What is it?
Jaguar’s new entry-level F-Type convertible is a fairly radical departure for the brand. Although Jaguar has been producing cars with four-cylinder engines since the launch of the X-Type diesel, this is the first time one of its sports cars has been sent into battle with such an apparent deficit of cylinders and capacity.
The new turbocharged 2.0-litre Ingenium petrol engine certainly isn’t short of firepower; Jaguar Land Rover’s chief engineer, Mike Cross, is keen to point out that the peak 296bhp is slightly higher than that of the XJ-S, made from a 5.3-litre V12 in the early 1990s.
Although it boasts improved economy and reduced emissions, the 2.0-litre F-Type’s main role is to give a cheaper entry point. The Coupé, which we have previously driven, slips under £50,000 in the unoptioned form that nobody will actually buy it in, but the convertible – sampled here in the UK for the first time – carries a £5485 supplement in basic form. Meaning that, despite some chunky price increases from Porsche, it is still £10,000 more than the similarly powerful Boxster 2.0-litre.
What's it like?
A drive on some of the same North Wales roads that the development team made extensive use of gives the entry-level F-Type a chance to shine. While the new engine can’t match the experience of the V6s or V8s fitted to pricier F-Types, its relative lack of power actually makes it easier to drive the car hard and is considerably less intimidating as the limits approach.
The brawnier F-Types are fast and thrilling, but they can really struggle to find traction in anything less than perfect conditions. The new 2.0-litre engine isn’t lacking torque, with the peak 295lb ft available from just 1500rpm, but this can be fully deployed with the chassis’s full indulgence and with none of the stability control intervention that the more powerful versions tend to experience in slower stuff. Indeed, the new engine can be pushed impressively hard with the stability in its more permissive Sport mode or even switched off without ever feeling wayward.
The engine isn’t a natural sports car powerplant, but Jaguar’s development team has hidden its foibles well. It isn’t particularly keen to rev, with little obvious point taking it past the 5500rpm at which peak power arrives. We noticed that the limiter, which you only find in Dynamic mode and with the gearbox under manual control, is set to 6750rpm in first and second, but 6500rpm in higher ratios. But the standard eight-speed ZF autobox does an excellent job of shifting slickly under direct control while working seamlessly to keep the engine in its broad mid-range when left in Drive or Sport mode. Cross says there are no plans to offer the four-cylinder with the manual gearbox that is a little-chosen option with the V6 engine.
The other obvious difference of the smaller powerplant comes through the mass it saves. On Jaguar’s numbers, it is 52kg lighter than the V6, with almost all of that weight shaved from the front end. The result is that the 2.0-litre feels markedly more agile in slower corners, more willing to turn in or to change direction and yet equally planted when asked to deal with the faster stuff. Ultimate grip levels are below those of the more powerful F-Types, but the 2.0-litre feels more exploitable and, for want of a better descriptor, more thrashable.
The four-cylinder’s entry-level status means it is only available with passive dampers and sits on slightly softer springs. It feels impressively pliant, but there’s also a small amount of float to be discerned over rougher surfaces. The feel and response of the steel brakes is excellent, and the direct steering remains one of the better-feeling electrically assisted systems.
Lowering the F-Type convertible’s fabric hood makes its lack of aural character more obvious. As with the 718 Boxster, it’s the most obvious penalty brought by downsizing. And although the 2.0-litre has a rorty exhaust note and even some ECU-ordered pops and bangs when the throttle is lifted with the exhaust in its louder mode, none of this masks what is still clearly a four-cylinder soundtrack - something that seems incongruous in a Jaguar sports car. The fact that it is the most substantive criticism indicates how convincing the rest of the car is.