Jaguar F-TYPE Review: A Sports Car Better Than Porsche?
The refined yet thrilling new ride may just be the best way to spend $100,000 on a sports car today
WE OWE EVERYTHING to Dr. Ing. h.c. Ferdinand Porsche. The 911 Carrera is justly regarded as the greatest sports car of all time, a fantastically well rounded, tasteful and luxurious automobile, a flawless Olympian that just keeps getting better and faster every four years. It is the standard, the reference. Mad respect for Weissach.
But. If I wanted to drop $100,000 on a sports car today, it’d have to be the Jag. That’s what we in journalism call the nut graf.
The Jag is the new Jaguar F-TYPE—I like mine with the big V8, thank you—and it is thrilling. It’s also a huge surprise. Personally, I didn’t think Jaguar was prepared to go this deep into sports-performance territory with this car, which looks the part of a merely gorgeous, superbly upholstered grand tourer (the ragtop version hit the U.S. market in May, with the coupe likely arriving by year’s end; base engine is an also-formidable 3.0-liter supercharged V6, with either 340 or 380 hp.)
The V8 roadster with the Sport package, the V8 S ($92,000 MSRP), our test car, is essentially a factory tuner: lower, on bigger tires, and brakes with the stopping power of death rays.
If you flip the right switches, the V8 S transforms into something quite belligerent and intense, a British aristocrat well off his meds: The steering grows keen and twitchy, the adaptive suspension gets stingy, the throttle antsy, the torque-vectoring differential goes to work and pretty soon all four tires are chirping and squeaking madly around canyon hairpins. At this point, m’lord is hauling the royal mail.
And raising a royal ruckus, thanks to the Jag’s woolly exhaust note, for which it will live in noise-ordinance infamy. For some years now, Jaguar has been experimenting with engine and exhaust sounds, tuning their cars’ exhaust systems almost musically, using a variety of actuated drums, cockpit-selectable bypass valves and silencers to evoke what they hope will be a brand-specific aural experience: deep, restrained, resonant notes at low rpm and bright, emotional notes at high rpm. Growl and purr, if you like.
With the F-TYPE V8 S, rabies has set in. If the car’s active sport exhaust is set to "Dynamic Mode"—which it will be, if you possess any red blood cells at all—the F-TYPE just bellows with feral, straight-pipe aggression right out of the Junior Johnson hymnal. On throttle, the supercharger’s whine plays over the exhaust’s whacking, resonant staccato. Off-throttle, rolling into a corner, the car’s quad exhausts ignite in waves of snapping overrun, like firecrackers in an oil drum.
And now we have the answer to the question: What would my British luxury convertible sound like if it were entered in the B-main at Eldora?
Not sitting in one right now? Poor thing. Here are some factoids to tide you over: Our test car was the F-TYPE with a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 (495 hp and 460 pound-feet of torque) mounted front-midships in the all-aluminum monocoque chassis and buttoned to an absolutely stellar eight-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters, a transmission that could vary in demeanor from syrupy smooth to taut as a strained leash, again depending on throttle delta and where the switches are set. The same is true of F-TYPE’s torque-vectoring/limited-slip rear differential, which will allow you to dial up the tire smoke at will. You can also turn traction control off, but I didn’t, and you shouldn’t. You could smokescreen a bank robbery with this car
The F-TYPE is a new product for Jaguar, and in some respects, a new business. Jag has lately made some very fast big cars—XJ, XK, XF—but a proper compact sports coupe/convertible, a la 911? Not since the days of polio. Let’s stop the clock at the Jaguar XK150, circa 1961. Interestingly, the F-TYPE is 176 inches long, within an inch of the XK150, but more than a foot wider.
The F-TYPE is a beaut, all right. The design of the front third of the car was heavily constrained by factors such as the size of the V8 engine; hood height driven by pedestrian safety requirements; ventilation and cooling requirements; and accommodating Jaguar’s grille design, the down-the-road graphic. Straight on, the F-TYPE looks like pure appetite, or the world’s angriest Pokémon.
It’s the flanks that make this car. Note the sucked-in contour at the lower door ahead of the rear wheel arch; note also the eye-fooling black rocker panels (the panels under the doors) that helps control spray and manage underbody aero without compromising that athletic waist. Note the edged-blade fineness of the rear fenders and decklid. The glowering taillamps, the chrome quad tailpipes. Hello, Bishop.
The cabin is a parade of right choices: The interior is sober and coolly modern, with LED-illuminated instrumentation and grace notes of materiality, such as the nubbed-rubber-and-aluminum toggles for the climate control or the bronze-like "Ignis" metal on the start button, the shifter paddles and the dynamics switch. The leather sports seats, the same as in the XKR-S, are terrific. The F-TYPE’s signature bit of drama is its powered climate vent that rises from the smooth slope of the upper dash. Too cool for school.
Some official numbers for the F-TYPE V8 S Roadster: 3,671 pounds (about 300 pounds more than the comparable Porsche 911 S Cabriolet); 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds; 186 mph top speed. Those last three metrics are practically identical to those of the Porsche. Length, width, height are within fractions of the Porsche’s.
Stuttgart, knock knock. Candygram.
At this point I’d ask the general reader to stand aside and let the nerds have the floor while I answer the question, How’s it handle? Well, again, depending on where the dynamics switches are set. There’s the one big go-fast switch in the gearshift console, or you can use the 5-inch touch-screen interface to dial in steering, suspension and powertrain parameters individually, though why?
Theoretically, being a front-engine car, the F-TYPE should be slower to rotate in a corner than the rear-engine 911, due to F-TYPE’s distribution of mass and lower polar moment. Translation: The rear-engined car should be more nimble, more lively.
I suppose if we were to look at the telemetry for both cars around a racetrack, that might prove true, but the effect would be minimal. Modern suspension kinematics and tire design almost entirely neutralize the penalties of either front- or rear-engine layout.
In any event, the F-TYPE feels like it can match the 911 step for step. The front-end bites hard, the suspension composes itself instantly after initial turn-in, and the car puts a shoulder down. Midcorner, with the throttle held steady and the steering cranked, on the 20-inch Cyclone wheels and sport tires, the F-TYPE just rips and spits incandescently.
So Jag has built a car that satisfies our most refined aesthetic senses while manipulating the lowest regions of the lizard-y male mind. I feel so used.
And yet, I’m somehow OK with that.
Base price: $92,000
Price, as tested: $104,770
Powertrain: Supercharged 5.0-liter DOHC, 32-valve V8 with variable valve timing; eight-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode; rear-wheel drive with torque-vectoring limited-slip rear differential.
Horsepower/torque: 495 hp at 6,500 rpm/460 lb-ft at 2,500-5,500 rpm