Oh it’s a laugh, alright. The course Jag had set up for us was a tiny, narrow affair round the back of its Fen End engineering centre. Not a proper rally stage by any means, and not fast, but varied and technical enough to get a sense of the F-Type’s ways.
The rollcage means it’s like climbing into a coupe, because you have to duck your helmeted head under metal tubing thick and hard enough to support the weight of the entire car. But once you’re buckled into the race seat, it’s all very F-Type. F-Type steering wheel, dashboard, centre console, gear-lever… There are clues you’re in something a bit different, though. The hydraulic handbrake lever, for example, and the small array of buttons just behind the gear lever, which let you turn on the light pod, arm the fire extinguishers and so-on. Then there’s the little screen between the dials, which is constantly cycling through error codes brought on by all the modifications. The car’s computer is plainly having a meltdown of fairly epic proportions.
Yet it starts on the button, and slots into drive in the normal way. Like a normal F-Type.
The first bit of the course is tarmac, albeit slick with mud. There isn’t much grip, even with those knobbly tyres, and the F-Type slews away from the start line. The first thing you notice is the noise, which is loud and purposeful if not especially sweet. Meanwhile the pops and bangs on the overrun are a whole new level of outrageous.
Then comes the ride, which is remarkable. It’s soft yet composed, with the kind of compliance and control you only find in cars with thousands of pounds worth of competition-grade suspension. It reminds me a bit of our old off-road spec Ariel Nomad in the way it handles divots and potholes, though it doesn’t have that kind of suspension travel. Whatever you throw at it, the springs and dampers lap it up. In an F-Type this is most incongruous.
There’s roll when you turn in, and dive when you brake - it makes the car feel quite old school. The way it slides is as benign as I’ve ever experienced, too. It’s a bit like driving on ice - where the throttle is used as much for steering as it is for accelerating, and it feels like you have all the time in the world to react. Where you exit every corner with a load of opposite lock, lots of noise and a massive smile on your face. Sideways feels like the most natural way to drive it, in classic RWD rally car fashion, exploiting the F-Type’s inherent balance and poise along with that mechanical LSD.
This is masses of fun going relatively slowly for a rank amateur like me. But in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, and on a proper rally stage, that friendliness and the F-Type’s inherent balance must translate into serious speed.
Jag just built the F-Type rally car for a bit of fun. And it certainly is that. Fingers crossed it doesn’t spend its life gathering dust in a warehouse, but out in a forest somewhere. Getting dirty.