After much anticipation, we finally get our hands on the F-Type. So, does it live up to all the hype? Read on to find out.
We’ve been over this before. But it’s such a watershed moment in automotive history that it’s worth mentioning again. The Jaguar E-Type was introduced to stunned onlookers in March 1961 at the Geneva Motor Show by Sir William Lyons. It was so evocative a shape that Enzo Ferrari famously described it as the most beautiful car in the world.
Now, over fifty years later, the E-Type has a true successor – appropriately named, the F-Type. I found out first hand just what the F-Type has to live up to when I visited the Jaguar Museum at its spiritual home on Browns Lane in Coventry last year (search for Green Blood Experience at www.autox.com). That day will be etched in my memory forever, because I got the chance to drive not only two E-Types, but also a C-Type and an XK120 as well. A C-Type won Le Mans in 1951 and 1953 for God’s Sake!
But there’s another vivid memory that I have from last year – the first time I saw the F-Type in the flesh. Ian Callum, Jaguar’s head of design, was explaining the finer points of the F-Type’s form when he felt it would be a good idea to titillate our senses that little bit more. We stepped into the driveway of this modern country house that played host to the Jaguar event, and were given the opportunity to witness an F-Type quickly circle the driveway and disappear out of view once again. The folks at Jaguar certainly know how to build anticipation! Well, at the risk of sounding cliché, the F-Type really did look like rolling sculpture as the exhaust crackled, popped, and reverberated within the enclosed confines of the home. It was a sound that I just couldn’t get out of my head – until my chance to drive it finally arrived, that is!
We started from Pampalona, in the Basque region of Spain. Pampalona, of course, is famous for the Running of the Bulls. But, in this instance, it was a feral feline that was on the prowl.
The F-Type will be available with three engine options – a supercharged 3.0 litre V6 that produces 335 horses, a V6S that produces 374 horsepower, and the V8S with Jaguar’s monstrous 5.0 litre supercharged V8 producing 488 unrestrained thoroughbreds. We started out in the standard V6, but as I drove it down the road I was convinced that we were handed the wrong car. I was certain that the car I was driving was the V6S and not the V6 – because it felt a lot closer to 400 horsepower than 300.
But there’s a very good reason for that. You see, thanks to a full aluminium monocoque and body, the body shell of the F-Type weighs only 260 kilos. This is Jaguar’s 4th generation aluminium body structure, and they’ve gotten pretty good at it over the past decade. But Jaguar’s obsession with reducing weight goes beyond just the body shell. Even the carpets on the F-type are ‘light weight.’
However, what they’ve managed to achieve is a chassis that’s not only light, but also incredibly stiff and responsive as well. And the combination of the two means that the F-Type feels incredibly lively going down the road. But there’s something else that strikes you as well when you get into the F-Type. You see, even in the XKR-S, which is an intimidating machine in its own right, the initial reaction is that of a luxury tourer turned mean machine. Despite the racing buckets and unrelenting power, it’s so comfortable, and the steering is so light that it masks its true character until you really step on the loud pedal.
The F-Type, though, makes its intentions very clear right from the moment you step into the cabin. The cockpit cocoons the driver, there’s a massive grab handle for the passenger, you sit very low courtesy of a driving position that’s 20mm lower than any other Jag, and the steering actually requires a reasonable amount of effort at low speeds – with a variable ratio hydraulic steering rack that’s 10% quicker than any other Jag. From the very outset, it’s clear that the F-Type isn’t out to unduly pamper you. And that’s a very good sign. Last year, I fell in love with the XKR-S when I spent a week with one, but the steering just didn’t provide the kind of feedback that you need from a car as explosive as that.
In the F-Type that simply isn’t a concern. In fact, apart from the exhaust note, the highlight for me was the immediacy of the steering on this beautiful baby Jag. Every minute movement of your hands on the steering are transmitted down to the tarmac. You can make small adjustments mid-corner, and the F-Type responds perfectly each time. In fact, if there’s one word that stands out through the driving experience of the different variants its ‘tactile.’ The F-Type just feels tactile, and there’s no better compliment that you can pay to a sports car than that.
When we reached our first stop – the Navarra racetrack in Northern Spain – I got out and confirmed that this was, in fact, the V6 and not the V6S. But that wasn’t necessary because the V6S was lying primed and waiting – trackside. Navarra is a very technical circuit, wherein the first half of the lap is very fast – requiring you to carry a lot of speed through the corners – while the second half has a lot of hard braking zones and tight corners where the road falls away from you. So, it would prove to be a great test for F-Type.
You can feel the extra 40 horsepower in the V6S immediately. It accelerates to 100km/h in under 5 seconds, and a limited-slip rear differential ensures that all the power from its brand new supercharged V6 gets transmitted to the ground. The engineers claim an exact 50:50 weight distribution with driver and passenger onboard. The S models also get an adaptive dynamics system that controls body roll (of which there’s none to speak of) and body movement by adjusting damper rates up to 500 times a second no less.
Another hint that this is a proper driver’s car comes when you explore the options in the Configurable Dynamics menus, which allows you to adjust settings for the engine, transmission (a ZF 8-speed that is phenomenally responsive), steering, and suspension, as well as examine a G-meter or throttle and brake pressure graph if you like. On another note, I’m very glad they left all of this high-tech wizardry within the touch-screen on the center console, and gave the driver two extremely clear gauges (especially the tach) on the instrument cluster.
We got only four laps on the circuit, but they were enough to confirm the F-Type’s sporting credentials. And this was revalidated on the drive in the V6S back to Pamplona through some epic driving roads in the Spanish hills. To make things more exciting, it had rained up in the mountains as well. Naturally, then, I turned off the traction control (which you can disengage fully, thankfully) and went for it – much to the trepidation of my co-passenger. Let’s just say that the F-Type isn’t hard to get sideways, even on tight and twisty mountain roads. And if the combination of a great chassis, delicate steering, and impeccable drivetrain wasn’t enough, the exhaust was on hand to add further drama.
Pressing the innocuous active exhaust button on the center console is like activating a 1,000W high-end amplifier. The tone of the exhaust goes from being melodious, but unobtrusive, to all encompassing and brutal. On the overrun, the V6S sounds decidedly like the V8 powered XKR-S – and that’s a good thing. The sound of the exhaust would bellow from the centrally mounted dual pipes on the V6S, then proceed to bounce of the mountainside and come right back at you once again – as if the first time wasn’t memorable enough. Lets just say that it was pretty special.
The following day we got the chance to pilot the V8S in all the glory of its 5.0 litre supercharged V8 and electronic rear differential – propelling this crazy cat to 100km/h in just over 4 seconds. Whereas the V6S requires you to stay in the power-band and keep the revs up if you want explosive power, the V8 simply offers mind-numbing bursts of acceleration on-demand – it’s more a muscle car masked in the body of a sports car, rather than a modern reinterpretation of the E-type. Frankly, I preferred having to work the V6S a little to access full power. It offered a more involving experience. Plus, I prefer the trumpet exhausts on the V6 that hark back to the original E-Type – versus the quad exhaust layout of the V8. I think the centrally mounted pipes go better with the sleek tail lamps on the F-Type, which are also reminiscent of the E – with its trademark rear lamps that form a (then futuristic, now familiar) ‘horizontal line with a roundel.’
Frankly, my choice would be the V6S for the road, and the V8S (the two models that are coming to India) for the track. Hey, it’s my fantasy garage – who says I can’t have both?
Problems – well, there’s one. You see, the E-Type earned legendary status because it was reasonably affordable in the 60’s. Really, it was a steal for the kind of performance it offered. The F-Type, on the other hand, is priced directly against the exotica with which it aims to compete – the Porsche 911, Audi R8, and Aston Martin Vantage. Can it compete on equal terms? Absolutely. But, it would have been nice if this kind of performance and style were a little more accessible. I think Sir William Lyons would have preferred that.
To view the F-Type in action check out the link below: