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Now we’ve driven the F-Type, we know that it’s a
proper sports car all right. It’s fast, lithe, quick to turn. It’s beautiful
and wonderfully desirable, and to heck if that means it isn’t very
practical. It’s loud and sharp. Which is just what Jaguar promised throughout
the endless F-Type preamble. It also doesn’t mind coming across as a little
bit scary. We didn’t quite expect that.
In other words, if old men are looking for a new
Jaaaaaag to convey them to the golf club, this definitely isn’t it.
So here we are, one of the most talked-about
cars of the year. Top Gear has driven all three versions for thousands of miles
in everything from snow to rain to warm sunshine, city to motorway to this
country’s most wonderful and epic roads.
It doesn’t feel like a ‘baby roadster’. But then
it isn’t one. It’s wide and stocky. The track width is actually even more
than an XK’s, even though the wheelbase is a lot shorter and there are no back
seats. It’s not light, either, despite the aluminium body. It weighs
1600kg in base trim, which is 10 percent more than a base 911 cabrio, which
you’ll remember is a 2+2.
Still, there’s proper power to shove it along.
The ‘poverty’ model has a 340bhp supercharged V6. It’s a new engine,
launched recently to waft Jag’s saloons gently through LA and Beijing. Here,
wafting is neither its job description nor its natural disposition. One
rung up is a 380bhp version of the same engine. Finally, and pretty ruddy
bonkers it is too, is a 495bhp supercharged V8.
The 0-62s go like this: V6 is 5.3 seconds, V6S
in 4.9. They both have similar mid-range torque, but the S keeps
pulling to the red-line with more vim, though the difference isn’t subjectively
very big because the V6S has longer gearing. They both have strength and
character, and they both answer your throttle requests smartly. They’re sharper
and more reactive than turbo motors, if not quite as exactly precise to the
throttle the best competing NA engines. You know who I mean.
The V8 F-Type is up there in supercar territory.
It’s limited by traction, but even so gets to 62mph in 4.3 seconds. On the
road, it comes up with instant and savage kick right around the rev
dial. You need a very long straight and a lot of confidence in your
rear-tyre traction before you give it the full beans. But when you do, the
crazy-ass acceleration and barking exhaust will carve deep chunks out of your
consciousness. Its power is a buzz, its exhaust is V8th deadly sin.
All F-Types have an eight-speed autobox. In
normal auto mode, the shifts are a bit blurry and slow. They’re designed for
slurring around town, and on light throttle the car does that, moving quietly
and elastically like a Jaaag. But out of town, that isn’t what we want
The answer is to move the car’s Jekyll-and-Hyde
switch to Dynamic mode, or better yet to shift with the paddles. Then the
torque converter stays locked up and they fire through instantaneously, like
The V6S and V8 have a standard exhaust with
variable baffles in it. Once the rev needle is half-way round the dial, they open
up and the exhaust turns to a blood-curdling blare on full throttle. On the
over-run it crackles and pops like a hot-rod. These pipes give this
thoroughly modern injected supercharged V6 a sonic character that’s
spookily reminiscent of an old-school straight-six on SU carbs. In other
words, of an E-Type. Coincidence? Hardly.
The near-parody bellowing and exploding from the
tailpipes shows how much Jaguar aches for the F-Type to be taken as a
sports car. So too with the way it goes round corners. There’s no grand-touring
softness here. Turn the wheel and bam, the front end darts into an arc.
No initial understeer at all. It takes a while to get used to the
quickness of the steering, but in the end you find it’s progressive and smooth. It
takes even longer to be confident about the tyres’ remaining grip.
Because there’s no understeer, you seldom feel much information through the steering
wheel. Instead it puts its weight straight onto the outside rear tyre.
Which makes it feel responsive, or nervy, depending on your
confidence and your trust in how slippery it is out there.
Not to worry, there’s ESP and all that. But if
you’re turning it off, remember the F-Type is set up for quick-witted
drivers. On the road I left the ESP on, always. It seldom intruded. That way
the car can be hustled quickly into a bend, then scurry out of it with
an addictive sense of purpose.
So the suspension feels firm in smooth corners.
But when the road gets bumpy and cambered – in other words, when it gets
British – this British car really starts to shine. The suspension keeps its stiff
upper lip. There’s no disturbance to your path, no turbulence, little
unseemly float. It’s even better with the adaptive dampers (standard on
the V6S and V8, optional on the base car). They cancel out the float, but
allow a marginally sweeter ride over small sharp high-frequency intrusions.
It’s a car that you drive with rhythm. You can
carve neat, precise lines, using the torque and the precision in the engine
and chassis. Best to keep within its high limits. That way it’s hugely
capable and enjoyable, and yes, a sports car.
It bathes you in other fine sensations apart
from the g-loadings of go-stop-steer and the engine’s boomtastic sonic
playlist. I drove with the roof down nearly all the time, because the
cockpit aerodynamics are terrific. There’s little turbulence with the
windows up and wind deflector in place, and the heater’s strong. For a time I
was proceeding up a motorway in the sleet and I felt OK. Sure, everyone else
on the road must have thought I was either an odious show-off or had a broken roof, but it proved the point.
The cockpit is comfy, too. And it looks and
feels special. Almost all the controls and switches are bespoke to the car,
and their quality, and of all the furniture, is up to the mark.
So it might not corner like a soft GT, but it
can fall into that role, as Top Gear’s long journeys in it proved. When you
back off, the engine gets quiet, the ride and refinement are more than OK.
But this leads us to one of its great failings. You’d have to be rigorously
careful what you took on that long trip, for the boot is ridiculously
mean. Such I guess was the challenge of fitting in that loud exhaust pipe,
a complex rear suspension and a decent fuel tank in the curtailed rear.
While all the while keeping that achingly gorgeous low and sharp back-end
Certainly, it doesn’t have the packaging
practicality of that great use-everyday sports car, the Porsche 911. But
the 911 has obviously been the target for the way the F-Type goes. The German
car and the British steer differently, take bumpy roads differently, sound
and look night-and-day different. This is Jaguar’s first true
sports-car for decades: the people of Stuttgart have been honing theirs non-stop for
50 years. But it’s a measure of Jaguar’s achievement that unless I’d driven
the two back-to-back I wouldn’t be sure which I’d like more.
Still, at Top Gear Magazine, we’ve done that,
and more. And the new issue is out on April 24.
You’ll find the answer there. Anyone care to have a guess at our conclusion
below before we go on sale?