn’t make it big enough. 

As for trims, they are largely limited to the five models available - F-Type, R-Dynamic, 400 Sport, R and SVR. Entry-level cars come fitted with 18in alloy wheels, xenon headlights, LED rear lights, a deployable rear spoiler, active sports exhaust and a passive sprung suspension set-up on the outside, while inside there is electrically adjustable sports seats, a leather upholstery and Jaguar's 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav and a 170W Meridian sound system. 

Upgrade to R-Dynamic and the F-Type Convertible gains extra glossy black trim, adaptive LED headlights and 19in alloys, but if you opt for the 375bhp V6 model you will find 20in alloys, adaptive suspension and a limited slip differential fitted as standard.

The limited edition 400 Sport models gain a unique satin grey exterior and alloys, with dashes of yellow on the bodywork, inside there are aluminium paddles shifters, numerous 400 Sport decals and a premium leather upholstery trimmed with yellow stitching.

The range-topping R and SVR models not only get the stunning 5.0-litre V8 engine under the bonnet but also 20in alloy wheels, all-wheel-drive system, electronic active differential, keyless entry and go, aluminium dashboard trim and ambient interior lighting, while the SVR gains forged alloy wheels, a lightweight titanium exhaust, a beefy bodykit, a carbonfibre rear wing, front parking sensors and heated steering wheel.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Jaguar F-Type Convertible engine bay

It’s the V8 that grabs the headlines in the Jaguar F-Type range – and with good reason. Its supercharged engine’s 542bhp and 502lb ft are good enough for a 3.9sec 0-60mph time and on to a top speed of 186mph. Meanwhile the lunatic F-Type SVR produces 567bhp and 516lb ft of peak twist which propels the F-Type to 60mph in 3.5sec and onto a mammoth 195mph.

In optimised conditions, then, it’s feasible that the F-Type could nudge into a time starting with a ‘3’, which is faintly ludicrous given that it never feels like a car that is blessed with a surplus of traction, but it is blessed with a clever AWD system and benefits from 52 percent front/48 percent rear weight distribution and a shedload of power and torque. 

The ferocity of the exhaust pop on the overrun is directly linked to how much throttle and revs you’ve just been applying

It’s the urgency and the noise, we’ve concluded, that sets this F-Type apart and makes it feel like the drag-strip refugee that it appears to be – especially if you press the button on the centre console that opens the valves in the optional active exhaust more frequently than usual.

Incredibly, against the might R, the rest of the models don’t exactly feel like they’re left wanting in the performance stakes. The supercharged V6 S is just 0.6sec slower to 62mph and, at 171mph, is just 15mph shy of the R at the top end. The engine is responsive and immediate, but it lacks the bombastic pops, bangs and Detroit muscle soundtrack of the range topper. It’s not a high-revving unit like a Porsche either.

It does, however, offer plenty of character at lower revs, and set the exhaust valves to ‘angry’ and it’ll provide enough fireworks to satisfy the most finicky of buyers. And an official kerb weight which reads 51kg less than the R, and headline figures of 375bhp and 339lb ft means it is a competent devourer of straights.

The entry-level V6 is perhaps the shrewdest play that Jaguar could have made. Its priced like an optioned-up 718 Boxster S, and with a 0-62mph of 5.1sec is 0.7sec slower. Its performance isn’t scary like the V8 monsters – and to a lesser extent, the V6 S – but it does impress. Its possible to use more of the V6’s potential more of the time, which allows the chassis to sparkle more readily.

The genius of the V6 is that 85 percent of F-Type buyers will be new to Jaguar, and for many, its 335bhp and 332lb ft will be plenty.

The F-Type may not be the fastest, lightest or best-packaged sports car on the market but, by gum, when it comes to aural stimulation, it’s right there.

And the rest? The eight-speed ZF gearbox is smooth and clean when you want, with responsive manual override paddles. And the F, on the big brakes, stops well, resisting fade adequately for a car this heavy and this fast, although not indefinitely. 

RIDE & HANDLING

Jaguar F-Type Convertible rear cornering

Underneath it all, the Jaguar F-Type is a fast Jag in a familiar mould. It handles, rides, steers and goes less like an equivalent Porsche or Lotus and more like an the uniqueness of XKR that has been at boot camp for a few months. It’s a hot rod and a grand touring sunbed rolled into one, and yet it also has impressive athleticism and delicacy.

None of which is intended as any kind of slight on the F-Type. In fact, it bears testament to Jaguar’s sporting philosophy. It’s one that says, “Above all else, we make road cars – not over-sprung, over-specified monuments to track-intended purposes rarely (if ever) served. These cars must be fast, poised and rewarding, but accessible. They must be cosseting, rich, suave – luxury goods as well as natural athletes.”

One job for the facelift: offer track day tyres for circuit regulars

That creed allows the F-Type to handle superbly but also effortlessly. The steering is feelsome and direct and has wonderful weight and intelligibility; it never surprises you with a sudden change of speed, or gives up its sensitivity or heft under load. The suspension tune feels equally honest and dependable. 

With the dampers operating normally, there is the compliance to ride motorways, urban roads and sunken cross-country routes more consummately than most would expect of a true sports car. It comes with a hint of body roll, and also that gentle, gathering body heave as your speeds rise over undulating surfaces, a trait that has become Jaguar’s enduring dynamic hallmark: ‘the breathe’. 

The magic trick continues to be Jaguar’s ability to apparently tune out the normal undesirable bedfellows of that compliance. Even without Dynamic mode engaged, the F-Type delivers outstanding directional precision and stability and perfectly balanced all-corner grip.

Pull that chequered flag toggle and about 50 percent of the car’s suppleness instantly turns into added body and wheel control, and with it comes slightly sharper, cleaner steering response. 

It’s enough to take a B-road apart with what could be considered socially unacceptable gusto; enough to work your way up to about an eight-tenths effort level on track without wishing for more grip or composure. But it’s never enough to introduce Germanic levels of harshness or aggression into the ride or undermine the car’s touring calm.

The truth is that there are other sports cars that offer a closer relationship with the road surface, as well as higher levels of lateral grip. There are more effervescent, involving handling thrills to be found elsewhere, too. But not by a margin large enough to be even distantly aware of while you’re under the F-Type’s powerful dynamic spell.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Jaguar F-type

An entry-level Jaguar F-Type V6 will set you back more than £56,000 – over £4k more than a Porsche 718 Boxster S with a PDK gearbox. The R starts at over £95,000. For the test car we sampled, swaddled in extras, the price tag buoyed to more than £101,000 – only pocket change shy of an Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster.

The eight-cylinder car, with its balletic flamboyance and aural provocation, arguably sidesteps some of the usual financial comparisons because it is so dramatically singular that sufficiently deep-pocketed buyers (not inhibited by its 259g/km CO2 emissions, nor its 25.5mpg official average) will simply reckon it essential. Early interest in the model suggests that much may well be true. 

If you can only conceive of buying the R, the ‘switchable’ active exhaust is a joy to behold

For those making a once-in-a-decade purchase, the waters are muddier. The V6 S represents the range sweet spot at £69,250, handily undercutting the Porsche 911 cabriolet’s price and outgunning the Boxster in a straight line. It also retains the V8’s adaptive suspension and adds a mechanical limited-slip diff, 19-inch wheels, cruise control and the option of the all-important active exhaust. 

The promise of an emissions cut to 213g/km and improved economy (31mpg on the combined cycle) will attract those digging deep into their savings, particularly as it virtually matches the figures produced by a Porsche 718 Boxster S.

The more parsimonious would-be buyer will be attracted by the entry-level F-Type V6. But truth be told, after the £9000 saving on the screen price, running costs are virtually identical, with CO2 emissions and fuel economy improved only to the tune of 4g/km and 0.4mpg.

But in any case, the F-Type buying experience still requires a tick or two. Sat-nav and a DAB tuner may be standard across the range, yet other niceties - rain-sensing wipers, heated seats, wind deflector, heated windscreen and heated steering wheel - are all three-figure additions.

 

VERDICT

4 star Jaguar F-Type Convertible

At this point it’s worth remembering who is going to buy the Jaguar F-Type. Half of them will be sold in the US, which might explain why, when Jaguar set out to make “a sports car”, it bore more on-paper resemblance to a Mercedes-Benz SL than it did to a Porsche Porsche 911

In R form, the F-Type is a proper hot rod of a car. If you’re looking for incisiveness and back-road agility, look elsewhere. But if you want old-fashioned thrills, such as a surfeit of power over grip and a noise to die for, but delivered in a perfectly mannered package, a Jaguar dealer ought to be on your list of destinations. Just be aware what else is available for the same money.

The F-Type is a hugely desirable drop-top with entertaining handling, if a bit short on traction and usability

And when it comes to competition, it’s the V6 S that has the keenest rivals. Its £67,500 price tag is slap bang between a specced-up Porsche 718 Boxster S and a boggo 911. However strong the F-Type’s appeal is, in this configuration, it has its work cut out. Good news then that, like the R, it is a very different offering from the Zuffenhausen duo.

That leaves the entry-level V6. In some ways it is the sweetest in the range. It is certainly the least bombastic, and arguably the most balanced.

And here’s the thing: the F-Type may not represent what we’ve come to expect a sports car to be – it’s not the same size and weight, and it doesn’t have the same traction and response – but it has the noise and soul of a sports car, and the culture of a GT. There’s a lot to be said for that.

The real winner here is the customer, the one lucky enough to be in the market for a £56-£110,800 sports car; the sort of person who would previously have headed straight towards the nearest Porsche dealer. 

In one rather glorious movement, Jaguar has doubled if not trebled the options in this most exclusive of markets, and in the process produced one of the best sports cars of the modern era. No one could have asked for more than that.

 

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 Convertible 2013-2019 First drives