If you’re like me – and our demographics suggests you are – you’ve probably never seen a new Jaguar sportscar at your local showroom. I’m 36, and it hasn’t happened in my lifetime… and not by a little bit. Oh, there have been a string of XK coupes and convertibles, and as of late, there have even been some genuine high-performance specials – namely the R, R-S and R-S GT models – but their basis has always been the 2+2 grand tourer shell, not a lighter and smaller footprint with more intrinsic sporting intent. The truth is that it’s been a half-century since Jaguar introduced a proper new sportscar. Today, most people know the brand strictly as a purveyor of wood- and hide-lined luxury sedans.
In fact, if you’re not an enthusiast with some appreciation for the marque’s history, it’s a bit odd to hear Jaguar executives proclaim that they are a sportscar company and always have been. By their reckoning, the 2014 F-TYPE seen here is in fact a return to form, a Rip Van Winkled brand pillar reanimated and reimagined to take center stage. It’s a sentiment that must be particularly odd for car shoppers in developing markets like China, where Jaguar hasn’t even been selling cars for very long. Yet because the original 1961 E-Type is perhaps the most gorgeous car ever to lay ply on the world’s roads, we’re prepared to cut them some slack.
Given a desire to project its lengthy and distinguished (if distant) sportscar history into the present, we couldn’t really have blamed Jaguar if they decided to just update the E-Type’s visuals and pull what’s underneath into modernity, à la Ford GT. (In fact, there’s already a well-respected British outfit, Eagle, commanding big dollars for doing largely the same thing). There’s also a middle ‘homage’ path – think 1956 BMW 507 begets 2000 Z8 roadster. Yet Jaguar hasn’t taken the easy way out and created a doppelganger or even a historical pastiche. Yes, if you look hard enough, you’ll find subtle nods to the E-Type, but they aren’t immediately obvious. In fact, Jaguar has embarked on nothing short of a radical design overhaul of its entire lineup over the last half-decade or so (beginning with 2008’s XF sedan) in an effort to upend its image as traditional luxury transport for the world’s elderly elite.
In the metal, the F-TYPE is nothing short of stunning. That’s particularly impressive in light of something Jaguar design boss Ian Callum confided to us: Droptops are a lot more challenging to work out than their fixed-head counterparts. "Convertibles are inherently more difficult to give drama… it’s basically a straight line with a hole in it." Despite the tougher design brief, our time crawling around each variant (V6, V6 S, and V8 S), along with countless admiring looks on our drive through the Northern Spanish countryside, suggests that Jaguar has more than nailed it.
The F-TYPE’s face is dominated by a pair of vertically oriented bi-xenon headlamps (Easter Egg: their chromed innards were influenced by the Star Wars Tie Fighter – the result is far less hokey than it sounds) along with a large, rectangular grille opening with softened corners bookended by a set of aggressive air intakes. Callum says the design team originally penned the car with an oval grille like that of the original E-Type, "but it looked old," so they started over.
There’s no confusing the F-TYPE’s profile for anything other than a modern car, despite its classic long-hood, short rear deck proportions. The clamshell hood’s lower shutline is made clear by a blade-shaped air inlet with a subtle crease that extends into the doors. Side mirrors that stand proud of the steeply raked windshield are small and graceful, propped up on stanchions with integrated turn signal repeaters. The doors themselves have a lot of surface interest thanks to their deeply barreled form and a rising character line that sets the stage for the swollen rear fenders. Hidden door handles even spring to life when you push a recessed button. Trick, but annoyingly, they don’t retract and lock the doors when you push the button again – you have to use the key fob.
The tail section is arguably the F-TYPE’s best and most distinctive design attribute, with a low, tapered shape accented by a narrow band of taillamps that subtly recall those of the E-Type. Unusually, the latter feature places more lens on the side of the car than facing rearward. Aerodynamicists will tell you that artfully pointed tails like this may look great, but they wreak havoc with a car’s high-speed stability, so the F-TYPE features a deployable active rear wing that keeps the rump’s lines unspoiled. Overall, you really have to look underhood to find a missed opportunity design-wise. The engine bay is sadly nondescript, with the powerplant covered in a massive black shroud.
The F-TYPE’s interior is essentially a clean-sheet proposition, with an appropriately driver-centric focus. You sit low, with the doorsills up around your shoulder (but not too much) and the windshield header isn’t intrusive whether the top is open or closed. Straight ahead is a three-spoke wheel with a small airbag and simpler button array than on other Jaguars. Available with both heat and a grippy faux suede finish, it’s just the right thickness. A pair of wheel-mounted paddle shifters also peek out from behind the helm on all models. That’s right, there’s no manual gearbox available, only a ZF eight-speed automatic. Stifle your guffaws for a moment – we’ll get to the transmission situation momentarily.
One might have expected Jaguar to go with a fully digital, TFT-based gauge package – after all, its other new models have been eschewing physical analog gauges for digital representations on an in-cluster screen. But this car is stuck with two oversized analog dials – a speedometer on the left and a tachometer on the right. While digital gauges are neat and reconfigurable, if Jaguar’s aim was to create a more classically sporting roadster experience, they made the right choice. When additional information is called for, there’s still a small screen between the gauges to provide details like mileage and navigation instructions. Notably, there’s no wood to be found in the whole of the interior – instead, you’ll find more technical finishes like aluminum and stainless steel.
Also filed under the "right choice" column are the F-TYPE’s seats. Even the standard chairs offer real support, with fixed headrests that snug up to the back of one’s belfry. Both the headrests and the deep seating position (20 millimeters lower than the XKR-S) telegraph the car’s sporting intent – no lazy postures here. Performance seats are also available on all models, featuring more aggressive bolstering (particularly around the shoulders) and slots for five-point harnesses, and all are electrically adjustable.
Jaguar’s cabins are not without theater these days – the XF’s rolling motorized air vents, for instance. The F-TYPE carries on that tradition with active center air vents that emerge from atop the center stack when the climate control system’s brain deems it necessary, disappearing when parked or when the system doesn’t need them to maintain the correct temperature. Callum says the vents were critical to maintaining the sports-car-correct low dashboard, but they still strike us as a bit of well-meaning hokum. When deployed, the vents really don’t add much visual height and the motorized assembly adds weight, complexity and cost for what amounts to a party trick. We like the simple three-dial temperature control knob array better, with their clever integrated displays and seat heater operations. The latter keep usage of the touchscreen infotainment system to a minimum, which is a bonus, because it’s the same dim-witted Denso system that causes headaches in other Jaguars.
We also like the new console-mounted e-shift controller quite a bit. It’s more intuitive to use than some others we’ve seen (BMW, we’re looking in your direction), and it’s more appropriate for a sportscar than the rotary controller found in other Jaguars. We also appreciate the mechanical quality of the toggle switches below the climate controls and the JaguarDrive Control switch that governs Dynamic and Winter modes.
So, the F-TYPE looks great and has been a long time coming, but the true measure of a sportscar is what lies beneath. So what have we got? By the basics, an aluminum-chassis’d, front-engined, rear-wheel-drive two-seat roadster powered by a family of V6 and V8 engines. More specifically, we have a front-mid-engined two-seater with a fast-acting soft top (12 seconds up or down, even on the move up to 30 mph), available in three different trims – V6, V6 S, and V8 S. Because we’re the dedicated sort and figure you’d appreciate our hard work, we toughed it out and sampled all three variants on the mountain roads surrounding Pamplona, Spain, and on the region’s Circuito de Navarra roadcourse we first visited with the Bentley Continental GT V8.
Jaguar started our drive in the 3.0-liter V6 model, which features 340 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque and starts from $69,000. The engine is a tuned version of the supercharged V6 first shown in the 2013 XJ and XF sedans, and it’s a sweetheart. Even with the roof down, there’s barely a hint of supercharger whine, but the engine still sounds great on boil and pulls well after a few revs are built, delivering a 0-60 mph time of 5.1 seconds. That stomps the 265 horses and 5.5-second 0-60 of the Porsche Boxster, but is fractionally slower than the 315-hp Boxster S, which does the trick in 4.8 seconds. Still, that’s plenty quick for a base model, and top speed is a respectable 161 mph. Peak torque doesn’t come on until 3,500 rpm, so you still have to put your foot down a bit to awaken the Eaton twin-vortex supercharger, but driven in isolation, we don’t imagine many owners will be left wanting for more power.
The ZF eight-speed automatic does its best twin-clutch imitation, with quick, firm shifts under hard acceleration and a willingness to hold gears at redline when in Sport mode. It might give up a few hundredths in reaction time to something like Porsche’s PDK, but under most circumstances it’s hardly noticeable, and it offers more refined full automatic operation, particularly at low speeds. We only had a couple of occasions where the silicon chippery thought it was smarter than we were on paddleshift requests, and it was probably right. Good as it is, we’d still appreciate if Jaguar finds a way to put a manual gearbox option on the order sheet. It might be lower-tech and slower, but the added degree of interaction would be a welcome and appropriate choice for a full-range sportscar.
At the track, Jaguar wisely put us behind the wheel of the V6 S (pictured), which posts gains in horsepower (380) and torque (339) for your hard-won $81,000. More importantly, the 171-mph V6 S adds a lower final drive ratio (3.31:1 vs. 3.15:1), larger 15-inch brake rotors, a mechanical limited-slip differential, 19-inch alloys with Pirelli P Zero rubber (our photo car has optional 20s), active exhaust (optional on the base car) and perhaps most critically, Adaptive Dynamic Suspension, standard on the upper two trims.
The V6 S was a proper blast on the 15-turn, 2.44-mile circuit, with quick, accurate steering and a great big bellow of a soundtrack featuring plenty of rev-matched burble and pop on overrun, particularly with the center-mounted exhaust pipes opened up. The power and noise is only half the story, though – the car is beautifully balanced, with near-perfect weight distribution and the driver’s rump sitting on the axis. Better still, the suite of electronic nannies don’t slam the door on driving fun. Rather, they aid in getting comfortable with the car and the course and can be sent packing completely once the driver gains the necessary rapport. We weren’t on the circuit in long-enough stints to find brake fade, but we liked the pedal’s action just fine.
The entire package came together nicely on the region’s roads, too, which ranged from mountainous zigzag switchback ascents to gate-to-gate slaloming through rolling fields aglow with a yellow riot of rapeseed flowers. We were only ever aware of the F-TYPE’s substantial width (75.7 inches) during low-speed trundles through tightly packed medieval towns, but never did it feel vulnerable or ponderous.
After driving the V6 S on track and street, we honestly didn’t see much need for a more powerful engine option, but that’s exactly what we got the following day. The V8 S offers 495 horsepower and 460 pound-feet from its 5.0-liter supercharged V8, and peak torque comes in a thousand revs earlier than the V6s at 2,500 rpm. Jag quotes a 4.2-second 0-60 run, but it feels a bit quicker than that, and the mid-range acceleration on the open Autovia is positively savage. Top speed is listed at a thoroughly believable 186 mph, and the noise the V8’s outboard exhaust pipes make is even better than the V6s. Further uprated brakes haul the range-topper down from speed without drama, but we do wish the hydraulic steering system offered as much feel as some German competitors.
Speaking of which, to this point, we’ve drawn comparisons to the Porsche Boxster, but in both size and price, the F-TYPE lurks somewhere in the murky midwaters between the mid-engined roadster’s S model ($62,100) and the 911 Carrera Cabriolet ($96,200). This one-model-to-cover-two approach is either a brilliant masterstroke or a disaster in waiting; we won’t know until the F-TYPE has been on sale for a bit.
When comparing like-for-like, the F-TYPE is at once more powerful and much more generously equipped than either Porsche model, although cargo space is decidedly limited by comparison at a paltry seven cubic feet. And the Jaguar isn’t necessarily quicker, because it’s heavier. The entry-level F-TYPE weighs 3,521 pounds and the fire-breathing V8 S checks in at 3,671 pounds. By comparison, a Boxster S PDK weighs just 2,976 pounds and the 911 Cabrio PDK tips the scales at 3,241. Blame the F-TYPE’s extra width (it’s 4.5 inches wider than the 911) and the burden of all of that additional standard kit, from navigation to power seats to that dancing air vent. The truth is, While Porsche’s option sheets are more configurable, the F-TYPE’s equipment levels are probably indicative of how most buyers outfit their cars. Oh – and a word about fuel economy – no firm EPA figures have been provided yet, but Jaguar says the base car should net 28 miles per gallon on the highway, with the V6 S dropping to 27 mpg and the V8 S plunging to 23 mpg. Defeatable start/stop comes as standard fit and works reasonably well, but with power-drunk roadsters like these, such measures feel like window dressings.
Why so much talk of Porsche? Because Stuttgart’s offerings are the benchmarks in their respective segments, and their models are likely to be on the cross-shop table, as are other roadsters like the BMW Z4 sDrive35is, Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG, Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and even pricier outliers like the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. In fact, the F-TYPE still has enough refinement that we predict it will cannibalize some sales from the aging XK (the latter’s interior really isn’t much nicer and its vestigial rear seats aren’t good for much more than a briefcase). There’s actually a lot about the F-TYPE that still signals "GT" more than sportscar, particularly in base form.
We’ll need to drive it back-to-back with its competitors to make sense of it all, but we think this F-TYPE offers a deeply compelling cocktail of virtues – drop-dead looks, hellfire soundtrack, strong power, keen handling, and arguably, pretty good value. Plus it’s likely to be a comparative rarity to most of the motors above, an asset in and of itself for many buyers.
What we’d actually like to see is a more basic model based on the V6 S with equipment levels akin to what the Boxster starts off with – no nav, manual seats, and so on, with a price and curb weight reflective of the decontenting. Doing so would reinforce the F-TYPE’s credentials as a true sportscar and minimize its GT undertones. If that’s too much to ask of the roadster, we’d particularly like to see this strategy adopted with the eventual fixed-head coupe model that will be a bit harder-core by definition. The latter, by the way, is a model that Jaguar officials steadfastly refuse to confirm even as they can’t help but wink and flash a wry smile.
Yet even without the coupe, there’s real reason to celebrate here – we don’t often see new nameplates enter this segment, and fortunately, the F-TYPE is damned good. We’re enjoying a golden age of sorts for high-performance roadsters, just a couple of decades after the genre went all but extinct. Figuring out which one you want isn’t like picking an acupuncturist out of the phone book – there’s almost no risk, as there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. Each of the segment’s players offer compelling reasons to buy… but some of them, like this F-TYPE, offer a few more than most.