Sir William Lyons would be pleased, but likely perplexed at the same time with the arrival of the 2014 F-Type roadster. Under his reign, Jaguar's founder oversaw the creation of numerous sports machines, culminating with E-Type (marketed as the XKE on our shores), regarded as one of the most spectacularly gorgeous cars ever produced.
The two-place E-Type convertible and its hatchback sibling went on sale in 1961 and enjoyed a 10-year run. Now, four decades later and 28 years since Sir William's death, the British automaker's current minder, India's Tata Group, has signed off on a fresh roadster.
Anyone expecting an E-Type renaissance might be disappointed, but Jaguar's stylists have configured a handsome piece that blends elements of BMW's Z4, Maserati Cabrio and Mercedes-Benz SL-class convertibles. The result isn't E-Type sleek, but its shape is more purposeful, in a Teutonic sort of way. There's even a Euro-style active rear spoiler of a type pioneered by Porsche and Mercedes-Benz (and others) that deploys once the F-Type has reached 60 mph, then retracts once the roadster's speed drops below 40.
The only real excess is a pair of bulging rear fenders that taper into the rear deck fitted with eye-slit taillights.
When the weather turns bad, the F-Type's cloth top returns to its latched and locked position in 12 seconds while the vehicle is traveling up to 30 mph, which of course means you don't have to completely come to a stop in the middle of traffic, in the middle of a downpour.
The F-Type's interior is also a clean-scape design dominated by highly legible speedometer/tachometer dials and a trio of rotary knobs that operates the climate control system. One neat trick is a set of air vents atop the multi-function touch-screen infotainment unit that pop up when manually activated or whenever the automatic climate system calls for additional heating or cooling. Finally, the shapely F-Types seats are based on those installed in the high-performance (and larger) Jaguar XKR-S model and actually don't require the car's occupants to be overly svelte to squeeze between the bolsters.
Pushing the start button fires up one of three engines. Base F-Types are fitted with a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 (a derivative of Jaguar's 5.0-liter V8 and an engine that's also used in the XJ and XF sedans) that makes a respectable 340 horsepower. According to Jaguar, it will push the F-Type to 60 mph in a quick 5.1 seconds. The F-Type S gets a 380-horsepower version of 3.0 that cuts that time to 4.8 seconds. The real performance cat is the F-Type V8S with its supercharged 5.0-liter V8 that delivers 495 horsepower and can reel off zero-to-60-mph sprints in a mere 4.2 seconds.
Each powerplant is fitted with an eight-speed automatic transmission that operates with a stubby pistol-grip console-mounted shifter or by the steering-wheel-located paddles. The transmission also signals the engine to "blip" the throttle (called rev matching) for smoother transitions between gears when downshifting. There are rumors that a six-speed manual gearbox is not far off, but so far Jaguar is mum on the subject.
Jaguar has always declared war on power-robbing weight and consequently makes extensive use of aluminum in the F-Type's construction, including the front and rear suspension. The basic body shell alone tips the scales at a mere 574 pounds and the entire car keeps the base poundage to about the 3,500 mark.
Knowing that sports-car owners love those seductive under-hood sounds, Jaguar offers an optional active exhaust system that increases the volume as the revs increase. and directs the melody into the cabin for all to hear.
F-Type pricing starts at $70,000 for the base V6 and spikes into mid-$90,000 territory for the V8S. At that point, the roadster trips over the base price of Jaguar's 385-horsepower XK convertible with its larger cockpit.
Ultimately it will be the F-Type's playful demeanor and exceptional performance that will win over sports-car lovers, features that Sir William Lyons would likely have whole-heartedly endorsed.
What you should know: 2014 Jaguar F-Type
Type: Two-door, rear-wheel-drive convertible
Engines (hp): 3.0-liter DOHC V6, supercharged (340-380); 5.0-liter DOHC V8, supercharged (495).
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
Market position: The new F-Type is Jaguar's least expensive sports model and for that reason will likely attract plenty of attention. It also has the potential of stealing sales away from its pricier XK sibling.
Points: Styling direction is a major departure for Jaguar; Powerful engine choices, especially a V8 that, pricewise, undercuts more expensive high-performance roadsters; Most buyers in this league won't miss a manual transmission; Coupe version rumored to be in the pipeline; F-Type destined to become a top-seller for Jaguar.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 21/30 (base V6);
Base price (incl. destination) $70,000
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