First Drives

17 April 2013

TopGear drives the Jaguar F-Type

Paul Horrell reports from Scotland’s finest roads on Jag's first proper sports car in decades…

Paul Horrell
Car image

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. TopGear 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 0-100s 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 100kph 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 is it?

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 DSG shifts.

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 TopGear'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 style.

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.

Tags: jaguar, f type



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