F is for fierce: Jaguar F-Type S makes a big noise
Jaguar’s eagerly awaited new two-seater sports model has finally been unleashed, and it’s a wild ride
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2013
It feels like we’ve known about Jaguar’s all-new F-Type sports car for a long time now. In fact, the first use of the F-Type name – implying a successor to the E-Type, Jaguar’s greatest, genuinely iconic sports car – came on the cover of the UK’s Car magazine exactly 40 years ago. That’s how long we’ve been waiting for a smaller, two-seat Jaguar sports car, and various attempts to make one since then have been killed by recessions or changes in ownership.
The company has been teasing us with this one for two years now, starting with the C-X16 concept car. That was followed by the announcement at last year’s New York Motor Show that it would get the F-Type name, and by Jaguar’s “leaking” of spy shots of disguised F-Type prototypes, helpfully bearing the F-Type name down the side.
The production car was launched at a celebrity-studded party at the Musée Rodin the night before the Paris Motor Show last September. But it was only last week that The Irish Times was among the first publications to be given the keys to one, and allowed to find out how well the F-Type drives, and how it compares to that iconic E-Type.
The answer? Pretty well, in both cases, but the F-Type requires you to set aside most of what you think about how a Jaguar ought to feel and perform. Firstly, some context. The F-Type is not Jaguar’s Porsche Boxster. There are 340PS V6 and 380PS V6 S versions, and a 495PS V8S; the V6S will be the biggest seller at around half global volumes, and is similar in price to an entry-level Porsche 911: a great driver’s car but also a little more grown-up and aloof than in the past.
The F-Type is also close in price to Jaguar’s bigger, four-seat, V8-powered XK sports car; instead of a clear price gap between the two models, they overlap significantly.
These two factors together explain why Jaguar has made such a radical departure with the new F-Type: while most Jags have grace and pace, to distinguish it from its sibling and its rival, it has cast its new roadster as a rasping, snorting muscle car. This is apparent from the moment you push the starter button – the air vents rise up from the dash and the engine barks into life. The F-Type is very loud, valves opening in the exhaust at over 3,000rpm to produce maximum volume, and the whole system tuned to deliver a rifle-shot bang when you change up a gear and an angry pop and crackle when you lift off the throttle. The V8 in particular sounds like an unsilenced race car.
But the F-Type has the performance to back its loudness. The V6 and V6S are both too fast for modern roads, but the V8S is borderline berserk, reaching 100km/h in 4.3 seconds, needing just 2.5 seconds to leap from 80 to 120km/h and requiring an electronic limiter to hold it to its 300km/h top speed.
And the odd thing is that it feels faster still. The soundtrack helps, of course, as does the fact that Jaguar has engineered every millimetre of slack out of the drivetrain so that each twitch of your big toe sends the big cat bolting forwards. And the new eight-speed Quickshift automatic transmission plays its part too. It learns your driving style, and is clever enough to spot specific driving situations such as cornering and overtaking and change its shift pattern to match. But its inclination seems always to be to make the shifts shorter and let the revs climb higher; it goads you to go quicker.
The body is all-aluminium, and the stiff, stable platform it provides benefits both ride and handling. The ride in particular is excellent – this is still a Jaguar, after all. The steering is the most direct ever fitted to a Jaguar and is quick without being nervous. A “dynamic mode” accessed with a flick of a switch on the central console alters so many of the car’s systems – suspension, steering, gearbox, engine and exhaust – that the effect is like a bodybuilder hunching his shoulders and tensing his muscles; the whole feel of the car is instantly more aggressive. And you need it; even in dynamic mode the F-Type’s thrust is such that it still generates a little too much lean in bends, exposing a lack of side support in the seats too. And you’ll need to switch back to the standard setting to get that calm ride on motorways and choppy surfaces.
Callum’s finest moment
The looks? You can decide for yourself, but wait until you’ve seen it in the flesh and in motion. Now that we have, we’re more convinced than ever that this is Jaguar design chief Ian Callum’s finest moment. The rear end is particularly striking. The fabric hood retracts in 12 seconds at speeds up to 50km/h, and the cockpit is beautifully made; in a nod to the E-Type, there’s a big grab-handle on the central console for the passenger.
It would be easy to be seduced by the looks and sound of the Jaguar F-Type, but beneath them lies a sports car with the dynamic merits to take on the illustrious rivals its high price pitches it against. But for many, the looks and noise and that name will be enough, and for those car enthusiasts who can’t yet afford one, this surprisingly raucous roadster from a (mostly) genteel carmaker is a very welcome addition to our world.