If I were asked to name one car company that places driver focus at its core and then delivers on that promise time and again, I’d have to say Jaguar.
And before the brickbats highlighting a supposed British bias rain in, I’d have to follow that up by saying that there are times when I think that this focus is very much to its detriment.
I once spoke to an ex-F1 driver who was fresh out of a Jaguar F-Type R, and even he was wide-eyed by the level of concentration needed to hang on. As a halo car the V8 F-type is an epic success, but for most people, most of the time, something from lower down the range will do the job just fine.
But for all that, I admire Jaguar’s dedication to the cause; plenty of car companies blow out plenty of hot air claiming to cater for driving enthusiasts, but very few follow it up with the engineering conviction that Jaguar has managed in recent years, not just with F-type but also with a wide variety of R and R-S branded products, plus the widening scope of its burgeoning SVR skunkworks division.
So you’ll understand the short, sharp intake of breath when they announced today that the 2016 model year Jaguar F-type will adopt an electrically assisted EPAS steering system.
For the upcoming Jaguar XE, a car for which emissions priorities outweigh the last word in steering prowess, such a system made sense. But when the F-type was launched two years ago Jaguar had publicly eschewed such technology, arguing that it couldn’t match the feel of a traditional hydraulic set-up.
The reasons for the shift are simple enough: electronic steering technology – and the understanding of how to integrate that technology – has moved so fast in the past two years that Jaguar’s position has changed. Its in-house team has been working in parallel with hydraulic and EPAS set-ups, and now reckons the former to have reached the peak of its potential, and the latter to have surpassed that point and still have more to come.
F-type project manager Russ Varney explains it simply enough: “EPAS systems are now more adaptive, capable and efficient. For instance, we can programme them to adapt to different ambient temperatures, so they are always consistent, and we can tune them to where we want them to be. For the F-type, the priorities are on-centre steering feel and linearity of response. The EPAS system eclipses the hydraulic set-up on both.”
Varney acknowledges that Jaguar is now following a path where some of its rivals have led, but argues that the delay has been justified. “We have constantly evaluated which path was best, and worked in-house to develop our understanding of EPAS possibilities and how best to integrate them,” he says. “For us, the right time to switch is now – before, it would have meant compromises.”
When a company as focused on pleasing driving enthusiasts says the time has come to drop hydraulically assisted steering from its flagship sports car, you simply have to sit up and take notice. The proof will come with our first chance to drive the newly equipped F-type, of course, but the feeling must be that today could mark the death-knell for hydraulic assistance.