Jaguar F-Type is a rip-roaring sports car
Jaguar's last real sports car, the E- Type, was released in 1961. A two-door, two-seat coupe and convertible, it is often considered the sexiest car ever made. Fantasize about a Jag, and it's that low-slung hood and high hips that are sizzling in your mind.
The follow-up, the two-door, two-seat F-Type, has just gone on sale, a delay bordering on intransigence. It was high time for an E-Type for this era.
The new F-Type roadster isn't sex on wheels, but it is a rip-roaring sports car. The company knows it, too, setting up a test drive for auto journalists on a nasty racetrack with devastating altitude drops and brutish bends. Now that's confidence.
On my, say, 15th lap, I'd memorized the blind crests and hard braking points and learned to trust that the car was going to get me through them. Pushing the $92,000 F-Type hard, brake pads burning acrid smoke, I'd come to believe.
This rear-wheeled wild thing winds up to 100 miles per hour in a finger-snap. Flick your eyes to the digital speedometer and there's a three-digit number flashing back at you -- climbing (105), climbing (110), climbing (115!). On the racetrack, speed is only limited by good sense.
That super propellant is the result of the 5.0-liter, supercharged V-8, an engine which gives truth to the name "powerplant." Just shy of 500 horsepower, it's a raging, howling thing lodged in the nose. A steady stream of firecrackers sound off in the four tailpipes when you let up the accelerator suddenly, excess gas burning violently off.
Jaguar engineers wanted to give the F-Type personality, and the engine and exhaust notes are the most successful embodiments of that. This is a bad boy, just shy of rude, but certainly not mean.
The V-8 model should be nose heavy, but the chassis is sweetly tuned, the Pirelli tires grippy, and the power delivery potent but not ridiculous. Slipping through tight, tricky turns, the F-Type goes onto the balls of its feet, lighter than you'd expect, very nearly balletic.
The F-Type could have been a British version of the Mercedes-Benz SL convertible, a rich man's toy which isn't meant to be played with very hard. To its greatest credit, it is far, far better than that. Its agility is equally welcome on fast mountain roads.
This is not Jaguar's XJ executive sedan, so the ride doesn't handle you with kid gloves over rough pavement. It is comfortable enough around town, however, and the passing power on the highway is incredible. Take that, lane-hogging semi- truck!
Jaguar insists that the F-Type is competing with the Porsche 911, a car which is celebrating its 50th year and never stopped its evolutionary process. Reality check: This is wishful thinking on Jag's part. The 911 is a singular vehicle, having proved itself over decades of sports-car racing, an achievement not likely to be repeated by another car model.
One wonders what the E-Type would have looked and driven like if it had continued its own evolutionary process over an additional 40 years. While the F-Type is in excellent shape for a brand-new model, I'd still bet on driving a 911 Carrera S around that same track faster.
Pricewise, the company is making a smart move: The V-8 starts at $92,000. As driven with many options, mine came to $104,270. By comparison a 400-hp 911 S convertible without a single option starts around $111,000.
Jaguar also offers two V-6 models, the 340-hp F-Type ($69,000) and the supercharged 380-hp F-Type S ($81,000). The company says the U.S. will be the car's biggest market, and with the V-8 accounting for roughly half of initial sales.
The V-6 S, which I also drove, sounds quite good, is still quite fast, but I can say unequivocally that the V-8 is the model you'll most desire.
One can't help but wish it had even half the outrageous charisma of the E-Type. I've listened to Jaguar designers, including Jag's justly revered design director, Ian Callum, talk about its strong lines and profile. Yet there's no thunderclap, none of the visual bombast of the iconic E-Type.
The F-Type is handsome and playful, but ultimately it looks like a lot of other modern cars. It lacks that low-slung, visually arresting athleticism that bowls you over.
Other disappointments: The interior is playful, outfitted with toggle switches and clever lighting, but at a cost easily brushing $100,000, it isn't sumptuous. Also, there is no option for a manual transmission. This is a car that deserves one.
Flowing over a mountain pass, wind ripping through my hair, and trying to keep to a legal speed, I can forgive much of that. The F-Type is, without question, a very happy addition to the world's selection of choice, joyful cars.
It's about time.