Meet the F-Type, Jaguar's new two-seat roadster and the spiritual successor to Jag's classic E-Type. Powered by a trio of supercharged engines and priced in the $70-to-110K range, the F-Type has the makings of a future classic -- but does it deliver on the road? Read on.
First Glance: Judging a book by its cover
If forced to write my review of the Jaguar F-Type in one sentence -- though why anyone would force me to do that, I can't even imagine -- my sentence would be this: "I didn't know Jaguar had it in 'em."
Car companies have personalities, just like people, and after a while you know what to expect from their products From the F-Type, I expected understated beauty and overstated elegance with powerhouse engines and a chassis that would get all flustered if you suddenly stomped the accelerator to the floor. ("That's just not the done thing, my petal.")
Wrong on all counts.
Well, not quite on all counts. The F-Type is certainly understated in its appearance. A lot of my colleagues have waxed poetic about the styling, but I find it subtle, almost to the point of being underwhelming: Small, svelte, and distinctly British, which is the nicest way I can think of to say that it looks a bit like an Aston-Martin.
The F-Type is intended to be the successor to the E-Type of the 1960s and '70s, but nothing can compare to the old E with its gloriously long hood, tiny cabin bubble and pencil-thin roof pillars -- and with today's safety regulations, nothing new ever will. The E-Type was a breathtaking car then and now; the F-Type is pretty, but allows you to keep on breathing.
Turns out that appearances really can be deceiving.
In the Driver's Seat: Attention to detail revealed
Like the exterior, the interior seems a bit plain at first glance. The cabin is snug, but not cramped, with a big grab bar on the right edge of the center stack (link goes to photo) that bisects the interior into driver and passenger zones. The controls are fairly simple, with only a couple of ergonomic glitches: The stereo volume and air-direction controls are set miles away from where they ought to be. Oddly, Jaguar's rotary shifter is not in evidence; a BMW-like ratchet shifter takes its place.
Once you really start to take it all in, you realize that the attention to detail is amazing. Nearly every surface is wrapped in soft leather -- even the bits and pieces that occupants are unlikely to touch, those which always seem to be targets for the corporate accountants. ("Plastic there. No one will ever notice.") Few cars come through a good showroom poke-and-prod-fest with higher scores. In the struggle to provide ever more features while maintaining simplicity of controls, the F-Type comes out a winner; most secondary controls are accessed through touch screen, but a handful of neatly-placed buttons and dials put the most frequent requests right at your fingertips.
The seats are comfortable, visibility is excellent, and the only thing I can really complain about is the trunk, which is laughably small (7 cubic feet) and annoyingly flat. Yes, it will accommodate a suitcase -- provided you skip the optional space-saver spare tire, that is -- but a week's worth of groceries will most likely spill over into the passenger compartment.
On the Road: A Jaguar in sheep's clothing
Propriety demands that I give you the low-down on what's under the hood: A 340 hp 3-liter V6 in the base model, 380 hp version of same in the S model, and a 495 (!) hp 5-liter V8 in the V8 S, all supercharged and all driving the rear wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. But I'd rather use these fleeting few paragraphs to try to convey how the F-Type drives -- because that's what makes this car so magical.
Remember what I said I expected -- a car that would cite the rules of propriety if you dared to floor the pedal? That ain't the F-Type. This car is like a Miata that accidentally overdosed itself with gamma rays. It is very quick (unless you opt for the V8, in which case it is blindingly quick) and gloriously loud, the noise coming courtesy of an active exhaust with optional on/off switch. The V6 delivers its own unique noise -- a bit like the cry of tortured animal, but without the negative connotations -- while the V8's bellow is enough to make a Corvette ZR1 cower in fear.
But it's not all power and noise; the F-Type's suspension is pure wizardry. Driven gently, it seems to ooze down the road, delivering a firm, sporty ride but taking the edges off the sharpest bumps. Push a little harder and the F-Type seems to tighten its grip on the pavement, translating your merest directional whims into firm changes of course. Get it out on a track and it runs like a thoroughbred. My colleagues were partial to the V6 S, which has better balance due to its lighter weight, but I preferred the V8, which is faster and scarier and allowed me to feel as if I was probing the limits of my own mortality. The V8 has noticeably stronger brakes; nothing completes the illusion of a brush with death than suddenly dropping the anchor. And yet it really is an illusion, because this is an exceptionally forgiving car : No matter what you do -- or more specifically, what you do wrong -- the F-Type steadfastly refuses to bite the hand that drives it.