The long-awaited F-type is that rarest of beasts; a car that looks better from behind than in front. Then again, from behind – with more than a whiff of E-Type about the boot lid and post box-slot tail lamps – it is agonisingly pretty indeed…
Clearly, as already witnessed by the positively ocean-going elegance of his XJ saloon, designer Ian Callum is currently more comfortable with Jaguar’s stern architecture than he is with the bows. The latter, to my eye, being still hampered by a corporate grille shape which, somewhat shackled by history, has yet to become comfortable in its own skin.
No matter. This is still a very good looking car, especially with the powered fabric soft-top stowed. Good thing too, since there’s no sign of a coupe version, as yet. The roof has a hard lid, Porsche Boxster-style, which remains in view once folded away. Via an annoyingly counter-intuitive switch, this takes just 12 seconds at speeds of up to 30mph, so the passenger seat popsy will no longer become soggy whilst you hunt down a lay-by in a cloudburst.
Climb aboard and, around a foot shorter than an XK, the F-type reveals itself to be something of a reverse Tardis. It’s a good job they haven’t tried to shoehorn in +2 rear seats capacious enough for only small children, because the cabin already feels cramped with only two seats to contend with.
Still, a snug cockpit is nothing less than you’d expect from a machine with this sporting pedigree. You’d also expect a comfortable, appropriately amorous seat and a wieldy, tactile steering wheel. Sadly, on that score, the Jaguar disappoints. The seat looks OK but – the discomfort exacerbated by lumbar support that cannot be sufficiently dialled out to obviate unwarranted intrusion – proves to be a square hole for this undeniably round peg.
The steering wheel’s no masterpiece either; the rim’s too fat and it’s no joy to wield. And this adds up to a serious black mark in my book. These are the first two points of contact with the car, and they’re both decidedly inadequate. High time the Jaguar Land Rover group out-sourced its seats somewhere else. Such issues aside, the interior design maintains Jaguar’s ongoing hymn book approach; ancient and modern…
Climb into a Porsche Cayman or 911 and the crisp, Teutonic, no-nonsense cockpit layout tells you, at a glance, exactly what you’re in for. But it seems a Jaguar interior must still genuflect to some of its rather more walnut-faced customer base, thus rather falling between two stools.
Hence, classy, rubberised switchgear, proper analogue dials and Le Mans Jaguar-aping, bronze-finished starter button and steering wheel-mounted gear shift paddles jostle for position within a dashboard design that, like the front grille, doesn’t seem to have quite shrugged the weight of history off its shoulders.
Weekend jaunts with expensive-to-run clothes horses or shoe fetishists should be avoided, because there’s precious little stowage space in the cabin and, maintaining the reverse Tardis theme, barely more in the boot. It’s laughably shallow but for a minor excavation in the middle which might just serve to hold a mere top-up supermarket shop in place. That divot is, however, right over the exhausts on V6 models, so you’ll have to hurry home if you don’t want your frozen peas to morph into a bag of green water en route.
That long bonnet may be occupied by two variants of a 3.0 litre V6 or a 5.0 litre V8. I sampled the more powerful V6S version of the former, likely to be Europe’s strongest seller. With 375bhp and 339lb ft of torque on tap, the supercharged six cylinder unit delivers more than appropriate urgency, employing an 8-speed automatic gearbox with flappy paddle override to fling the Jaguar to 62mph in just 4.8 seconds, and on to 171mph.
In keeping with so many performance cars of late, the F-type self-indulges in that embarrassing blip of throttle on start-up, over which you have no control.
In the V6S, matters are made all the more embarrassing by that fact that the upshot isn’t a short, sharp bark, but more of a protracted vroom, leaving passers-by all the more convinced that your right foot is responsible.
On the move, however, and enhanced by a baffle-opening dashboard switch, the exhaust note of an enraged hornet trapped in a megaphone is largely glorious, with a notably fruity crackle on over-run. Indeed, on the move, I found myself forgiving the F-type all those packaging, ergonomics and melted shopping gripes, because the entire experience is largely glorious…
This is quite a heavy car, but it scores over the V8 with nigh-on 50/50 weight distribution. All-round double wishbone suspension is abetted by an adaptive system, fitted as standard, which automatically keeps things nicely supple in the cruise whilst instantaneously firming up through corners. It may, of course, be switched into ever more enthusiastic modes which simultaneously toughen the steering and sharpen throttle response and gear changes.
The steering, as ever with a Jaguar, is a minor masterpiece. Happily, the company has, as yet, shunned electric steering racks in favour of traditional hydraulics and, equipped with the fastest rack yet fitted to a road-going Jaguar, the F-type’s helm may not be all that comfortable to hold but, tingling with road surface information and pin-sharp in response to inputs, it delights nonetheless.
Displaying a lovely balance and poise, and the long-legged gait of a true Gran Turismo, this is a delightful machine in which to cover ground extremely quickly without scaring yourself witless. In comparison, the V8 is, I gather, an absolute monster. But, for most, the V6S will prove more than fast enough, especially in the context of open-topped motoring; the latter quite capable of sustaining sufficient velocities to leave you lashed to death by your own quiff.
And that’s just as well because the Ftype is, frankly, expensive. I mentioned Porsche earlier because the Jaguar is deliberately priced to bracket Cayman and 911. However, the basic £67,520 cost of the V6S was swollen to £79,690 on the specimen I drove (pretty much the base price of the V8), and it’s hard to see where that extra 12 grand went.
A coupe version of the F-Type is due to go on sale in March, with prices starting at £51,235. Lest we forget, the new, prettier Cayman starts at less than £50,000. And it’s still easily the greatest sports car that that little money can buy.
JAGUAR F-TYPE V6S